Chile: Pinera, students decide to keep talking

AP News
Posted: Sep 03, 2011 5:58 PM
Chile: Pinera, students decide to keep talking

Chile's president met with student, university and teachers' union leaders for nearly four hours Saturday in the government palace, and all those involved decided to keep negotiating in search of a solution to the country's conflicts over education reform.

That's a big step forward in Chile's education debate _ the first face-to-face talks between both sides after more than three months of unilateral declarations, boycotted classes, mass marches, hunger strikes and violent confrontations with police.

President Sebastian Pinera led the behind-closed-doors meeting, and his education minister Felipe Bulnes later called it "a very positive encounter."

Bulnes said he would on Monday provide all involved with a schedule for more negotiations, and is optimistic about finding solutions. "We agree on a great quantity of points," he said.

High school and university students who have paralyzed classes in many of Chile's 25 main universities and kept about 200,000 high school students out of class said they would keep protesting, but meanwhile praised what they called a new attitude of openness from the government.

"We value his gesture" of Pinera's, high school protest leader Rodolfo Ribera said afterward outside the palace.

University student leader Camila Vallejo praised Saturday's talks as the first opportunity for all sides to clearly present their positions.

University leaders will analyze the situation and respond on Tuesday to Bulnes' plans for more talks. "This shows a great willingness to move forward, and that's important," she added.

The students want profound changes including much more funding to ensure "free and equal quality education for all." They argue that this is best accomplished by reversing a decades-long trend of privatization in Chilean education, and barring profit-taking by education institutions that receive state funding _ a position the government says it will never accept.