Chile's Regionally High Rank Opens the Door for Misperceptions in Education
Foiles, Lauren, Washington Report on the Hemisphere
The scores reflected in the 2012 "Programme for International Student Assessment" (PISA) paint a rather dim picture of the performance of the educational systems in Latin American countries. Eight countries from the region were included in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) most recent study, which released the results this past December. The study included Latin American countries ranking in the bottom 10 percent, giving the region the lowest score out of all participants. While this data is informative of the region's relative position in the global education market, viewing the results in isolation can lead to significant misconceptions. For example, Chile ranked highest out of the Latin American countries, scoring 51 out of 65. This statistic creates the impression that high test scores and equity in educational achievement prevailed throughout the country. However, one only has to look several years back to the massive 2011 student protests in Santiago to find evidence that suggests the contrary may be closer to the truth.
The 2012 PISA results do create a forum where nations can compare their educational assets and disadvantages in relation to their international peers. However, the study only briefly mentions the inequality within countries. For example, the study reports that 245 points, which is about six years of schooling, separate the highest and lowest average performing countries. The final report only has one sentence informing readers that the difference within countries is even greater, with more than seven years of schooling separating the highest average from the lowest average within countries. Looking at Chile's leading rank in the region from this study alone, it would be easy to interpret its regionally-relevant high marks as a sign of high quality and equitable education. The truth is that Chile's education system is one of the most unequal and inaccessible in the hemisphere, regardless of its PISA scores.
The State of Chile's Education System
According to a 2009 report drafted at the request of the Ministry of Education in Chile, the number of students attending public schools decreased by nearly 50 percent from 1981 to 2009. Students are accepted into competitive private schools based on their financial capacities. According to the article "Educational Opportunity and Contentious Politics: The 2011 Chilean Student Movement," written by Daniel Salinas and Pablo Fraser, this process has caused the Chilean education system to have one of the highest levels of segregation by social class in the world. As an example of this statement, the authors highlight that in 2011, 85 percent of general investment in higher education in Chile came directly from family resources, leaving only 15 percent of resources to come from public funds. Simply speaking, this means that unless a student's family is able to pay the average tuition fee of 41 percent of GDP per capita, roughly $6,335 USD, the student will not be able to attend the higher quality private schools. The exclusion of middle and lower socioeconomic students from high quality private universities based on their inability to pay substantial tuition fees has caused a significant dependency on student loans. The article reports that in 2009, over 60 percent of students found in the three lowest income quintiles financed his or her education through loans. Salinas and Fraser indicate that the average graduate's debt represented 174 percent of his or her projected annual income, compared to a prevailing rate of 57 percent of annual income in the United States. OECD statistics regarding differences in wages based on tertiary educational factors reveal the harsh disadvantage of not being able to afford higher education. According to the OECD report, "Country Note; Education At A Glance: Chile," adults aged 25-64 can expect to have an income that is 160 percent more than their counterparts with only upper secondary and post-secondary nontertiary education. …