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Chile: Students Walk More Than a Thousand Kilometers for Public Education

Patricio Contreras, Fabián Muñoz, and José Luis Mansilla, three students from the University of Los Lagos in Chile [es], studying Political Science and Administration, are traveling 1016 km on foot as a form of protest over the rising cost and lowering quality of Chilean Education [es]. The walk for public education began in Puerto Mont, Thursday September 30th. The goal is to arrive in Santiago, the capitol of Chile. Their march is accompanied by excitement and supportive statements throughout the blogosphere and social networks. News of this march is almost nonexistent in Chilean media.

Image from students, used with their permission

Caminata Santiago, or Destination Santiago in English, (@destinosantiago) is the name of their Twitter account and it has more than 400 people following it. Their slogan is “ante la educación de mercado estudiante organizado” (Students Organized Against Market-Based Education). With their Facebook page and other social networks they are organizing and spreading news of their activities as they pass through different areas of Chile:

Tres estudiantes de la Universidad de Los Lagos, dan inicio a esta caminata por la Educación Chilena el día Jueves 30 de septiembre a las 14:00 horas. Sabemos que esto nos compete a todos, esperamos que para ti sea significativa esta consigna, durante el camino que se desarrolla a Santiago se espera que más estudiantes se acoplen a esta gran causa.

Three students from the university of Los Lagos started this walk for Chilean Education back on Thursday September 30th at 2 pm. We know that this is our responsibility and everyone's. We hope that for you this slogan will mean something during our walk continues all the way to Santiago. And we hope that more students will join this great cause.

The idea grew from one of the meetings of the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH [es]), where together with students from other universities they agreed to this protest tactic in response to the privatization policies of Sebastián Piñera'a government [es]. These policies have expanded in the last two governments of the political party Concertación, according to reporting in the protest walk logs [es].

They were, at first, only three students that proposed walking all the way to Santiago, as a way to call attention to the state of public education and the need to save it [es]. They have continued walking and added other marchers to their cause. From their Twitter account, the group says [es]:

NO SOLO LOS MINEROS NOS DIERON UNA LECCION @destinosantiago LO HACEN POR TU EDUCACION…por TUS HIJOS, POR TI RT

THE MINERS SHOULDN'T BE THE ONLY ONES TEACHING US LESSONS. @destinosantiago THEY WALK FOR YOUR EDUCATION, FOR YOUR CHILDREN, FOR YOU! RT

Ale Botinelli (@alebottinelli) gives his support through this tweet:

400 kms de Convicciones!! Estudiantes marchan a Santiago por Educación digna y de calidad! @destinosantiago RT

400 km of conviction!! Students march toward Santiago for the quality education they deserve! @destinosantiago RT

As they pass different cities in southern Chile, the students are met with cheers. The three university students [es] that left Puerto Montt this past September 30th, added three more students in Osorno (approx. 110 kilometers), and they arrived 12 days later in Temuco (approx. 220 km from Osorno), the capitol of the Araucanía region. There they were received by their fellow students from the University of Frontera (UFRO) and grew their number of walkers.

The blog Trinchera de la Imagen [es] says the walk seeks to raise awareness of what is happening at this moment in education as the 2011 National Budget discusses education. State contributions to teaching the public are being scrutinized.

The demands look to achieve a greater budget for education and reform several laws, according to the blog G80 [es].

En el Sistema Educacional chileno, priman los principios del Mercado, antes que un Estado responsable de entregar una Educación de Calidad para todos. Lo anterior conlleva a que en Chile exista una Educación para ricos y otra para pobres, donde los que pueden pagar el lucro de la educación privada o particular subvencionada pueden optar a una Educación de Calidad. Ante esto, decimos FIN AL LUCRO, CALIDAD PARA TODOS.

In the Chilean education system, market principles have taken priority, before a responsible state delivered quality education to everyone. Market-based education leads to two types of Chilean education: one for the rich and another for the poor. Those that can pay the cost of private education, or are lucky enough to earn a scholarship, are able to receive a quality education. Facing this, we say “AN END TO PROFIT IN ACADEMIA, QUALITY FOR ALL.”

For their part, the Chilean Student Confederation (CONFECH) have declared on their in their blog [es]:

por acuerdo unánime respalda y se adhiere a la manifestación iniciada por los Estudiantes de la Federación de la Universidad de los Lagos (Campus Puerto Montt), quienes emprendieron una caminata desde la ciudad señalada rumbo a la capital del País, convocando además a estudiantes que en el trayecto se plegarán a dicha manifestación, en repudio a la agenda privatizadora del Gobierno, en defensa y desarrollo de la educación pública

Through unanimous agreement we endorse and join the protest started by the Student Federation at the University of Los Lagos (Puerto Montt), who began this walk from their city toward the capitol of our nation. In their journey they are calling on students and others to join the protest, condemning the privatization agenda of the government, and support the defense and development of public education.

Comunicaciones FECH reports the walk as a peaceful protest that is trying to bring attention to the failure of the Chilean education system, where the cost and sharp tuition increases have affected the budgets of families and students. The personal cost of attending university has reached the point that Chile ranks as the sixth most expensive country in the world to attend college. The report says the state has clearly abandoned public education:

Según expresó Cesar Mallipán, en un diario local: “a medida que vamos avanzando, pretendemos seguir socializando nuestras demandas sobre la urgente necesidad de un mayor financiamiento de las universidades estatales, y la democratización de esta.”

According to Cesar Mallipan's views in a local daily paper: “as we move forward, we intend to continue the discussion of our demands. There is an urgent need for greater financing of state universities in a democratized way.”

Pulso: Porque Chile Late [es] and Redmedios [es] report on the walk and call on others to join:

“Estudiantes de todo Chile de las Universidades se suman en el camino”

“Students from all Chilean universities join in this march”

Image from Facebook;

Meanwhile on Twitter, messages and campaigns of support and solidarity have appeared. One example is Veronica Ramirez's message (@noalachibueno):

Me gustaria que se unieran cada dia mas estudiantes a la caminata por la educacion publica de calidad.

Each day I would like more students to join this walk for quality public education.

Rene Aucapan (@ReneAucapan) and other Twitter users have started calling for further support through social networks:

Yo tambien Apoyo la Caminata de Estudiantes Por la Educacion Publica #YoApoyoCaminataEstudiantesUniversitarios

I too Support the Walk by Students For Public Education #YoApoyoCaminataEstudiantesUniversitarios

Caminata Santiago (@destinosantiago) publishes daily updates on the cities that they are passing and about the activities promoted by the university students. The message is loud and clear:

Y donde están los que decían que los caminantes se iban a volver a mitad de camino? Por la Educación Pública de Calidad,Fuerza Compas!! RT!!

And where are those people that said that the marchers would turn back halfway through? For quality public education, Stay Strong My Friends!! RT!!

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