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!


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