NORMAN — To understand the problems that plague public education in Chile, it's important to remember the number 40, activist Mario Waissbluth said.
Fewer than 40 percent of Chilean students attend preschool. About 40 percent graduate from high school without basic reading comprehension skills. And teachers in public schools earn about 40 percent less than other equally qualified professionals in the country.
Public education in Chile has been systematically attacked for the past 30 years, Waissbluth said. The latest development is a group of for-profit companies running charter schools, he said. The schools receive government subsidies and charge parents extra fees.
“That has created an extremely segregated system where only children with poor performance are relegated to public schools,” he said.
Waissbluth, founder of the advocacy group Educacion 2020, participated in a symposium for Latin American activists this week at the University of Oklahoma. The event is a part of the College of International Studies' Year of International Activism, a series of events that deal with activist movements around the world.
Alan McPherson, a professor in the Department of International and Area Studies, said the symposium is intended to give activists an opportunity to learn from each other's successes and failures.
The symposium also exposes OU students to actual activists who are working for social change, rather than faculty members discussing those changes, McPherson said.
“The OU community is lucky to have people working in the trenches of social change throughout Latin America report to us what they have achieved and what challenges they face,” McPherson said.
Waissbluth said the symposium is a good opportunity for him to share his organization's successes and strategies with fellow activists from other Latin American nations. Likewise, he learns from the experiences of other activists, he said.
Raquel Yrigoyen, an indigenous rights advocate in Peru, said she hopes the symposium left students with a better understanding of social issues in Latin America.
She said she also hoped to help students understand that it's important to pay attention to those issues after they graduate and go to work for companies, government agencies or other entities.
Yrigoyen works to protect the rights of indigenous groups in Peru. She said she hopes she left students with an understanding of the importance of policies that respect human rights, both in their own countries and abroad.
“It's necessary to create a consensus that every business must respect human rights,” she said. “There is no progress when things are destroyed and the rights of others are destroyed.”