Pintando La Parva: Afterschool art classes at La Parva school. Viña del Mar, Chile.
I’m sitting across for the principal, Juan Carlos, at Escuela La Parva. “We need a Plan B,” I tell him. I just finished up teaching a workshop attended by one student. One. Despite meeting several other students who expressed interested and committed to come that day, things were not going as planned. I had not dedicate enough thought to the cardinal rule: your lesson plan and impeccable pedagogy are worthless if the students doesn’t show up. So we get down to Plan B: call parents, invite students to share a meal, and decide it’s time to down to painting straight away.
While preparing for my project, I sat around at my desk in the United States and tried to imagine every possible circumstance that might be a barrier to my project. Now I’m sitting at a desk in Chile, dealing with something I never would have expected: the public school teachers of Chile are on an indefinite strike. For over a month, classes have been suspended. Teachers are demanding that the government rewrite its new educational law, raising the base salary, giving special incentive to teachers in schools serving vulnerable populations, and compensation for hours worked in the home preparing to teach. Teachers feel their profession is undervalued by society and that they are being denied the resources to do their jobs effectively.
What does this mean for my project? Although classes are suspended, the school is not shut down. Every day students attend workshops, eat school lunch there, and come to socialize. Most days the teachers come to the schools to attend meetings and plan how they will participate in the next march or demonstration. I underestimated how strongly the strike would impact morale of the community. I asked the one student who showed up to my workshop why his friends didn’t come, and he explained that because of the strikes everyone is “lazy” and doesn’t want to get out of bed. He isn’t the only one saying this: the art teacher who I’ve been working closely with sees the same pattern. The suspension of classes makes students’ backsliding inevitable, both in terms of their learning and work ethic.
My host mom explained her perspective to me as we sat in traffic on the way to the market. “We’ve been fighting the same issues since the 90’s, when I was a teacher,” she explained. “They will never meet their goals because the system is against them. The government prefers them to strike over actually meeting their demands.” Though I was surprised to hear her so pessimistic, her words gave light to a complex situation. Chile is a model of neo-liberal free market policies– a legacy of the brutal Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990)–which is starkly reflected in the educational system. Approximately 40% of Chilean students attend public elementary and high schools; the majority attend charter (a mix of private and public funding) or private schools. Public schools are overwhelming under-funded and serve Chile’s poor. Disparities in the outcomes of students in public and private schools reveal the deep inequalities at play. Education is a commodity, not a right, in Chile.
This Thursday is workshop number two. I’m hoping next time I write, it will be with more positive news. I will also continue to develop the theme of education in Chile, and post some pictures of the school. Hasta pronto!