Education is one of the major issues to be discussed in the Constitutional Convention, which a month ago began its work to replace the 1980 Constitution and draft a new one to be approved or rejected in a national plebiscite in 2022. In addition to the natural importance that the issue has in any country, in the case of Chile, it acquires special characteristics due to the commercialization and privatization that the educational process has suffered from the extreme neoliberalism model imposed on Chilean society during the military dictatorship and the legal and political difficulties that have been encountered to replace it.
The first constitution in the world to incorporate social rights was that of Weimar, in Germany, in 1919, referring especially to health and social security, but without neglecting education, as had already been established by other constitutions in Europe. The so-called "social constitutionalism" was surely the response to the growing industrialization process, the growth of cities, the emergence of the workers' movement and the political struggle because of the Russian revolution and the German defeat in the First World War. With respect to education, Article 142 of the Constitution states: "Art and science, as well as their teaching, are free. The State guarantees their protection and takes part in their promotion", to later add that it would be carried out in public establishments and that teaching would be under the inspection of the State and in charge of specialized technical personnel.
These concepts, in general terms, are present in most of the fundamental charters of European countries. In reviewing the Italian constitution of December 27, 1947, which has not undergone major changes, concepts from Weimar are repeated. Article 33 states: "Art and science are free, as well as their teaching. The Republic dictates the general norms for instruction and establishes state schools for all orders and grades." It later adds that "Entities and individuals have the right to establish schools and educational establishments, without encumbrance to the State." The French Constitution of 1958 states in its preamble that "The Nation guarantees equal access to education, vocational training and culture for children and adults alike. It is the duty of the State to organize, at all levels, public, free and secular education".
In a recent study carried out by the Transdisciplinary Networks Unit of the University of Chile, a comparative analysis was made of seven constitutions of the following countries: Argentina, Bolivia, China, Ecuador, Spain, Paraguay and Venezuela. The articles referring to education were contrasted with those of the Chilean Constitution. Thus, we can see that Article 12 of the Argentine constitution, which incorporated the paragraph of the American Declaration of the Rights of Man, states: "Everyone has the right to education, which should be inspired by the principles of freedom, morality and human solidarity", and then adds that it should enable to achieve a decent livelihood to improve the standard of living and be useful to society. For its part, the Bolivian constitution, article 78, indicates that education must be intracultural, intercultural, and multilingual throughout the educational system. It adds that it must be "liberating and revolutionary". Venezuela's article 102 states: "Education is a human right and a fundamental social duty; it is democratic, free and compulsory".
Article 27 of Ecuador's law speaks of respect for human rights, the sustainable environment and democracy; it must be intercultural and promote gender equity. In Paraguay, Article 73 states, among other things, that its purposes are the full development of the human person, social justice, integration of peoples, respect for human rights and democratic principles. Article 27 of the Spanish Constitution states, among other things, that everyone has the right to education, and recognizes freedom of education, compulsory and free education. Article 19 of China's Constitution states that the State develops socialist education and works to raise the scientific and cultural level of the entire nation to eliminate illiteracy.
Article 10 of the Chilean Constitution states: "The purpose of education is the full development of the individual in the different stages of his or her life. Parents have the preferential right and duty to educate their children. The State shall grant special protection to the exercise of this right. Basic education is compulsory, and the State shall finance a free system for this purpose, aimed at ensuring access to it for the entire population". Article 11 adds, among other things, that: "Freedom of education includes the right to open, organize and maintain educational establishments", and that the limitations are those imposed by "morality, good customs, public order and national security".
If we add to this constitutional concept of education the principle of subsidiarity, which is the key to Pinochet's constitution, we can more easily understand Chile's social problems. For more than 30 years, a model was consolidated so that the private sector, and not the State, was responsible for educational policy. In the long chronology of changes to transform what had been the deep meaning of public education and the role of the State, in 1980 began with the municipalization of schools and funding through vouchers or subsidies to demand; later with the new university law of 1990, allowing eight consolidated institutions of higher education to be cut down and today we have more than 40, most of them private and many of them for profit and some of dubious quality, along with those that have already disappeared. This organic law, with almost 100 articles, was approved on March 10, 1990, that is, one day before the end of the military dictatorship. Subsequently, many other reforms were approved including the CAE in 2005, which are credits to finance higher education studies granted by banks with State backing and which has meant, in a majority system of private university education, the indebtedness of hundreds of thousands of families. Likewise, in 2016, the system of free tuition for students with less economic resources was launched, which will allow in the future, still very distant, to cover all higher education.
In education, along with other areas, underlie the reasons that have deepened inequality and help explain the explosion of Chilean society that occurred in 2019. The transformation of education into a commodity or market product led the few public universities that had been free until 1980 to change their role in society. Until today they continue to enjoy high legitimacy for their quality of teaching, but they cannot, for example, increase their enrollment because that is one of the ways to benefit the private ones that receive the surplus that public institutions cannot receive. More serious is that the generations that have grown up under this system have been instilled with the individualism that has been the great ally of the prevailing neoliberal system and the 1980 constitution. The State, which should ensure the formation of responsible citizens, has reduced the curricula. Philosophy and civic education are no longer taught in secondary education and even, since 2020, the teaching of history has ceased to be compulsory for the last two years of secondary education.
The work being done by the Constitutional Convention to draft a new constitution carries the immense responsibility of replacing that social DNA that has been eaten away by the market and the neoliberal teachings that have nurtured the new generations over the last 40 years. Education is one of the major issues and has been the emblem of the young people who started the protests in Chile. It is the duty of the State to guarantee, in accordance with the new times, a free, quality and secular public education, which stimulates and enriches the new generations by opening the doors to scientific knowledge, research, care for nature and the planet, the arts and culture. Forming caring citizens, in the best sense of the term, and not consumers, should be the fundamental duty that emanates from the chapter on education in the constitution that Chilean men and women expect.