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In Chile, students adopt a new form of protest

Rather than occupying buildings students are attending classes. They are just refusing to say "present."

Students from the all-girls school Liceo 4 attend a cultural event at a boys school as part of the student movement’s “cultural occupation” protest. To the right, and making a peace sign, is 16-year old Kritzya Ortiz. (Pascale Bonnefoy/GlobalPost)

SANTIAGO — It's the latest form of student protest in Chile: Thousands of high school students, who want more equality in the public education system, are refusing to say "present" during roll call.

The effort represents a departure from the classical student protest in Chile, which tends to involve the physical occupation of schools, barricades, a suspension of classes and marches. This new form of protest, meanwhile, is pinching Chile's school system where it hurts the most: the municipal coffer.

Here's why: These students, from some of the most traditional public schools in the capital, are marked absent when they refuse to declare "present." Each municipal government is given a subsidy according to the number of students in attendance. Therefore, the more students that are absent, the lower the subsidies.

These students announced the "cultural occupation" of their schools the first week of June. Although they are going to classes, they aren't saying "present," and after school hours, they are attending protests and cultural activities.

“My parents think I am just fooling around to miss classes, but that’s not true. I’m not even missing classes. It’s for our future, for other generations to have a much better education and not be so ignorant. It’s so we can become a more developed country,” 16-year-old Kritzya Ortiz, a student at an all-girls’ school, said as folk singers entertained students with politically charged songs one afternoon.

The students' demands are simple: quality education for all. The only way to achieve this, they say, is through a state-managed system.

Chile's public education system underwent a transformation in 1981, when the military dictatorship transferred the management of and funding for public schools from the central education ministry to the municipalities.

Now, “the richer municipalities, or where rich people live, have more income than the municipalities in poor parts of town. So the rich get more resources and better quality education," said Simon Carrera, a senior at the National Institute and future medical student. "We want education to be the same for students everywhere, and that’s only possible if the Education Ministry manages the system and distributes the resources equally."