Chile: Half million students demand government to improve education

Marches ended in chaos as the police tried to disperse protesters.

A massive student protest demanding reduced bus fares and improvements in the education system in Chile ended in chaos as the police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse marchers in the Capital Santiago and other cities along the South American country. According to organizers over 500 thousands of students marched, as hundreds of high schools and universities were closed on Tuesday, which forced the Socialist government to promise to improve education.

The school occupations and marches have gathered strength since they began more than two weeks ago in the capital and then spread to provincial areas, where students complained of classrooms with broken windows, too few teachers and bathrooms with no toilet paper. Students spread the news by the internet linking student centers along the country through web logs and e-mail contacts.

Police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse students marching in downtown Santiago on Tuesday morning. Students now pay the equivalent of $40 to take a college entrance exam and about 20 cents to take a bus. Protesters say that both should be free.

Most public schools are occupied by students and are not holding classes. Even students at elite private schools, like the one attended by the youngest daughter of President Michelle Bachelet, attended school but held solidarity events on Tuesday instead of classes.

The well-organized student leaders in their gray and blue school uniforms have taken over the nightly news and the public agenda in the last two weeks. In recent decades Chile has expanded school coverage to most of the population following the models of its neighbors Argentina and Uruguay, but students say quality has lagged.

In the web logs, students post pamphlets, pictures and comments about the protests. Most of the link their struggle for better conditions of studying to the events in Paris in May 1968.

The students protest is the first serious challenge that faces the newly inaugurated Socialist government of Michelle Bachelet, who rose to power in March promising to improve health-care, education and pension systems.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov