Chilean Activists Speak at Harvard

Two leaders of the Chilean Students Movement proposed economic, political, and social reforms to rectify pervasive inequity in the Chilean education system in a talk at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on Thursday afternoon.

“[The Movement sees] that it’s not right, and they want to change it,” said Maria Paz, a member of the GSE’s Latin America Education Forum.

Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman, presidents of their respective university’s federations of the Movement, joined the GSE’s Felipe Barrera-Osorio, Assistant Professor of Education and Economics, to discuss educational reforms the Movement has demanded.

On this same trip to the U.S., Vallejo and Titelman accepted the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award on behalf of the Movement, a prize bestowed by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. The group is the youngest to ever receive this honor.

Titelman said one goal of the Movement is for quality education to be seen as a social, universal right accessible to all. With this in mind, the Movement aims to expose the poor design of the Chilean education system, put into place during the nation’s prior military dictatorship, and change the capitalistic structure of Chilean higher education.


Paz said that for seven months last year, the Movement engaged in street protests to express outrage against the Chilean educational system.

The event’s moderator, GSE student Ana C. Hidalgo, said that Chile has the world’s most expensive education system. The average tuition at a Chilean university is approximately $3,400, while the average salary is only around $8,000.

According to Titelman, the Movement laments that the government does not sufficiently fund the public university system. He said that government policies force the poor into private universities where tuition can be unreasonable. In addition, a single test, designed so that the richest students will perform the best, is the only factor in Chilean college admissions.

“We have the most segregated system in the world,” he said.

Titelman labeled these for-profit universities “fast food universities” because, like burgers, they are advertised to seem appealing, but are of lower quality than publicized.

Through the event’s translator, Vallejo said that the government needed to impose taxes on the large, wealthy transnational companies operating in Chile and “stop bowing down” to the private sector.

“School isn’t just for acquiring knowledge, but for sitting next to someone radically different from yourself,” Titelman added.

Dominican GSE student Maria E. Baez, who attended the talk, was in Chile during last winter’s protests.

“Even as a foreigner, it felt that Chile was very divided on a socioeconomic level,” she said.

Amelia R. Knudson ’13 studied in Chile last winter in the midst of the protests, and conducted research for her Social Studies thesis on the protests. Knudson attended a number of Movement protests, both authorized and unauthorized.

“It’s really kind of a fun atmosphere,” said Knudson of the marches which included chants, costumes, and dancing.

But it wasn’t all fun and games, she added.

“People bought and brought lemons and salt to protect against the tear gas,” said Knudson.