Chilean teachers mark nearly a month since they began strike

June 27, 2019
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In this Wednesday, June 25, 2019 photo, 11-year-old primary student Esperanza Calixto, reviews her notebooks at her home in Villa Los Navios, an impoverished neighborhood of Santiago, Chile. Calixto has not been to school since June 3, when public school teachers went on strike to demand better conditions. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Esperanza Calixto can’t really grasp why her teachers have been gone for nearly a month, though the 11-year-old knows they are on strike and classes have been canceled for hundreds of thousands of Chilean students like herself at public schools nationwide.

“I just know it’s bad because most teachers are skipping class,” Calixto said at the Los Navíos public school on the outskirts of Chile’s capital.

Teachers began the walkout June 3. Their list of demands include the payment of a bonus, a salary adjustment promised to about 60,000 teachers nearly four decades ago, and the annulment of a measure that will change history and physical education to optional subjects for the last two years of high school beginning in 2020.

Union leaders representing the teachers also complain about rat infestations and a lack of resources at public schools. Most Chilean children from poor backgrounds like Esperanza eat lunch at public schools, although she and her siblings have stopped taking the meal since the strike began because her family is concerned about hygiene.

“The kids saw rats in the cafeteria where they sit to eat lunch,” said Esperanza’s mother, Roxana Urra. She also criticized the quality of education, saying Chile “is not ready for children of lower classes to attend university.”

Nearly 1.3 million children from underprivileged backgrounds attend free public schools in Chile. That is about a third of all students in the country. The rest attend private schools or other institutions and have a better chance at entering local universities.

About 80 percent of Chile’s 80,000 public school teachers have joined in the work stoppage, which affects about 1 million students, said Mario Aguilar, a strike leader.

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