SocioEconomic Segregation In Chile: Can Separate Schools For The Rich And The Poor Ever Be Equal?

racing-twinsI recently identified, in “Where Is The Teaching And Learning Of English In Chile Going? Quo Vadis?“, structural inequality as the heart and soul of Chile’s seeming inability to teach English successfully to Chilean students from poor socio-economic backgrounds. I remind new readers that students from privileged socio-economic backgrounds are learning English fantastically well. Therefore, it would seem plausible (to me) that the solution to the problem of unequal educational outcomes for poor vs rich students is to provide greater economic resources to poor students. Well, the Chilean Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) is doing that.

Subvención Escolar Preferencial (SEP)

mineduc-edificio-AThe objective of the Preferential School Subsidy Law (SEP) is to improve the quality and equity of education in schools that serve students whose academic results may be affected by their socioeconomic conditions. These students are determined as priority and preferred by the Ministry of Education.

By receiving greater financial support, access to professional help to deal with academic deficiencies and/or psycho-social needs, and access to a diverse, cultural enrichment activity program, the “playing field” is level. Consequently, the chances of success are “equal” for the rich and the poor.

Equality of opportunity is more likely in these conditions, for the rich and the poor. In theory, it doesn’t matter if you are born rich or poor, your chances of success are the same, no matter whether the accident of your birth has placed you with rich, highly-educated parents, or with poor, high-school only (or less) educated parents.

Here, we must stop and ask the question: Can money make up for the disadvantages that a child from a vulnerable socio-economic background has experienced, since his/her birth?


Apartheid In Chilean Education System

Before you answer the question, please consider the fact that these two students, the rich student and the poor student, will never be in the same classroom, never be in the same school, never participate in any social, academic, or extracurricular activity together…

That is the reality of the Chilean educational system, namely, the fundamental pillar of a society that separates its children based on how much money their parents have.

I am no sociologist, but it seems to me that the reproduction of socio-economic inequality (wealth, class, political power, etc.) is the desired goal of this system. I am happy to entertain the opposite interpretation, that the Chilean education system’s desired goal is the production of a homogenous, equality-based society that values merit (a meritocracy) over wealth and social class (a plutocracy).


However, the uncomfortable truth is that the Chilean education system is the most segregated educational system on the planet (OECD, 2015).

The incomes of the 10% richest in Chile are 26 times higher than those of the 10% poorest.

Since the mid-2000s, inequality has decreased by 1 point in Chile.

Poverty in childhood has negative effects on their educational results (outcomes) and later in their labour market performance and can lead to the entrenchment of poverty and inequality in future generations.

How Can Socio-Economic Integration Be Addressed?


New York State launched a program to promote economic diversity at low-performing schools, while school districts like Denver have recently tried to create more integrated schools through choice-based lottery systems.

Socio-economic segregation keeps too many students from succeeding, and low-income students who attend more affluent schools boost their chances of attending college by almost 70 percent. What’s more, the learning of more affluent students generally tends to hold steady in more diverse schools, according to the book, A Smarter Charter, by the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter.

That’s right. When rich kids go to school with poor kids, the rich kids learning does NOT suffer.

The positive effects of socioeconomic integration go well beyond educational outcomes. It’s also central to social cohesion and social mobility, and according to a group of Harvard economists led by Raj Chetty, upward mobility is, as the New York Times explained, much “higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods.”

Research in the USA by Raj Chetty looks to cities where children’s chances of moving up out of poverty remain high. Cities with high levels of upward mobility tend to have five characteristics:

1. lower levels of residential segregation,
2. a larger middle class,
3. stronger families,
4. greater social capital, and,
5. higher quality public schools.


2001 - 2014

In sum, I have made the effort to make it clear that simply “throwing money” at the problem of disparate educational outcomes for the rich and the poor, though noble in and of itself, is almost surely destined for failure.

I am not being a pessimist, nor am I simply making a prediction.

The evidence I have presented leaves no other logical conclusion available. Keeping Raj Chetty’s research in mind, Chile meets Zero out of Five (0%) of the characteristics that promote social mobility. In Chile:

1. The rich live with the rich, and the poor live with the poor.
2. Chile’s “middle class” is heavily indebted, experiencing no rise in wages.
3. Single-parent households are the norm rather than the exception.
4. The poor have little “social capital” to speak of.
5. The school system segregates the rich and the poor.
6. The Chilean education system is the most segregated in the world.

Finally, if upward, social mobility is the goal, the Chilean education system is an abject, deplorable F-A-I-L-U-R-E.

If reproduction of the status quo is the goal (the intergenerational transmission of wealth, social class, and power), then the Chilean education system is the BEST in the world.

Which is it?


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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