“I don’t think the students can keep up their movement on the streets,” said Harald Beyer of the Center for Public Studies.
The government’s proposals have included removing the education minister, directing $4 billion toward an education fund, increasing scholarships and drastically lowering what officials have considered onerously high interest rates for student loans. The government will not do away with private institutions, as many students demand, but has offered a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a quality education.
“We have listened, we have heard and, I want to stress, we are closer than it has appeared,” Felipe Bulnes, the new education minister, said in a nationally televised speech Wednesday, referring to the possibility of a negotiated solution.
In many ways, the dispute is rooted in ideology — on one side, a market-friendly government, and on the other, youthful leaders who believe the inequities in society signal the need for another economic model.
Both offer data to buttress their case. The government notes that Chile will grow 6 percent this year, unemployment is low, inflation is in check. The students say Chile remains a country with vast income inequality. (U.N. data show that is true but indicate the gap is less than in the past.)
“We are seen as an example to be followed,” Camila Vallejo, president of the University of Chile Student Federation, said in an interview. “But we have a 30-year system whose time is up.”
On the streets and in the schools, many simply talk about the burden of paying tuition and loans, or dealing with an education system that falls short in the country’s poorest districts.
Sebastian Sandoval, 18 and in high school, suggested that the government shift funding from the military and other areas to education.
“Many people believe that education can be improved in Chile,” he said. “Chile has the resources to do it.”