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The education reform bill

ChilNet extracts from the press, January 1997

Law may leave students without schools says FIDE Director of Education Bill

La Epoca
8 January 1997

(Ed. Note: The government's education reform bill is in the legislature and last year's strikes seem far behind, but the controversy continues. In the following interview, published in La Epoca Jan. 5, the president of the Private Schools Federation (FIDE), priest Hector Vargas, presents the case against the bill. FIDE represents 500 private grade schools and high schools, most of them parochial. Among other things, Vargas argues that the government's plan to extend the school day and make it a single shift - whereas now most schools group students and teachers into two shifts - is an attack on educational freedom.)

LE: Do you think there will be insufficient teachers to implement the educational reform?

HV: We believe that... there will be a lack of teachers. First, because they are going to be obligated to work a single shift, and second because statistics show that each year fewer students are entering teaching careers.

LE: But the ministry is pushing the fortification of those study programs in some universities...

HV: The fundamental problem is not that, but rather teachers' salaries. If they have to study for so many years to practice a profession and it is not accompanied by a good salary, fewer and fewer students are going to study education.

LE: Some teachers say the extension of the school day will cause them problems. Why?

HV: Because the teachers who worked in more than one school will have to be compensated upon leaving one school for another, and no where does the bill establish who is going to pay that compensation. And we are talking about millions and millions of pesos.

LE: Why don't you agree with the obligatory extended single shift?

HV: Because for the schools that have two shifts, ... if their administrators don't have the space to expand the facility - which occurs in a significant percentage - they will have to eliminate half of the classes and those children will be out on the street. You cannot obligate everyone by force to comply with such a law.

LE: But the students can relocate to other schools...

HV: This is a very serious problem which has to do with the constitutional right of educational freedom. According to the Constitution, parents have every right to choose the school they want for their kids. And they choose on the basis of the educational program of the school, be it for tradition, teaching style or the education it provides.

LE: What percentage of FIDE member schools are affected by this?

HV: ... (W)e estimate about 15 percent. Imagine what it means to take a child out of a school not because of disciplinary or performance problems, but simply because of "a law that expels."

LE: According to your information, does the system have sufficient capacity to absorb the demand for education if all children enter into a single shift in March?

HV: If all schools implement this system at once, thousands of children will be left without schools. Consequently, the ministry has a classroom construction plan, although the implementation will be gradual. But I insist that the problem is not one of classrooms, but of educational freedom.

LE: Do you believe that the problem in education is merely a lack of funds?

HV: No, the problem... does not depend so much on the amount of funding, but rather on management. We are convinced that we are not going to increase the quality of education by increasing the students' schedules by two hours. Education improves with a good curriculum.

LE: Do you believe the reform is badly designed?

HV: I think the reform is very well-intentioned, but the underlying problem is that things are being done less and less democratically and with less input from the actors. *

No student will be left out of school: Government response to criticism of education reform

La Epoca
9 January 1997

TEXT: Government officials met Tuesday with representatives of 13 educational organizations, including the Teachers' Union, to respond to criticism of the education reform bill now before the Senate. The bill has already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies.

The educational organizations argue that the bill is improvisational, underfunded, and will displace students and undermine educational freedom. The organizations are particularly concerned about the plan to extend the schoolday and convert it to a single shift. Under the present system, many schools teach two student bodies on two shifts and with two sets of faculty.

The Senate Education Committee began analyzing the bill on Tuesday. That same day, the National Private Schools Corporation (Conacep), which represents some 600 schools, sent the committee a report calling parts of the reform "an attack on rights guaranteed by the Chilean Constitution" and calling for modifications. The obligatory longer schoolday, Conacep says, will rescind schools' right to develop their own educational programs. In addition, several organizations say the reform will force schools with limited facilities to expel thousands of students, thereby infringing on parents' constitutional right to choose where to educate their children. (Ed note: See interview in yesterday's CHIP News.)

In Tuesday's meeting, Minister of Education Jose Pablo Arellano and Ministry of Education (Mineduc) Undersecretary Jaime Perez de Arce assured the organizations that no students will be displaced as a result of the reform. Perez de Arce told La Epoca that the program will be phased-in to allow time for the construction of additional classrooms and facilities. The schools that are prepared to implement the extended schoolday now will do so in March, he said, but the full plan will not take complete effect until 2002 or 2003.

The Conacep document, however, argues that the 27 percent funding increase to prepare schools for the extended schedule is "absolutely insufficient."

In regards to how the obligatory extension will affect educational freedom, Undersecretary Perez de Arce referred to 1994 figures indicating that 90 percent of Chilean students have an average 800 class hours per year. Developed countries, by contrast, have some 1,200. "(The reform) does not do violence to the freedom of education, but rather aims to improve the quality of education," he said.

Another criticism of the reform is that it will cause teachers who work two shifts under the current system to lose part of their income. Perez de Arce said these teachers represent only 15 percent of the profession, and that the affected educators will have sufficient time to adjust. In addition, he said, the quality of education will benefit from having teachers dedicate themselves to a single group of students.

Educational organizations have also argued that the reform has been improvisational, and as one consequence of this lack of foresight there will not be enough teachers to implement it.

The head of Mineduc's General Education division, Juan Eduardo Garcia, responded in an interview with La Epoca that the reform has been in planning since 1990. He also said he has no doubt there will be enough teachers to extend the schoolday. Any shortage which might arise, he said, will be dealt with through separate initiatives accompanying the reform.

In related news, the Chamber of Deputies Education Committee approved legislation Tuesday to raise teachers' salaries and provide new retirement packages for years of service. *

Educational reform suffers setback: Senate rejects key measures of bill

La Nacion, La Epoca
16 January 1997

The Senate Education Committee and the government agreed on a pared-down version of the Frei Administration's education reform bill Wednesday, after opposition senators attempted a major overhaul of the project.

The bill's key feature, the extension of the school day, remained intact in the version to be debated in the full Senate today.

The opposition did reject the bill's main financing measure, however, without which the government says it cannot implement the $1.5 billion peso (US$3.6 million) reform. The government insists that its plan to maintain the value-added tax (IVA) at 18 percent, rather than lower it to 17 percent as previously planned, is crucial to the Full School Day project.

Sen. Hernan Larrain (UDI) argued that, based on the country's anticipated growth, government revenues will be sufficient to finance the reform without maintaining the tax at 18 percent.

Education Minister Jose Pablo Arellano said the government plans to gradually implement the reform from 1997-2002 to cover 9,000 state-subsidized schools. Grade school class hours are to rise from 30 to 38, and high school class hours from 33 to 42. The additional teachers and construction these changes require make the IVA "indispensable," Arellano said.

As the bill stands, the longer school day will begin this March for 3,000 of the nation's 9,000 grade schools and high schools, according to Minister Arellano. Education Committee President Sen. Roberto Munoz Barra (PPD), however, says most of these 3,000 schools are rural institutions with small student bodies, so the reform will only immediately affect about 13 percent of students nationwide.

The minister said the government is satisfied with the bill, but will continue to seek to reinstate the 18 percent IVA at every opportunity. The Chamber of Deputies approved the tax in the bill's original version.

Chilean Municipal Association President Jaime Ravinet attacked the bill's financing on other grounds. He says the 24 percent subsidy the government has budgeted for public schools this year is insufficient because it takes into account only additional class hours and not teachers' planning hours, parent meetings and other additional activities. The government expects cities to maintain the same share of financing, he says, which means an increase in absolute terms.

Critics also threatened to derail the reform over questions about its constitutionality. Various educational organizations, teachers and legislators, including UDI Sen. Larrain, say the obligatory nature of the school day extension violates the educational freedom of schools and individuals guaranteed in the Constitution.

Education Undersecretary Jaime Perez de Arce responded that the issue is one of educational quality, not educational freedom.

PDC President Alejandro Foxley accused the right of supporting educational reform in public and sabotaging it in private.

The Finance Committee approved the modified bill after the Education Committee Wednesday, and the full Senate is expected to approve it today. The legislation will then be submitted for the approval of the full Chamber of Deputies. *

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