Camilo Ballesteros, former president of the University of Santiago student federation, executive council member of the student confederation of Chile, and Chilean student activist, spoke in Montreal last Saturday as part of a nationwide tour discussing Chilean student activism.
Tens of thousands of Chilean students took to the streets beginning last May, calling for education reform in Chile. Students have criticized the lack of accessibility of post-secondary education – tuition in public and private universities in the country has increased by over 60 per cent in the last decade – as well as a lack of accountability over the allocation of government funds.
Ballesteros has been travelling through Canada for the past few days, meeting with various protest groups – namely, Occupy Toronto and the Canadian Federation of Students – and said at his talk that he is impressed with the level of autonomy and independence that the Canadian movements have (universities control the funding of student organizations in Chile).
Ballesteros said he first became aware of the extreme degree of inequality in Chilean education in 2011. Along with fellow activists Camila Vallejos from the University of Chile Student Federation, and Giorgio Jackson from the Student Federation of the Catholic University of Chile and Confederation of Chilean Student Federations, he started the Chilean student movement “with a communication campaign looking for people who wanted knowledge,” he explained in Spanish. Later, the group looked for “angry people [and began] telling people about their movement and improving their organization.”
Ballesteros further explained that, in Chile, not only is education very expensive for most people, but the universities are not keeping pace with the labour market.
He blamed this statistic on the lack of technical courses available in schools.
According to Ballesteros, the movement informed itself of how the education systems of the world worked, and explained to Chileans, “What they thought was normal was not actually the case.”
Eventually, he explained, the Chilean movement grew to include demands for health reforms, lodging and pension schemes.
Aurelian Basa, a Concordia Urban Planning student, said he hoped that Ballesteros’s tour of Canada will inspire students across the country to protest against their own governments.
“People should look at what Quebec is doing right – not wrong,” said Basa. “The other provinces should lower their tuition rates or have education be free.”