A (very) brief overview of the Chilean education system, part 2

Types of Schools

Based on funding/payment/economic stuff (sorry, I don’t have a huge academic vocabulary when it comes to econ), there are three types of schools in Chile:

1. Municipal schools are basically public schools that work exactly like public schools work in the U.S. Each municipality (a term for which I don’t have a specific definition — it’s an area bigger than a neighborhood but smaller than a region, as far as I can tell) is in charge of opening and maintaining schools for the children who live in its district. As of the [DATE?], kids in Chile must attend 12 years of obligatory schooling, all the way through 4º medio (if you paid attention to the last post, you should know what that means!), so municipalities are responsible for making sure all their residents’ kids have access to both educación básica and educación media. Municipal schools get some of their funding from the federal government in the form of a per-student subsidy, but most of their resources come from the municipality itself, so (as in the U.S.) richer municipalities have better schools, and poorer ones have crappier schools.

There are actually a few municipal schools that do extremely well in terms of test scores, but students have to apply to them and they only take the best. In general, there’s a huge stigma against municipal schools, and any parent that can afford it will send their kids to a private school. When you actually look at the scores, though, municipal schools are usually no worse — and in some cases are actually better — than our next category:

2. Subsidized private schools seem to be a uniquely Chilean concept. The way the education system works right now, basically anyone can decide they want to open up a school, and tons of people have — the number of subsidized private schools has skyrocketed in the past couple of decades. A subsidized private school receives exactly the same amount of money from the federal government per student that a municipal school does, but at a subsidized private school, the parents also pay tuition, and the owner of the school is allowed to invest in their school as well. You might think this might lead to a much higher quality of education in subsidized private schools versus municipal schools… but looking at scores, there really isn’t that much of a difference. On the 2010 PSU (the test high school students take to get into college), the average score for municipal schools was 472.3 points; the average for private subsidized schools was 502.1 points. Private subsidized schools don’t seem to do much better than municipal schools — especially considering that all of them select their students, whereas the vast majority of municipal schools take everyone who comes along.

So if the quality of subsidized private schools isn’t really higher than the quality of municipal schools, what is all that extra funding being used for? Well, in Chile, private schools can be run as for-profit businesses, so in many cases it’s going straight into the owner’s pocket. In other cases, some of it gets used to buy publicity for the school so it can attract more students and receive more government funding… which goes into the owner’s pocket. Everyone involved (parents and the government) is paying a bunch of money to give a ton of middle-class kids a sub-par education, to the great advantage of a few hundred crafty entrepreneurs. Super awesome system, right?

As you can probably tell, I’m not a huge fan of subsidized private schools.

3. Paid private schools are (as the name suggests) private schools that are funded entirely by the tuition paid by the parents, with no government subsidy. These schools are only financially accessible to the upper classes, and tend to be of excellent quality. On the 2008 PSU, 19 of the 20 schools with the highest scores were paid private schools. The remaining top-20 school was the Instituto Nacional, an extremely prestigious municipal school that selects its students. (None of the top 20, or indeed the top 40, were subsidized private schools. Just saying.)

All of this information only applies to educación básica and media — the higher education system is a whole ‘nother can of worms. I might tackle it in another post later on, but first I want to talk about the student movements in Chile, both the ones in 2011 (that are just starting up again for this year) and the ones back in 2006. Even that post will probably have to wait a couple of days, though, because tomorrow morning we are off to Valparaíso for the weekend! Woohoo!


A (very) brief overview of the Chilean education system, part 1

Or, A Month Of Classes In A Nutshell,

Levels of Education

While the US has three main levels of school education (elementary, middle school/junior high, and high school), Chile only has two: educación básica and educación media.

Educación básica basically corresponds to grades 1 through 8 in the US, with the ages and years being pretty much the same as they are here: 6-year-olds go to Primero Básico, 7-year-olds go to Segundo Básico, and so on up until the 13-year-olds in Octavo Básico. There’s no such thing as a separate middle school in Chile, or at least I’ve never heard anyone mention it; grades 1º básico through 8º básico are always together in the same school. Schools that offer educación básica are generally called escuelas if they’re public and colegios if they’re private.

Educación media, also known as educación secundaria, is the equivalent of US high school. There are four grades, from Primero Medio through Cuarto Medio — a student in 4º medio would be a high school senior in the US, and would probably be 17 years old. Schools that offer educación media are liceos if they’re public and colegios if they’re private.

(Also, just to make things more confusing, the word colegio also refers to the general concept of schooling; if you asked a kid “Do you like going to school?” you would use colegio, but if you wanted to ask “Do you like your school?” you would use the word corresponding to their type of school.)

In terms of preschool, there seem to be two types in Chile, one called a jardín infantil and the other a sala cuna. Jardín infantil is a loan translation of Kindergarten, but in Chile children from a few months to five years of age might go to a jardín. (Preschool enrollment is in general is pretty low, though — only fifty-something (I think 52?) percent of families with incomes in the top 20% of the country send their kids to preschool.) I’ve sort of inferred that a sala cuna is more like a daycare, and is for infants and young toddlers, but that inference could be totally incorrect.

¡Un mes!

Today, I have officially been living in Chile for a month. I seriously can’t believe how fast it’s all been going by. We had our second-to-last Spanish class today (they front-load the language instruction so we’ll be prepared for our other classes and then not have to worry about it after that), and then went out for sushi for dinner. For some reason a ton of the sushi here has cream cheese in it? It’s weird. I managed to order a regular unagi roll with salmon and avocado on top, though, so I was perfectly happy.

Also la U de Chile* is playing in the Copa Libertadores tournament right now, and there are a bunch of guys in the next building over who are SCREAMING at the top of their lungs every few minutes, presumably when something exciting happens. It’s tied at 1-1 right now, according to the internet, so I guess that makes it super exciting. I’m not a huge sports-watching person, but people get so into soccer here it’s hard not to be excited about it.



*The team is called Universidad de Chile (La U for short, I think, or possibly sometimes La Chile?), but they’re not affiliated with the actual Universidad de Chile — they’re a professional club. There’s another professional club called Universidad Católica, who also have no affiliation with the actual university of the same name. Confusing, much?

Sure, why not?

Okay, I promise that at some point I will make a post here that actually discusses the things I have been learning about in my classes, to counteract the impression that I do nothing here in Chile but party.

This, however, is not that post.

On Friday our Spanish professors cancelled our afternoon class (we were supposed to have a double Spanish day, 9am-noon and 1-4pm) because Universidad Alberto Hurtado, our host university for our intensive Spanish course, was having a party called a paseo. I don’t mean a few people were having a party; I mean the entire school was having a party. Literally every class besides ours had been cancelled way in advance so the students could go.

Basically what was happening was a kind of super-awesome Chilean version of Welcome Week. For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been noticing college-aged kids walking around wearing ripped-up clothes and covered in paint or flour or other grime, asking people on the street for money. We asked our Spanish professor what was going on, and she said that it’s a tradition to have first-year college students go around dressed like that and beg for money at the beginning of the school year; all the money they get is then put towards a giant party thrown in their honor. It seems pretty weird to foreigners (or at least to me), but I guess as hazing rituals go it’s relatively benign. The party Friday was the result of all of the first-years’ hard work, and it was GREAT.

The university had rented an outdoor event space about 20 minutes outside Santiago, and had charter busses running to and from the space. We took one that was supposed to leave at 12:30 and actually left closer to 1:30 (everything here runs on Chilean time, which is to say no less than 30 minutes late). When we got there, we were momentarily stunned. The place was HUGE, with gorgeous grass, multiple enormous swimming pools, lots of shade created by trees and tent-canopy things, various benches and tables, and a big stage where a live band was playing. There were people everywhere, sitting in circles and clumps and pairs, eating food and drinking various drinks (predominantly beer, wine, and pisco) that they had bought beforehand and brought to the park. We found a spot in the shade, next to a group that was cooking hot dogs over a makeshift barbecue that was actually a wheelbarrow with a metal grate over it. We ate our lunches, drank whatever we had bought from the convenience store right after class (water, in my case), and took in the scenery.

We were at the paseo for something like five hours. We did some dancing over by the stage, talked with a bunch of Chilean guys, and generally just had an awesome time. Only two of us had brought bathing suits, but other people went swimming in tank tops and shorts or borrowed bathing suits once the original two girls were done swimming. At 6pm, we rounded everyone up and headed back to the bus. A good time was had by all, the only downside being that Kristi’s shoes managed not to come home with us. Whoops.

We got back to Santiago around 6:30, and then had a few hours to go home and rest before heading over to another party, this one a birthday party for our program’s academic director. We all met up at the appropriate metro station, and his 22-year-old son and a couple of friends drove us to his house. There was music, dancing, drinks, dozens of delicious little passed appetizers, a bunch of Chilean friends and relatives, and (at around 2:30 in the morning) cake. Our director’s 8-year-old son was there the whole time, and still going strong on the dance floor when I left, exhausted, at 3:30am; apparently the reason Chileans can stay out partying until all hours is that their parents train them from a very young age. I loved hanging out with my program-mates more, seeing our director’s house (which is seriously adorable), and just generally having an awesome time without having to go out to a packed club.

Then at 4ish Saturday morning there was apparently a 5.1 earthquake that I slept right through. Just like home!

assim você me mata

For some reason, a lot of the “Chilean” (that is, non-American) music I’ve heard in clubs here has been from Brazil. It’s super catchy, and I enjoy trying to understand the lyrics, but it seems like young Chileans don’t listen to a ton of music made by artists from Chile. I hear all sorts of songs on the radio where the singers have accents from Spain, or Argentina, or Mexico… but not so much from Chile. I know I could find actual Chilean music from Chile if I looked hard enough, but it’s interesting that the stuff that’s played in public tends to be from other countries.

And another thing

So when I first connected to the internet here in Chile and tried to go to the Yahoo homepage, I found that the site had figured out I was in Chile and automatically started showing me the Yahoo Chile page instead of my usual US page. Kind of creepy, but okay, I guess using more of the internet in Spanish will be a learning experience.

So far all I have learned is that “news” stories on the Yahoo Chile front page are weird not-actually-news stories just as often as they are on the US page. Currently, for instance, the biggest headline one sees when one opens the site is “Lo que tenemos en común con las abejas” — “What we have in common with bees.” Next up is a video (seriously? this merits a video?) paired with the headline “Megan Fox asustada por banana gigante,” or “Megan Fox frightened by giant banana.” Oh, Yahoo. Never change. I would switch my secondary email account to Gmail, but I can’t bear to miss out on this never-ending spring of wtf-ery.

The beauty of experiential learning.

Three Things I Have Learned From Living In Santiago:

1. There’s always room for one more on a rush-hour metro train.

My nearest metro station is the second-to-last stop on the blue line of the Transantiago system. The very last blue line stop, Tobalaba, is the transfer point between that line and the red line, which goes directly through the middle of the city and connects into every other line. Because of this, when I get on the metro in the mornings to go to school, basically everyone who wants to get from the blue line to the red line is already going to be on the train I catch. Every car is always packed, and it takes a lot of “¡Permiso!” and occasionally some elbowing to get far enough inside that the doors won’t slam on me. Then, at Tobalaba, every single person on the train gets off and a good 90% of us head for the red line platform, where we line up barely behind the yellow line waiting for the next train to arrive. As soon as it does, everyone shuffles forward as one; woe betide the red line passenger who wants to get off at Tobalaba during the morning rush hour. We cram into the red line train (which usually already has quite a few people in it) and try not to fall on top of each other as we speed off towards the Centro of Santiago.

The worst part, for me, is definitely the heat. We’ve been having a bit of a heat wave in Santiago, with temperatures above 30 ºC, and whenever it’s the least bit hot outside it’s guaranteed to be boiling and miserable on the metro. They have fans in the stations, but not in the trains, and with the ambient heat plus the body heat of dozens and dozens of people, a rush-hour ride on the metro is pretty much like a mid-level circle of hell.

2. Writing on walls is an effective method of communication offline as well.

In Santiago, basically every flat, vertical surface is covered in graffiti. In the Centro neighborhood especially, every building has something written or spray-painted on it, from basic tags in black paint to multicolored designs elaborate enough to be commissioned murals. There’s also tons of protest graffiti: calls for a new constitution, a different antiterrorism law, an end to private schools and universities that use their state subsidies to make a profit. There are tons of references to mistreatment of the Mapuche community, as well as the ongoing fight of the people in Aysén, one of the southernmost regions of Chile, who are currently trying to get the government to help them out with basic costs of living. A lot of the policies and practices being protests are remnants of Chile’s seventeen-year military dictatorship — the constitution, the antiterrorism law, the government responses to peaceful marches and protests, are all things that were established between 1973 and 1990 during the dictatorship. The current education law is technically not left over from the dictatorship, but although it has a different name and wording, educational policy experts say it contains exactly the same policies worded in slightly different ways. Basically, people in Chile have a lot to protest, and they’re not afraid to write about it all over the walls of Santiago.

3. It’s usually smart (and educational!) to ask what’s in your food before you eat it.

Chilean food, so far, has been pretty unremarkable — don’t get me wrong, it’s all perfectly yummy, but I’m not exactly going to run home and open a Chilean restaurant. The best things so far have been the empanadas, which are kind of considered the national dish. They come in all sorts of flavors, from cheese to veggies to seafood to combinations of things I’ve never really considered putting together, like cheese and shrimp*. The most common are empanadas pinos, which are cooked in the oven rather than fried and contain ground beef, onion, garlic, black olives, hard-boiled egg, and raisins. I only discovered this last ingredient while doing research for a presentation in my Spanish class, and I think it may be optional, because I don’t remember tasting it when I ate an empanada pino my first weekend here. I might have just not noticed it, though, because raisins? In a meat-filled pastry? Not something I would expect.

It would be impossible to teach every word for every kind of food in a Spanish class, so I only learned a certain quantity of names for foods, and I’ve been finding my vocabulary in that area is kind of lacking. I was taught how to say strawberry, but raspberry? Blueberry? Blackberry? Nope. I don’t like zucchini, but I don’t know how to say zucchini, so my host mom keeps making me dishes with it. On our Drop-Off activity, each pair of us had to find out what two Chilean food items were. A couple of my friends misunderstood the chart, thought their two assigned foods were one thing, and went around asking a dozen or so people for dulce de leche hot dogs. My host mom also told me that the girl who stayed with her last semester went out and bought some jerky (charqui in Spanish) and ate a bunch of it before she realized that the kind she had bought was made from horse meat instead of beef. I’m beginning to think that the program orientation should take us on a tour through a supermarket and teach us all the words for everything before we go to our host families, because it’s always good to know what’s in the thing you’re having for dinner.

*Since the dough is usually made with lard, this type are extra-super-not-kosher! Not that I care, I just find it kind of amusing.