Since July, Chilean students and teachers have been protesting their country’s education system, angry that government policies are designed to make students fend for themselves and not help socioeconomically disadvantaged students receive higher-quality education. These very policies trap low-income students in a cycle of poverty.
To solve unequal education policies, Chilean protesters not only want constitutional guarantees to an equal education for all, but a national education ministry to regulate the current decentralized education system. Like Chile, Americans, too, need to embrace socialist policies (similar to those used in Sweden) as current neoliberal education policies violate human rights, forcing people to compete for basic rights on an unequal playing field.
For roughly 50 years, Americans have fought for neoliberal policies on the grounds that they advance freedoms; however, these policies actually violate rights. Neoliberalism is designed to create maximum competition. In order to achieve this, governments often turn to decentralization. When decentralization occurs, governments forget to directly help their citizens; thus, governments desert their responsibility to protect their citizens’ human rights, which is exactly what is happening with Chile’s education system.
Chile’s education system is based on the same neoliberal policies that violate the right to education, designed to make students compete for their education. Students are offered a free low-quality public education and an expensive higher-quality private education. The private education requires a rigorous admissions exam that most disadvantaged students are not able to pass. The middle-class students have a decisive leg up on the socioeconomically disadvantaged students as they have immensely more resources on hand, and the government does not provide any means to equal up the playing field. The reason behind this policy is based on neoliberal thinking that governments should not intervene. Therefore, disadvantaged students cannot compete with middle-class students and lose access to higher-quality education.
Like Chile, American neoliberal education policies do not enable people to acquire basic universal rights. The quality of schools in the U.S. varies, and students’ ability to choose amongst these schools creates competition. This competition does not allow socioeconomically disadvantaged students to access the same higher-quality education that middle- and upper-class students can. The government does fail to provide balance to the system causing disadvantaged students to lose their right to an equal education.
This form of competition would be fine for commodities, but education is not a commodity, it is a human right. According to UNICEF, “Education is not a static commodity to be considered in isolation from its greater context; it is an ongoing process and holds its own inherent value as a human right.” By making education a commodity, Chile and the U.S. have violated the inalienable right to an education. These neoliberal policies force people to compete for basic rights, which defeat the purpose of universalism.
Governments need social programs to create equality and freedom. Even the father of neoliberalism, Milton Friedman, said, “Education is a simple case … The public purpose is to provide education … If you subsidize the student … you will have competition. The student could choose the school he attends and that would force schools to improve and to meet the demands of their students.”
If Chile and the U.S. nationalized education and subsidized students, low-income students would have a better chance at obtaining the monetary resources they need to access a quality education. These policies could help the U.S. and Chile finally realize freedoms that they both cherish and have come to long for.
Photo Credit: Horment