“Let’s Be Realistic and Do The Impossible,” Innovative Educational Reform in Chile Sets New Ground.
When I volunteered teaching math in La Pincoya, a town located outside of the Metropolitan Region of Chile, I witnessed extreme circumstances. One can find very good people here, but there are also dangerous influences that threaten the welfare of the youth living in the neighborhood. La Pincoya is affected by poverty and lack of opportunities.
During my time in La Pincoya, I remember students coming to our center on an empty stomach. Other times, the weather and weak infrastructures prevented students from coming to class, as in the case of a young woman who found herself stuck at home, barricaded by mud, a usual occurrence during the season of continuous rains. However, despite the problems that each faced, and the challenges we overcame to get there, the light of hope that shone in their eyes was enough to deliver the best of ourselves and contribute to improving their living conditions.
The best way we saw how, was to help them raise their academic qualifications, and prepare them to pass the entrance examination. This accomplishment would allow them access to higher education. At our center, we offered academic coaching, orientations on healthy life choices, and strategies to avoid illicit activities. We also included the parents, guiding them and supporting them in their role as educators.
I was one of the professors and university students who joined others in taking on a serious commitment to the students and the region. This effort became, Formando Chile, (Shaping Chile). It was founded by Benjamín Vodanovic, Tomás Vodanovic, Matías Hoyl, who is the President of the Directory, and Carolina Besa. Benjamín Rodríguez, an ex student of mine, joined the group later and is the current Director of EFIES.
Every year, university students from various communes from Santiago, Chile, move to La Pincoya to support the children with their studies. The volunteer tutors turn La Pincoya into a place filled with laughter, music and learning.
When interviewed by Chilevision about his experience in La Pincoya, Maximiliano de Llevenes, an engineering student said, “I was going to stay until July, but the experience was so rewarding that I decided to stay until December.” Max studies engineering. The move to La Pincoya lengthened his commute to the university. “My house, where I lived with my family, is 7 minutes from the University, and now it takes me an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half to get there. But it is worth it.”
Another tutor, Cristobal Spratz, studied commercial engineering and was also interviewed by ChileVision about the perceived hardships of immersing himself in a low-income community to live in the community where he tutors: “Many people believe that what we do, living in the community where we serve students is very hard, but the truth is that it is a very positive experience.” At the time of the interview, Cristobal was 20 years old and had been living in the house provided by Formando Chile for 6 months.
Some tutors have worked with the same students for 7 years. “We made a pact that we would not let each other down,” said a tutor of the mutual commitment he and his student made to go the distance. “This helped both of us reach our goals.” His mentee is a university student today.
This home is a meeting point where Chileans come together to build a new country. In the immersion home, community mothers take good care of tutors and professors, providing them with homemade meals, a family atmosphere and much gratitude for what they are doing for their children.
In addition to Formando Chile, other corporations are joining forces to make Chile a more just and inclusive country.
Context to Formando Chile-Charactistics & Chile’s Educational System
Chile is a country in South America with more than 17 million inhabitants. The population is concentrated mainly in three large cities: Valparaíso, Concepción and in its capital, Santiago, where about 7 million people live.
This nation has a GDP per capita (Gross Domestic Product per person) of US $ 24,537, second in the region after Panama (1). Chile’s risk index is 107 points, the lowest in Latin America (2). A country’s risk or sovereign risk, refers to the difference between the interest rates paid by the Government of Chile and the US Treasury. The risk is based on bonds issued under similar terms and conditions. The higher the interest rate, the higher the risk of the bond. This means that the closer you get to 100 points, the more reliable the country’s economy is. To illustrate, see the chart below, based on 2017 data.
Human Development Index
In terms of quality of life, the Human Development Index (HDI) (3) measures the quality of life of people in a certain environment. It is a variable for the qualification of a country or region. Chile ranks first in Latin America and 38th in the world, this means that its inhabitants enjoy greater services, access to health, education, lifestyle, etc. The country’s literacy rates are 98% of the population (4), occupying the first place in the region.
Chile’s Educational System
Chile’s education is compulsory up to the age of 18, or full secondary education. The state provides all resources (classes, books, materials and food).
The training is divided into four phases:
- Nursery: from 0 to 6 years old
- Basic: from 7 to 13 years old
- Medium: from 14 to 18 years old, and
- Superior: from 19 years old onwards-Subdivided into:
- Professional institutes
- Technical training centers
The first three phases: the nursery, basic and secondary education are free and financed by the state. Partially subsidized private schools, split the cost of education between the state and the student’s parent or guardian. In the case of private schools, the entire payment is assumed by parents or guardians.
Why Private Schools Are Producing Better Results for Some
Private schools have, on average, produced the best results in Chilean standardized tests (SIMCE: System of measurement of quality of the education), and greater rates of admissions into the university (According to PSU university selection test).
This is due to several factors, among them:
- infrastructure resources
- teachers’ salary
- teachers’ expertise level
Public education cannot compete with the resources available to private institutions. Since the salaries of teachers in the private school sector are much higher than in public schools, many teaching staff with graduate and postgraduate degrees migrate to private schools (5).
This generates, in a significant number of cases, an inequality of opportunities that prevents students from public institutions from accessing universities due to their low performance in entrance exams.
How Nonprofits Bridge the Gap
Nonprofit corporations in Chile are working to bridge the gap in educational services for low-income students. These corporations are composed mainly of university students and young professionals from good universities, who are supporting and preparing low income students for admission into the universities.
The reason for these initiatives, in my opinion, is that a greater sensitivity, an awakening to the plight of poorer students has developed among Chile’s young adult population, who are feeling a pull to service and a call to change this situation and help lessen the gap. The difference in opportunities and access to higher education is unfair to them, and they want to be part of the change.
These young professionals understand that if nothing changes, Chile will continue producing a working class destined to have children without enough preparation to access higher education or the tools to develop themselves as individuals and to improve their circumstances.
How Chile ranks Internationally
In terms of recent international test results (6), Chile has placed second in mathematics, science and reading comprehension, behind Argentina, but remains below the average set by the O.C.D.E. (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). However, Chile is scoring higher than most countries in South and Central America, showing that changes in curricular agendas and programs and an emphasis on meaningful learning are working. Still, there is work to be done. We remain far from the countries with the best results in the world.
Despite all these outstanding numbers, access to higher education is only free for those students whose families live in the country’s 60% most vulnerable regions, which totals 257,000 students (7). Everyone else who wishes to attend a higher education institution must pay in full.
Cost of Chilean Universities
Studying at a Chilean university is expensive. In fact, there are programs that cost 633,000 pesos a month, close to $1000 per month, a typical monthly fee for a medical career (8), which makes it very difficult for a middle-income family that earns 554,000 pesos a month ($849 dollars), to provide this type of education to their children. In Chile, each University regulates its own prices, therefore, there is no restriction on cost. To be able to access these establishments, the student must borrow from financial institutions by assuming long-term loans, and although banks have lowered their interest rates, students somehow mortgage their lives to repay these loans for several years, and even decades.
Chile’s Educational Debate
The current educational debate in Chile focuses on whether higher education should be universally free (center-left position), as do Argentina, Ecuador and Mexico, in which, regardless of the family’s socioeconomic level, higher education is free for all students ; or if only the richest families should pay for it, so that the rest of the resources can be used for health or other needs of the population (right-center position).
Organizations, like ours, guide young people and their families to access scholarships and state benefits while, at the same time, prepare them to take their entrance exams so they can pursue higher education.
How Formando Chile Answers the Challenge
In Formando Chile we have 3 missions: The insertion house (La Pincoya), where university volunteers live as part of an immersion in the local community to promote our pedagogical and preventive initiatives. Then there are Las Mentorías (the Mentorships), which is a plan to reinforce Language and Mathematics for children in vulnerable schools of Santiago, and where they participate in socio-emotional skills workshops. These are led mostly by volunteer university students whose relationships with their mentees transcend the classroom.
And, finally, there is the EFIES, which is the preuniversity program that provides scholarships to students from 16 communes in Santiago. Here, Language, Mathematics and Personal Management are taught by the best professors and professionals in each field. Through the EFIES, the mentors accompany the students even after entering higher education. Once in the university, the student continues to receive mentoring support for two years. These mentors help the new college students to acclimate to the university, and teach them how to study for their first subjects. Through the EFIES the students also receive support by psychologists who protect them from dropping out of the universities because of the pressures of entering a world very different from the one they are used to.
A Look Into Formando Chile Through Many Lenses
In the following video, I invite you to watch our students, tutors, and parents as they tell how Formando Chile has changed their lives. Here is a Link to Formando Chile’s interview (August 2018), with Chilevisión news.
And here is our pride!
Meet two graduates of our program who are now studying in Chilean universities, and work with us.
In Formando Chile we believe our educational model is making a difference. Those who lead and work in the organization believe it is not enough for some in Chile to benefit from educational access and university training. We believe that Chile is better when everyone advances. Our educational model can be exported to benefit other learning communities. We are interested in maintaining contact with professionals in education and educational management; giving and participating in contributions to exchange ideas, and generating projects that can make education a fundamental role in the growth of people.
- Estudio del FMI(2018)
- Estadísticas de J.P. Morgan, (2018)
- Human development Index,(2015)
- Universidad Central Connecticut EE. UU (2016)
- Estudio Cep ( Centro de estudios públicos (2016)
- Prueba Pisa (2016)y Examen Timms (2015)
- Mineduc, Ministerio de educación de Chile (2018)
- Arancel de la carrera de medicina, Universidad Católica de Chile (2017)
Juan Manuel Henríquez, is a Chilean professor of mathematics, and as professor of religion and morality. Henríquez obtained a Master’s degree in Educational Management at the Metropolitan University of Education Sciences (UMCE). He took courses in solving mathematical problems at the Complutense University of Madrid, and educational applications at the Catholic University of Chile. Each year he is improving himself in the different areas that make up his professional profile in recognized universities of the country. Between 2014 and 2015, he volunteered as a teacher to help admit vulnerable students to higher education and between 2016 and May 2018, he served as an Academic Coordinator of the EFIES (Training School for Higher Education Income), “Forming Chile” corporation (non-profit). As of June of this year, he is part of the Advisory Board of the same entity. Currently (2018), he works at the Cumbres de Santiago School (since 2005), where he is a head teacher, with math classes and PSU, in secondary education.