Ex Chilean student leader, lawmaker-elect Giorgio JacksonTuesday, March 4, 2014
‘Nobody in Chile wants an education system like Argentina’s’
Born in Santiago, Chile, in 1987
Education: A private school in Santiago (Sankt Thomas Morus), Industrial Engineering at Universidad Católica de Chile.
Political career: In 2010, president of FEUC, the student federation at his university. In 2011, spokesman of the Chilean student movement.
In October 2013, elected to the Chilean Congress as an independent.
Doctors have recommended Giorgio Jackson remain as quiet as possible — the former Chilean student leader has recently had surgery on his vocal chords. But the passionate 27-year-old engineer, one of the most visible faces of the student movement against the government of Sebastián Piñera, forgets all about his doctor’s advice when it comes to talking about his country’s political scene. Just a week away from assuming his seat in Congress, after being elected in October last year, Jackson talked to the Herald about his meteoric rise to the big league of politics.
You decided to run as an independent even when you knew that, under Chile’s binomial system, it would make it much harder to get elected to Congress. Why?
I am not an active member in any of Chile’s traditional political parties. I do participate in an organization called Democratic Revolution but it is still too small to have the legal structure that a political party requires. When the moment came to form lists — or pacts, as they are called in Chile — to participate in the legislative elections, we took the initiative of proposing primaries with all the candidates from the centre and the left, including the Nueva Mayoría (a coalition led by president-elect Michelle Bachelet) but also including other small parties that are outside the coalition. We wanted a primary so that citizens could choose the candidates they wanted to compete against the (rightist) ruling coalition. But the parties in the Nueva Mayoría rejected the idea and we chose to collect signatures and sign up as independents.
So you weren’t given the option of running within the Nueva Mayoría?
They eventually offered me a spot within the coalition but I said no, I said that the condition would have been to hold primaries, which at that point hadn’t happened.
What were the consequences of running as an independent?
Looking back, I think running as an independent strengthened me. At one point, getting elected seemed really difficult. People were telling me it was almost impossible. But eventually, we had so much support from the people in the district (Santiago Centro), from the media and through social media, that two days before the deadline to register candidacies, the parties from the Nueva Mayoría decided not to run their candidates and gave me their support.
The Socialist Party agreed to cede you a slot at the Education Commission. How will that affect you?
It won’t affect me at all. As an independent committee, the four candidates that were elected from outside the traditional pacts initiated talks with the parties within the Nueva Mayoría — that have the majority in both chambers and ultimately decide who integrates commissions — and reached an agreement, according to which the independent voices will be represented in four key commissions. The agreement has at its base the fact that we will always remain independent at the time of casting our votes. And I hope that citizens keep an eye on that and I believe they won’t be surprised. When Bachelet’s Cabinet was announced we were in fact very critical of the person named to be under-secretary of Education.
Yes, Claudia Peirano was forced to resign just two days after she was designated. Do you think that the fact that she was tapped in the first place indicates fractures within the Bachelet coalition?
It’s not a mystery that within the Nueva Mayoría they have very different positions regarding what the education model should eventually be like. And that is also evident when it comes to the designations that are made. In the particular case of Peirano, the commercial relationships that she had had within the education world, through her ex husband, put the Nueva Mayoría in a difficult spot — even among those in the sector that wanted a voice like Peirano’s to have representation. I think it was very mature of her to resign because both Claudia and her entourage realized that, eventually, she could have been an obstacle to the educational reform that, with different shades, everybody in opposition to the government of Sebastián Pinera wants.
In last year’s elections, the right suffered its worst results since the return of democracy. What do you attribute this to?
I think the two things added up. A change of paradigm has established itself in Chile. It started in 2006 but in 2011 it exploded and altered the perspective of regular citizens, who started to be bothered by inequality a lot more than before, who started to see crises they didn’t see before. People started to question the system , and candidates also started adapting to that. Eight out of nine presidential candidates were proposing a new Constitution and free education. It is also true that the right struggled to find a presidential candidate and had several stumbles during the process. When they found Evelyn Matthei, who hadn’t been the candidate originally, her rhetoric failed to engage citizens. She comes from the extreme right. She can’t even relate to the more moderate side of the right. It was expected that she wouldn’t be able to obtain a good result, especially when facing Michelle Bachelet, who has very strong support.
The student movement has been fighting for ‘free and quality education.’ We all understand the part about free tuition, but what does ‘quality education’ mean, concretely?
It is true that the concept of quality is quite complex and ambiguous. We all agree that we want quality education but have very different opinions when it comes to defining what we mean by “quality.” Nowadays, unfortunately, the quality of education is only measured by standardized tests on maths, language and science but the general idea of why and for what purpose we are educating is missing. Education in Chile, at least, has always been focused on providing the tools needed for the work market and only that. And even at just that, we’ve had poor results. Nowadays, academic options are defined by demand. How many people want to study a certain degree? Well, that’s how many people will end up studying that degree.
Are you proposing quotas for each degree? How would you determine who gets in and who doesn’t?
The current system where a university can open 1,000 spots for journalism students and the state is forced to offer financing via credit or whatever cannot go on. It’s crazy...
So what you are saying is that the state should finance the degrees that the country needs...
Yes. That’s what planning means and I agree that there should be more planning by the state... For example, nowadays, the number of teachers graduating is four times higher than the number of teachers that are getting hired. And with schools, it’s quite easy to plan ahead. It can be calculated: how many teachers are needed in Chile? How many teachers of each subject, if one wants to be more specific? That would help us know how many teachers should graduate annually and, with that information, we could create a plan. But going back to the selection process, which has to do with what you asked, there’s multiple ways: vocational tests, test to detect talent, a review of students’ performances at schools, etc.
But wouldn’t quotas end up benefiting those who had access to a higher quality of education during primary and secondary school?
In Chile, hardly anybody wants university to be open like it is in Argentina. We do want it to be free but we don’t want just anybody to be able to enter a career path with no restrictions. Our proposals have almost always gone in the direction of demanding free education and fair access mechanisms. Socio-economic conditions should not be considered when deciding who is admitted, which currently happens a lot with the University Selection Test. What we want is to establish a mechanism that enables us to discover talent. It is complex...
Yes, that was my question...how do you identify talent if it’s not with a standardized test?
There are ways. The first step would be to work to minimize the gap in primary and secondary education. That’s a pillar and something we all agree on. Now, when it comes to the selection process, and given that the gap will always exist, what we’ve proposed is using a system that tries to identify the best students but in relation to their environment, to their school in this case. The results of several universities in Chile that tested this system showed that the relative position of a student in relation to his or her environment is a lot better at determining their future success than the result they got in the standardized test. So if we can identify the best students in each school and have the patience to prepare them well — even if they do have some gaps in their knowledge — then we’ll have the talent.