Mention the country Chile and you may think of General Pinochet and his dictatorship. The film “Missing” starring Jack Lemmon that was set in the early days of the Pinochet regime still has the power to shock with the portrayal of the atrocities. Or perhaps you might remember the story of the mining disaster of 2010 which left a group of miners trapped underground for longer than seemed humanly possible. You might also remember the Chilean earthquake and tsunami of the same year that killed over 500 people and affected over 2 million with significant loss of housing in the area hit by the 8.8 measured natural disaster.
It is this event that caused some changes to education in that country; a reinvention that is still happening with students and teachers joining forces to campaign for a free and accessible education system for all young people, irrespective of their ability to pay.
During the Pinochet years, free education was abandoned and a voucher system was introduced. This left thousands without education and those that did choose to become educated were saddled with extortionate debts.
Something had to change.
In February 2010, a huge earthquake hit just south of the capital, Santiago. The infrastructures of the country were in ruins and schools were as affected as anything else. Children and young people, if they had been fortunate to live through the horrors, had nowhere to go to study. It was evident that it was going to take time to rebuild the schools so what was going to happen to the students in the meantime?
Once electricity had been restored to some of the houses, there was an answer: home education. Through a variety of initiatives and partnerships between government and not-for-profit organisations, a network of teachers and pupils was established. The young people could work at home, directed and guided by their teachers, using the internet with a range of appropriate programmes of learning that were established.
The young people were essentially put in charge of their own learning, and unsurprisingly they found this incredibly motivating. Not only was their learning important, their social development and psychological wellbeing were also considered. Some had lost friends in the disaster, others their homes. Support was given to the students to readjust and acclimatise to the losses they had experienced.
Once the schools were re-opened, there was a general feeling that this sort of internet-based learning infrastructure should continue. In the areas affected, children and young people now have the opportunity to learn at school and at home with an effective cohesion between the two.
Fundacion Chile – a non-profit organisation, developed a system of home and school learning that concentrated on four areas,
- Information and knowledge
- The learning experience
- Social networking
Realising that children and young people were spending much of their computer time on social network sites, they brought the learning into that domain.
EducarChile, another organisation, developed a platform for learning “Planificaccion” for students and teachers. An emerging guiding not statutory curriculum has been developed, which people can add to – according to the information on the website.
This program promotes individual learning where difference is catered for, and apparently has 2 million visitors per month. With emerging technology and improvements in the access to broadband, it is predicted that more and more learners will be using Planificaccion as the main source of learning, in a country that still doesn’t have compulsory and free education for all.
Chile also hosts an annual Edcamp, last year held in Santiago and this year being held ambitiously in three cities.
Edcamp focuses on three areas
- ICT in education
- Innovation and creativity
- Interdisciplinary collaboration
(See also a recent report in the newspaper on innovations in ICT in Chile, as well as a report on progress in education in the country).
So why are we mentioning all of the above?
For starters, we want to demonstrate what can be done in the name of learning in the face of extreme adversity. Secondly, we want to ask the question – why wait for adversity?
We certainly wouldn’t be advocating the Chilean education system. Clearly it is flawed and is inequitable. However, putting learning into social networking, having educators and learners develop a guiding curriculum, engaging students in individual and peer learning and awakening the Chileans to the possibilities that education can provide, has reinvigorated their interest in education.
In August 2011 thousands of students and their teachers went together into the streets to protest about the state of education in the country. Unfortunately this led to a certain amount of violence, and interventions from the police – but the strength of feeling about education in the country is absolute.
Change can happen and through an internet revolution the Chileans have proved this. What they now demand is the freedom in state education that they have experienced through the freedom of learning through the internet.
The earthquake happened in February 2010 – two short years ago, and yet within that time learning has been revolutionised in the country without the governmental infrastructures keeping pace with the change. Two months after the Chilean earthquake, in the UK, we had a change of government here, and we have only just had an announcement about the new National Curriculum in England. We are still tinkering with the lives of our young people through the on-going discussions about summative assessment systems. With the pressure on Michael Gove to change his mind about single examination boards for each subject, we still don’t know what system is going to be adopted, and young people wait once more in a confusion that is extremely demoralising for them. We are still largely ignoring the potential of the Internet to engage children in individual, accessible learning that is relevant to their needs and indeed the future needs of society.
Our education system is suffering an earthquake of its own, and we still refuse to raise our heads to learn from others, in places that we probably never expected to find innovative systems of education emerging.
It really is time to rethink, re-evaluate and reinvent, and we have an entire world to look to in order to find out what will suit the needs of our learners.
Our thanks to Ana Maria Raad, Fundacion Chile, for her talk at the BETT, London 2013, who demonstrated convincingly that learning can take place in a difficult and challenging environment through the power of information technology.