The future of education in Chile leads to the past. Now, I know what you are thinking. My opening phrase seems out of place somehow. How can education in Chile be leading to the past, when for all intents and purposes, it seems to be headed for a bright new tomorrow?
I shall return to answer that question, but first, let me clearly state: I am neither cynical nor critical. On the contrary, I am expectant and hopeful that education in Chile is on the move. Along with the rest of the country, I do indeed dare to believe that slogans like, “free education”, “equitable education”, and “social mobility” will cease to be terms politicians use to win votes.
Instead, I sincerely look forward to a bright new day in education in Chile. The urgency of the moment demands it. In fact, the urgency of the moment demands a lot of unusual accommodations from our leaders who will be shaping the education of the future in Chile.
First of all, it demands a highly-skilled, tactful, diplomatic politician at the head of the Ministry of Education. You have to be willing to listen to a large number of people, find out how to include them and engage them to work with you, rather than against you. This is counter-intuitive.
Logically, someone with a strong background in education is called for when you seek to transform basic tenets of educational policy at a national level. Let’s be clear here: We are talking about changing the very DNA of the existing education system itself, rather than perpetuate the status quo. In the end, however, it is people skills that will determine success or failure, and not technical capacity. Let’s look a bit closer.
The skilled politician must be a negotiator, a peacemaker, someone who can make worthwhile deals that make sense to a large number of people with widely differing beliefs about what high quality, equitable education ought to look like. To exemplify this, it’s like walking over territory that has been previously landmined. One wrong step…BOOM!
You self-destruct. Even the Biblical Solomon himself would be challenged if he were the new Minister of Education for Chile. My best wishes and hopes for success to the new minister. Even before taking office, controversy has already reared its head. No one said this was going to be easy…
With a skilled politician in place, ready to meet the challenges of the day, we now turn our attention to the Number 2 spot, the Under-Secretary (Subsecretario). This person, obviously, needs to be highly knowledgeable about education in general, and in particular, someone who will work quietly behind the scenes, without creating any controversy.
Too late for that, unfortunately. That’s the nature of the beast, and it must be fed or it will devour anyone who can not stand up to the challenge of dealing with it. What to do? Focus on the one demand/committment/promise that drives the future of education in Chile: Free education. Beyond the provision of free education, no one person, no group of people, absolutely nobody has a legitimate right to demand anything else. It’s simple: do your job to the best of your ability.
Now, providing free education is actually quite easy. When people want something, for nothing, the price you charge the people is $0.00. But as we all know, nothing is truly “free.” So the provider of free education has to find a way to pay for it.
How to pay for the free education is somebody else’s headache. The headache of the Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Education is how to ensure that the free education that everyone is getting, is actually a high quality education.
You see, people want free education not because they wish to avoid paying for it, but because they believe the quality of the education will help them to change their social and economic status, to achieve social mobility. If this does not happen, a lot of highly educated people will be working at McDonald’s, as is the case in the USA today. That leads quickly to frustration, and is untenable, because it ultimately leads to social unrest. High quality education, from the cradle to the grave, is the only possible workable solution that will achieve social cohesion. Anything else will bring undesirable consequences with it.
In short, the new team at Mineduc, Minister Nicolás Eyzaguirre and Under-Secretary Claudia Peirano face enormous challenges to get things right…the first time. A second chance is highly unlikely, especially if the free education the people are given does not lead to social and economic progress.
This is an area where a strong background in economics will be helpful to their efforts. Return on Investment, or ROI, has to mean employment, not under-employment or worse, unemployment. A university education that does not lead to gainful employment would be a tremendous disappointment to everyone. Again, we must not fail to consider basic principles of economics such as ROI.
This brings us full circle, back to where we began. If the future of education is to be as bright and promising as the urgency of the moment demands, then one must carefully examine the past, the entire history of education in Chile, and ensure that the things we have done right in the past are not lost or thrown away as we go forward into the new future. To put this another way, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”