There’s a little bit of debate going on here and here about education in Chile. Rodolfo and I talk about this a lot, and although I feel that education is better where I am from (meaning the specific part of the Bay Area where I grew up, not the entire US), I don’t have the facts or side to side comparison of skills to back that up. I also realize that education is cultural, so although there might be things that I see as totally lacking in Chilean high school graduates – read those two posts to get an idea of what – I’m somewhat comparing apples and oranges. Yes, globalization is an important factor, but most Chileans will be interacting and looking for jobs within the Chilean marketplace in the near future, as opposed to striking out into another culture.
Anyway, I’m not going to talk about all that. I very briefly touched on education once before, and I want to further explain my point. In Chile, as in much of the US, if you can afford it, you send your kids to private school. With a few notable exceptions – Instituto Nacional for boys and Liceo Uno for girls spring to mind – public schools here aren’t very good. I don’t know how public schools in the wealthier areas compare to those in the poorer areas, since I don’t know anyone who lives in a wealthier area who has a child in anything but private school! I know in the area where I grew up, the public schools are great, in large part because high incomes = lots of tax money going to public education, but I really have no clue whether the same holds true here or to what extent.
Now, I’m not anti-private school. I went to one for 7 years in grades 6-12, loved it, and would send my children there in a heartbeat if we were living in the area. That said, my parents sent me to private school because I was smart but shy, and a teacher at my public elementary school recommended that my parents look into a place that would foster both my intelligence and my social skills. Their motivation was not to send me to a “name brand” school. I’m not denying that there isn’t a certain cache associated with my high school – both for its programs and for its price tag (although about 80% of the student body receives some kind of financial aid, according to the school’s statistics). But not to the extent that I’ve seen in Santiago.
Here, “what high school did you go to?” is one of the first questions people ask each other when introduced. People put their high schools on their resumes, something that would never happen in the US mainly because we move around far more than Chileans but also because nobody cares what you did when you were 14. Here, however, your high school says not only how smart you probably are but also where you’re from in Santiago and what your socioeconomic background is.
There’s not necessarily anything inherently wrong with that. One thing I’ve realized thanks to Chile having such an obvious and well-defined class structure is that just because class divisions in the US may be less clear doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Of course we all have clues as to our background, and part of everyone’s background is economic lifestyle.
Again, I’m not holding up my hometown as the perfect example. My private school may have had people from varying backgrounds, but even the least wealthy came from families where their parents care about their education – and that’s not the case for everyone. Public schools in my area may have a wider cross-section of students, but we’re still talking about a wider cross-section of what is a majority upper-middle class area. It’s not like I’m claiming them to be some utopic mix of Beverly Hills and the slums of India, everyone learning about his fellow man’s circumstances. But I do think it’s a little bit more of a holistic educational experience in terms of seeing different lifestyles than in your average uptown school in Santiago.
I would love to see top schools in Santiago offer need-based aid to students who qualify academically. To be fair, I don’t know if any currently do, but if so then I don’t think I’m the only one who’s in the dark, since most people still see these schools as luxuries only a tiny percentage of the population can hope to afford. Right now, I still see education as one of the main reasons that I think we’ll move back to the US before having kids. And although of course there’s part of me that just wants to move at some point and be back on my home turf, I wouldn’t complain if the Chilean education system wanted to reinvent itself enough in the next few years that the choice got a little harder.