Education Reform in Chile: The Journey Ahead

An Apple for Chile's Teachers

This topic is one in which I hope to deepen my own personal understanding of current educational reform in Chile, in particular, the way in which it ultimately impacts the teaching and learning of English. The opinions given here are the sole responsibility of myself, as an individual. They do not reflect the thinking, policies, or official policies of any organization, no educational institution, and reflect no political tendency on my part. I am neither Democrat nor Republican, neither Left nor Right, neither Liberal nor conservative. I am Independent, and more precisely, declare myself solely as an independent thinker attempting to evaluate the evidence in an impartial manner.

Having clearly established myself as impartial, with no motives other than my own personal understanding, I shall proceed.

Here, it would be advisable for me to begin at the beginning. That would allow me to orient you, dear reader, and more importantly, fill in your background knowledge, to situate you in the present with a knowledge of how we came to be where we are today.

However, I elect to begin now, in the present, “in medio res”, in the middle of things, because quite simply, I find myself in the present, and will look backward when necessary, forward when possible, but remain firmly rooted in the present. I invite you, my friend, to go on this journey of discovery with me.

Today, it was reported in the “El Mercurio” newspaper that two thousand students who had taken the university entrance examinations, the PSU (Prueba de Selección Universitaria), and scored six hundred points or more, had decided to study Pedagogía (Teaching). The entire university education of these students will be paid for by the Chilean Ministry of Education. Let me repeat that: 2000 students will receive a FREE university education, paid for entirely by the government.

Would you like to know how many students were eligible for this benefit, a free university education? There were twenty thousand students eligible, who could have accepted the government’s offer, simply by electing to study a career in Teaching. Let me repeat that: out of 20 thousand, who could have accepted a free university education by becoming a teacher, 18 thousand said: “No thank you”. We 18 thousand refuse, we do not accept your generous offer, because basically, we´ve examined our lifetime earning potential in another career field, we’ve examined our future prestige, our future socioeconomic potential, and we have better lifetime prospects elsewhere.”

So, we have 10% of the brightest students in Chile who will be entering the teaching profession five years from now. There can be no doubt that these students will make an impact on the quality of teaching and learning in Chile. As an independent thinker, I can only applaud this situation.

But before I close, it is important to contrast this situation with the situation in Finland, a country that is consistently one of the highest performing education-systems in the world over the past ten years.

OK, let’s look at Finland. In the past year, 2010, Finland had 600 new teaching positions become available. Therefore, Finland needed to have 600 new students who begin their studies to become teachers in 2011.

Are you ready? Well, there were 6600 applicants. Six thousand, six hundred applicants, from Finland’s brightest students, who applied for only six hundred available positions. That’s incredible, you may be thinking, but what does it mean?

For starters, it means Finland could “cherry pick”, that is select, from among its brightest students, the best of the best, to enter the teaching profession. By contrast, Chile got what it could get, with no opportunity to be selective, like Finland did.

Let’s continue the comparison. Five years later, the Chilean teachers will be entering the schools of Chile. They will have graduated. What about the teachers from Finland? They will begin teaching also, correct? No.

What? Didn’t I say these were bright, clever, intelligent people who were selected by Finland? Why are they not ready to begin teaching, when the Chilean teachers are already beginning their professional careers?

Well, in Finland, teachers, all teachers, are required to have a Master’s degree, an MA. That’s why the teachers from Finland are still at university.

I ask you, where would you like to send your children to school? In Chile or Finland? If you are like me, you would choose Finland. Chile is making progress, but we have a long way to go before we catch up to the level of quality that is being offered by Finland’s teachers.

To conclude, if we both agree that no country, no matter how rich or how poor, no country can offer more quality than the quality of its teachers, then we both would also agree that Chile has taken a positive step forward.

There is obviously more to be done. The next question, which we look at in my next post, will be: How do you improve the quality of the teachers who are currently teaching? I contend that how Chile answers this question will go a long way towards a rapid advance in quality, or if the question is ignored, as it has been to date, then any advance will be at what appears to be a snails pace…

Thomas Baker
Independent Thinker
Teacher of English as a Foreign Language
Santiago, Chile

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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