This is the first of three posts written by Professor Mario Waissbluth about education in Chile. I invited him to contribute to the blog, because Chile represents our future if we continue our present course of action towards a market system built around the principles of testing and choice.

Chile´s Education (I): The most pro-market system in the world

Mario Waissbluth

This is the first of three columns on the contradictory condition of the Chilean educational system.

Today, I shall describe the political, socioeconomic and educational model.

Tomorrow, I will show the evidence and results of 35 years of for-profit hyper-privatization, and extreme teaching to the test.

Finally, I will provide some ideas for the necessary change of course, to alleviate the damage caused by the most segregated school structure in the OECD (after the small city-state of Macao).

Following Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, Chile started the most extreme neoliberal experiment in the world. No exaggeration here. The Tea Party would pale with envy. Designed by the Chilean disciples of Milton Friedman, the so called “Chicago Boys”, it was applied systematically (with the help of a bayonet) from 1973 until its replacement by a center left coalition in 1990.

This coalition basically continued extreme right policies – though with more social spending – because of cleverly designed constitutional constraints, plus an army keeping discrete and courteous watch from its quarters. Quite a few center-left politicians also acquired a taste for the wines of deregulated free market. Since the 2010 presidential elections, the very same group of Chicago boys and girls have been in power. Not their sons. The very same ones. Young Pinochet’s aides are today’s cabinet members and senators.

The basic principle of the model in education, health, pensions, and whatever you might think of, is subsidiarity: minimal role of the state, minimal regulations, low taxes. You take care of your family and that’s it. If you can pay for your education, health, or pensions, you do it. If you cannot, you don’t, and the state provides you with inexpensive and low quality services or protection.

Chile beats the hell out of the US in income concentration. Considering capital gains, the richest 1% takes 30.5% of the pie, as compared with 21% in the US, 11% in Japan and 9% in Sweden.

Public school enrollment has dropped (and keeps dropping) from 80% in 1980 to 37% today. Aside from 7% of students in fully private schools, public and private institutions compete for the coveted per capita voucher.

Now, get this: two thirds of the 56% of private voucher (charter) schools are for profit, and they can charge on top of it to parents. Therefore, the richest ones mix their sons with their socioeconomic peers, the middle class with the middle class, and so on down to the poorest which go mostly to free public schools. Subsidiarity by the book. Until now, anyone can set up a for-profit subsidized charter school anywhere, without any quality requirements whatsoever.

Teacher training also became fully unregulated. Today some universities and institutes “sell college degrees” (for a profit) to students who do not understand what they read when they enter to Schools of Education, and generally do not understand what they read when they obtain their college degree. National certification and examination of teachers is, of course, voluntary. Freedom. Freedom. The market will solve everything.

On the other hand, compulsory curriculum is extremely detailed. Therefore, teachers in Chile have 1700 class-hours per year, as compared with an average of 700 in the OECD countries. And testing… oh… you will envy it. Standardized national testing with consequences such as school closures (guess which) and bonus payments: it is applied in grades 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 11. Later on, admission to the university is based almost exclusively on the results of… a national standardized test. Teaching to the test motivates all sorts of cheating in the tests, plus plenty of academic skimming to get better test results, the very basis of school competition.

The students exploded first in 2006, then with more force in 2011 and 2013. They are questioning not only the educational model, but also the Constitution and Mr. Friedman’s legacy in full.

Tomorrow I shall describe the results of 35 years of pro-market, fully deregulated economic policy and education. The law of the jungle, but with cannibals. Some of the results are good. Most stink.

Mario Waissbluth ( has a PhD in engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1974). Currently he is a professor at Universidad de Chile and President of Fundación Educación 2020, an advocacy movement for equity and desegregation of the chilean school system ( His soon to be published book, with Random House (in spanish) is “Change of Course: A new way for chilean education”.