Two years ago Giorgio Jackson was at the forefront of Chile’s biggest protests since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship, when hundreds of thousands of students took to the streets in support of the right to free university education.
Now the 26-year-old is running for election – one in a group of former student activists hoping to make the leap from the frontlines of street activism to those of congress. Presidential and congressional votes are set for 17 November, and polls suggest Jackson – an independent running under the slogan “Now is the time” – is likely to be elected.
Jackson says students are fighting to change a style of education imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship and maintained by civilian leaders. Under the military regime entire subjects were outlawed and senior army officers placed in charge of universities.
Even after the return to democracy, Chilean officials looked aside as higher education companies boomed, many of them “diploma mills” more focused on profits than education.
Jackson argues that the students are battling “a legacy of the privatisation of education, an understanding that education is not a right but something that you can purchase”.
Vallejo says the Chilean government has long treated education as a commodity that “immediately distorts the principal objective which is to educate not earn profits, as well as generates a brutal socioeconomic segmentation … In other words the children who are born poor are going to receive a poor education and will continue to be poor.”