Report. First they jumped turnstiles. Now Chilean students are boycotting the University Selection Tests, a mainstay of a classist structure that favors private-school kids from wealthy families.

Chilean students revolt against classist university entrance exams

High school students are the Piñera government’s biggest nightmare. They were the ones who started the social revolt, with the “mass fare dodging” that began on Oct. 14, when thousands of students climbed over the turnstiles of the subway system without paying to protest against yet another increase in the cost of subway tickets, demanding quality transportation accessible to all.

And they are also the ones who, at the dawn of this new year, have set in motion a massive protest against the university entrance tests, known as University Selection Tests (PSUs), one of the pillars on which the Chilean system of inequality is built. These tests are not only of doubtful value in assessing students’ abilities, they also put all young people coming out of a deeply heterogeneous and exclusionary school system on the same level, to the benefit of the children of the elite who attended private schools. 

Critics point out the fact that the PSUs are one of the main instruments of the country’s classist educational model year after year, but no changes are ever made.

This time, against the backdrop of the ongoing anti-government revolt, the students have taken action. Under the leadership of the Secondary School Student Coordination Assembly (ACES), thousands of young people have boycotted the tests, occupying high schools and constructing barricades, with the result that the administration of the tests was suspended in more than 80 schools, in addition to the cancellation of the PSU in History at the national level after its questions were leaked ahead of time by hackers. The wrath of the government and the elites came immediately, with the activation of the entire repressive apparatus available to the state.

“This time, we don’t have people in hoods, against whom justice can do nothing, but instead young people with undisguised faces, with names and surnames, who will be held responsible in both criminal and civil courts for the damages caused to thousands of young people,” threatened the Minister of Education, Marcela Cubillos, herself the daughter of one of Pinochet’s Ministers, a fact clearly reflected in her policy choices.

16 students have already been charged under Chile’s internal security law, including the very young spokespersons for ACES, Ayelén Salgado and Víctor Chanfreau. An impressive number of intellectuals, teachers, artists, social leaders, politicians and workers in every field have risen up to defend them: “This is not a conflict that pits students against other students, as some claim, but a fight against a system of university access which is subordinate to the economic model that perpetuates inequality,” they wrote in a joint letter expressing solidary for the two.

However, “the admissions process continues,” according to the reassurances of the vice-president of the Rectors’ Council of Chilean universities, Aldo Valle, who announced extraordinary measures to guarantee the right to take the tests “without fear and mistrust” for everyone who was unable to take part in them. He did acknowledge, at least, that this will probably be the final year for the PSU system.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!