Victory for teenagers' penguin rebellion

23rd June 2006 at 01:00

Chilean secondary pupils say they have won "a huge victory" after their month-long campaign of strikes, sit-ins and violent demonstrations led to the Government promising free school bus passes, free university entrance exams and reforms to the education system.

"This is a huge victory for student power in Chile," said Ivan Morales, 16, a pupil at the state school, Mercedez Fritis, in the town of Copiap", near the Atacama mountains of northern Chile. "We wanted justice for students at state schools and, thanks to our protests, we might get it."

A total of 800,000 students in the country took part in the "penguin rebellion", the biggest pupil protests ever seen in Chile, named after their striking blue uniforms.

During the demonstrations, more than 1,000 teenagers were arrested, and dozens were injured by police armed with water cannon and tear gas.

Aside from free bus passes and free entrance exams for all, the students were demanding a uniform national education system to ensure all schools are fairly funded. Currently there are wide disparities between the country's 13 provinces.

But the students called off their strikes when the government agreed to free bus passes for the most needy pupils and free university entrance exams for around 80 per cent of annual applicants. It also has said it will set up a presidential advisory council for education to examine replacing the educational system - currently split between the 13 provinces - with a unified one.

High-school students will take six of 75 places on the advisory council, which includes many leading academics and educationists.

The government will also provide free lunches and meals to 770,000 students by 2007, compared with 500,000 this year.

"We have resolved to put an end to the sit-ins and strikes voluntarily,"

says Mar!a JesNos Sanhueza, 16, who faces being expelled by her school, Carmela Carvajal in Santiago, for leading the protests.

"We are not disbanding our movement. This is just another example of its mobilisation. The future way will be through discussion in the classroom, improving the level of democracy."

Pupils currently have to pay 12p a day for school transport and pound;23 to take university entrance exams.

The pupils were joined in their protests by 200,000 university students.

Jason Mitchell

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