Teacher-owners of state-subsidized schools: a glance at their professional biographies

2011 was a special year for education in Chile. Between April and September, high school and university students carried out important mobilizations and protests, demanding that the authorities – amongst other actions – put an end to the profit of state-subsidized private school providers and make education free.

At that time, while looking for press archives from the period of the Chilean civil-military dictatorship in the National Library, I found a letter published by the Catholic Church in 1981. This document alerted authorities to the developing nature of educational reform, begun the previous year, which transferred the administration of public schools to municipalities, handed over technical high schools to business corportions and promoted the entry of new providers into the education system. The letter highlighted the following:

‘Also of concern is the possibility provided for by the public authority for the municipalities to transfer, in turn, the schools received from the State to the hands of third parties. Who will these be? In the absence of a clear answer to this question, it is legitimate to fear that education may rest with inappropriate individuals or groups, driven by ideologies or economic interests, and others who equally have nothing to do with education and the good of students’ (Episcopal Conference of Chile, 1981, p. 370).

This quote led me to wonder who the owners of state-subsidized private schools were. I was interested to know their trajectories, as key players in the process of privatization of the school system in Chile. Years later, I returned to this initial question in the framework of my doctoral thesis project.

When I started to write my project, I realized that little is known about school providers. For example, we know that the subsidized private sub-sector in Chile is characterized by its heterogeneity, with individual owners, societies and foundations, a large proportion of  providers who own only one educational establishment, and a larger number of for-profit schools. In the research conducted by Corvalán, Elacqua and Salazar (2010), who conducted a survey of 170 owners of the Metropolitan Region, the number of respondents who reported having professional pedagogical training is notable; while 67% of state-subsidized for-profit providers indicated that they were teachers, 50% of non-profit providers indicated that they had a pedagogical background. Of all those providers consulted, 73% of owners, both for-profit and non-profit, had completed higher education. In addition, the survey consulted the for-profit providers on their reasons for working in the educational industry (sic). Of the total number of respondents, 83% reported working for a social purpose, while 33% indicated that they do so because they consider it ‘an interesting profitable activity’ (Corvalán, Elacqua and Salazar, 2010, p.79).

It is important to note that, parallel to the process of privatization of education in Chile, there were important changes in the teaching profession (PIIE, 1984; Núñez, 2003; Ávalos, 2002). On the one hand, the dismantling of the Teaching State and the implementation of policies to restructure the school system brought about the loss of status as public servants, and precarious working and contractual conditions for teachers. Along with this, constant changes to the status of teacher training in higher education led to a serious weakening – both in terms of its economic and symbolic position – of the teaching profession (Adler Lomnitz & Melnick, 1998).

In light of the above, I wondered what encouraged teachers to become owners of subsidized private schools. And I began to investigate them. Through narrative-biographical research techniques, I delved into their experiences and trajectories. And I realized that many of them – mainly those teachers who run free, non-profit schools – founded their schools with the goal of developing themselves professionally. Likewise, I learned of other experiences, where teachers created their own schools in order to start a business (and thus obtain better remunerations in a context of precarious teaching work). Finally, I also met teachers who founded their educational establishments with the purpose of promoting religious, cultural or pedagogical projects.

There remains much to investigate about these important players in the privatization process. But let’s hope this is a first way.

Versión en español


Adler Lomnitz, L. & Melnick, A. (1998). Neoliberalismo y clase media: el caso de los profesores de Chile [Neoliberalism and the middle class: the case of teachers in Chile]. Santiago, Chile: LOM.

Ávalos, B. (2002). Profesores para Chile. Historia de un proyecto [Teachers for Chile. Story of a Project]. Santiago, Chile: Ministerio de Educación.

Corvalán, J., Elacqua, G. & Salazar, F. (2010). El sector particular subvencionado en Chile. Tipologización y perspectivas frente a las nuevas regulaciones. En Ministerio de Educación. Evidencias para políticas públicas en educación. Selección de investigaciones, segundo concurso FONIDE [Evidence for public policies in education. Selection of investigations, second contest FONIDE] (pp. 11–40). Available at: http://biblioteca.uahurtado.cl/ujah/reduc/pdf/pdf/mfn341.pdf

Núñez, I. (2003). El profesorado, su gremio y la reforma de los noventa: presiones de cambio y evolución de la cultura docente. En Cox, C. (Ed.). Políticas educacionales en el cambio de siglo. La reforma del sistema escolar de Chile [Educational policies in the change of the century]. Santiago, Chile: Editorial Universitaria.

PIIE (1984). Las transformaciones educacionales bajo el régimen militar [Educational transformations under the military regime]. Santiago, Chile: PIIE.

Photo source: The Clinic (20 abril, 2014)

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