Chileans march to demand free, quality education

Santiago, May 8 (EFE).- Thousands of Chilean students and teachers marched in this capital on Wednesday to reassert their demand for overhaul of a partly privatized model of education that dates from the Pinochet dictatorship.

The procession departed from the University of Santiago and made its way to Los Reyes park on the north side of the city.

Associations representing college and secondary students and the Teachers Guild called the demonstration, their second major mobilization in less than a month.

The April 11 event drew a crowd of around 150,000, according to organizers, and Efe saw tens of thousands taking part in Wednesday's march.

"Regrettably, nothing has changed for the better," Diego Vela, president of the Catholic University Students Federation, told Efe. "It can't be normal that more than 150,000 people march in the streets month after month and we still don't achieve any significant change in education."

Chilean students took to the streets in large numbers more than 40 times in 2011 to denounce a highly stratified education system that funnels state subsidies to private institutions even as public schools in poor areas struggle.

After a relatively subdued 2012, the student movement is hoping to exert influence on this year's presidential and congressional elections.

Wednesday's march ended with some minor incidents between police and hooded activists.

Chile's public schools and universities were neglected during the 1973-1990 rule of the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Private schools mushroomed under the military regime and the trend continued after democracy was restored, even during the 1990-2010 tenure of the center-left Concertacion coalition.

Students want the elimination of school fees, an end to for-profit universities - technically illegal but able to operate thanks to loopholes - and a reduction in the high cost of college, which forces many to take on large debts.