The Politics of Citizenship Education in Chile

  • Rodrigo MardonesEmail author
Living reference work entry


This chapter reviews citizenship education in Chile as a national public policy vis-à-vis the international academic and political debates in the field. Chile’s citizenship education policy appears highly conditioned by successive paradigmatic experiments – progressive education (1930–1950), Christian democratic reformism (1964–70), socialist revolution (1970–73), and authoritarian and neoliberal (1973–90). Since 1990 civic education policy in Chile has tried to update to the international paradigm on citizenship education, conditioned in this attempt by a long transition to democracy and the recent appearance of a student social movement agitating for a shift away from neoliberal educational policies. As a result, Chile has partially adopted international standards in its citizenship education curricular guidelines, with some notable omissions such as the ideas of global citizenship and multiculturalism. Actors’ interests and preferences, as well as normative ideas and debates, are ubiquitous; therefore, no adversarial or deliberative approach by its own could explain citizenship education as a public policy. Instead, the analysis provided in this chapter applies an institutional perspective that integrates the adversarial and deliberative approaches into a long-term process that defines institutional development, historical legacies, and social and political context.


Citizenship education Public policy Politics Chile 

Introduction: An Institutional Perspective for Citizenship Education Policy

Looking at diverse national contexts and varying political constraints, there exists a broad consensus that the primary normative objective of citizenship education is to improve the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experience of children and youth to allow them to effectively exercise democratic citizenship (Campbell 2012). However, the important role that citizenship education plays in the quality of democracy is potentially diluted by the emergence and operation of various competing objectives, views, and agendas. To understand citizenship education policy in a given jurisdiction, that is, we need to examine and comprehend which competing objectives, views, and agendas are at play and how these are mediated through political processes.

The adversarial model has been prominent in theories of politics; so it is by extension in the politics of education. Under this model, institutions – such as the school system – reflect the ideas and preferences of self-interested dominant groups. As Moe (2000, 130) puts it: “In a diverse society, democracy produces winners and losers. It is the winners who will control the schools, and the winners’ preferences that will set educational policy and structure.” Yet educational policy is also about defining the democratic purposes of education, a highly normative goal better suited to a deliberative model of politics, an alternative model that reflects norms and rules that extend beyond self-interest and which prioritizes consensus politics developed through the give-and-take of political discussion (McDonnell and Weatherford 2000, 130).

To overcome the limitations of both the adversarial and the deliberative models of policy decision-making, this chapter uses the institutional perspective of March and Olsen (2000, 150) to explore the politics of citizenship education in Chile. This institutional perspective integrates the adversarial and deliberative models and tries to explain how the exogenous factors contemplated in the adversarial model – interests, resource redistribution, interpretations, and rules – are formed, modified, and sustained through a political process that includes distributional exchanges as well as public deliberation on ideas and values (March and Olsen 2000, 152).

The first five sections of this chapter reviews and analyses the politics of citizenship education in Chile from the nineteenth century through to the present day. The sixth presents two citizenship education topics (global citizenship education and national identity vis-à-vis multiculturalism) that while widely present in the international debate have been mostly missing in Chile. This chapter argues throughout in favor of this institutional perspective, which as an integrative approach effectively explains the politics of a particular public policy, in a specific case, unfolding over a long period.

Civic Democratic Education: The Progressive Education Movement in Chile

In the nineteenth century, public interest in civic education was framed by the political objective of building the nation-state. In Italy, for example, the school system responded to two political objectives: strengthening the country’s recent unification and contributing to state secularization (Ribolzi 2004). In France, as Osler and Starkey (2001) argue, the government of the time concerned itself with civic education to consolidate the citizenry’s support for the Third Republic, an effort that took its first form in the 1882 introduction of instruction morale et civique (Mardones 2018, 746). In Chile, a development model known as the “teaching state” (Estado Docente) emerged soon after independence to reinforce the state’s role in education. This purpose manifested in the 1860 primary instruction law (Ley de Instrucción Primaria), which formally permitted the coexistence of public and private education. The state’s main objectives were to expand free public primary education and promote literacy (Serrano et al. 2012a). The 1860 law mandated reading, writing, and arithmetic, along with Catholic catechism, Chilean history, and constitutional studies, as the principal subjects of instruction. In 1898, “civic instruction” was incorporated as a subject at the primary level (Serrano et al. 2012b).

Using the adversarial model, one can identify three political issues at the beginning of the twentieth century that could be instrumently served by the political socialization of public school students: patriotic nationalism, to strengthen the identity of a new nation-state still fighting and negotiating border conflicts, the state–church scission, and the emergence of a social policy agenda. From Lira’s study (2013, 28–31) of three history and civic education textbooks with different political orientations used at that time (roughly liberal, social democrat, and socialist), it is possible to conclude that while political actors broadly concurred on patriotic nationalism, social policy caused controversy, as the social democratic and socialist textbooks strongly emphasized the need to develop a critical awareness in students of social issues. With respect to the state and church cleavage, the 1925 constitution – which replaced the previous 1833 constitution – was followed by a presidential decree that eliminated the teaching of Catholic catechism at public schools. However, in an attempt to avoid further conflict, this measure was later partially reversed by Decree 1.708, April 29, 1927, which provided that religion classes would be available to students whose parents require it and at no cost to the state as teachers (Catholic priests) could not charge public schools for their lessons (Salinas 2016).

Primary education became compulsory in Chile in 1920 with Law 3.654, which prescribed that school programs should include civic instruction (Gobierno de Chile 1920). Its updated version mandated a similar “social and civic education” subject (Decree 5.291, May 19, 1930) (Gobierno de Chile 1930). Chile and other Latin-American countries, influenced by the progressive education movement, underwent a paradigm shift that decade. These ideas, associated with Latin America’s “new school” (Escuela Nueva), included a child-centered education principle and the progressive movement’s democratic education goal. Following John Dewey’s model, the Chilean government founded in 1932 its first experimental school (Liceo Experimental Manuel de Salas) for the purpose of piloting and testing organizational and pedagogical innovations in secondary education (Zemelman 2010, 52).

One of the innovations that emerged from experimental schools was a type of homeroom or advisory, known as “class council” (Consejo de Curso). By 1953 class councils spread across the Chilean school system, operating as a time during which students elect representatives and discuss issues such as class and school conviviality, the organization of social and cultural events, and, notably, national and political affairs. Class councils consolidated the progressive movement in Chile, as they were officially conceived as a space for fostering democratic life by developing attitudes like tolerance, responsibility, honesty, and cooperation in students (Gobierno de Chile 1957, 15–18).

According to Serrano (2018), between 1930 and 1960, the public secondary schools, “lyceums,” peddled in the political culture of the middle class. In Serrano’s (2018, 46) view, lyceums taught Western history and civic education as the continuous advance of liberty, democracy, and social justice, a hegemonic vision shared by teachers and government authorities. The conservative historical and political perspective limited its influence to the private school system, which in 1957 accounted for 38% of total secondary school enrollment (Campos 1960, 92). At this time, the main public university in the country (Universidad de Chile) designed the national university admission test (Bachillerato), which incorporated a history and civics component tilted toward a social democratic perspective (Serrano 2018, 58).

Civic education at the Chilean lyceums extended beyond the schoolyard, as it promoted student organizations and their involvement in national politics, sometimes driving students to riot in the streets instead of using formal, institutional channels. Cautionary calls were made by government officials regarding the alleged use of students for partisan purposes, as well as by conservative groups that blamed the progressive education movement as responsible for “excessive” participation and social unrest (Serrano 2018, 106).

The legacy of the “teaching state” was a very strong educational system. By the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a solid national educational system fed by well-established, capable body of teachers. Teachers took and promoted the proposals of the progressive movement in Chile from the 1920s onward into the 1960s (Reyes 2010). This was a bottom-up demand for change; the proposals of the progressive movement in Chile were mostly normative and non-distributional in nature. From the institutional perspective, it was the long-term development of education and teachers’ organizations that channeled the adoption of the progressive movement. Furthermore, the progressive movement led to the development and practice, at least in public schools, of a social democratic approach to citizenship education within which student activism and political engagement were central.

The Centrist and Leftist Comprehensive Reforms During the 1960s and 1970s

Comprehensive educational reforms to the existing system in Chile began in 1964. Both the centrist Christian Democratic government (1964–1970) and the Marxist Popular Unity coalition (1970–1973) had foundational political, economic, and social objectives which shaped both education policy more widely and citizenship education itself (Mardones 2018, 747).

The Christian Democratic government changed the overall approach to education, focusing less on hierarchy and course content while placing more emphasis on the integral education of students through innovative pedagogical practices (Cox 1984). For this purpose, in 1967 the government created a research, experimentation, and teacher training center (CPEIP) within the Ministry of Education. It also grappled with one of the lyceum’s main problems, its emphasis on grooming students for university, which served few students well. To that end, the Christian Democratic government promoted increased high school enrollment, shortened its duration from 6 to 4 years, and emphasized vocational education. In this process the government subsumed civic education within the subject of “social sciences and history” (Gobierno de Chile 1967).

This reformist project was nurtured by the critical pedagogy of Paulo Freire, who collaborated with the Christian Democratic government, especially in the areas of adult and rural education. The Popular Unity government that followed also employed Freire’s critical pedagogy when developing its National Unified School (ENU) project. The ENU was a comprehensive educational reform project envisioned as the government’s flagship and was soon seen by the opposition as an attempt at Marxist indoctrination. The ENU’s launch in 1971 generated intense opposition, its approval postponed and finally aborted by the 1973 military coup. The enormous political and social implications of the ENU project exceeded the technical and curricular issues of education (Mardones 2018, 748).

Distinct, defined political identities clashed over opposed social projects between 1964 and 1973 in a political system that had previously enjoyed high levels of stability relative to other Latin-American countries. However, following the military coup of 1973, civic education was conceived of as a political socialization project aimed not at fostering politically active citizens but rather at legitimizing the newly established right-wing dictatorship. In the next section, it is argued that this failed even coupled with comprehensive neoliberal economic and social reform and huge transformations in the education system.

Civic Education under Dictatorship

Following the 1973 coup, the military dictatorship created a commission to revise all elements of the school curricula that might contain ideological biases left by previous governments (Gauri 1998). In 1980–1981, a comprehensive curricular reform was enacted (Gobierno de Chile 1980a, 1981). For primary schools, civic education continued to be part of history and the social sciences, while for high schools, “civic education and economics” were reintroduced as school subjects (Gobierno de Chile 1980b, 1981).

The government decrees that regulated the curricula conformed to a traditional approach to civics, but detailed analysis reveals a nationalistic, authoritarian focus. For example, while the previous curricula of 1965 offered a more balanced account of the disputes between liberals and conservatives during the nineteenth century in Chile (Gobierno de Chile 1968), the 1980–1981 curricula unambiguously credited the virtuous role of conservative authoritarianism for Chile’s political stability during that period (Gobierno de Chile 1980b). With respect to economics, while the 1965 curricula prescribed the teaching of the political economics of development, including, for example, commodity mono-production, and dependency, the 1980 curricula emphasized the market economy and free trade (Gobierno de Chile 1968, 1980b).

For the secondary education curricular reform of 1981, Bascopé et al. (2015) note that the Ministry of Education’s Centro de Perfeccionamiento, Experimentación e Investigaciones Pedagógicas (CPEIP) consulted educators and scholars of education. As in the case of the primary education reform, consultations were primarily with private school teachers, who were close to the ministerial authorities. Espínola and De Moura Castro (1999) pointed out that the new curricula and programs of study proposed by the Ministry of Education generated permanent conflicts, even within the small circle of actors that supported the dictatorship. From then on, at a micro level, expert consultation and commissions appointed by the government – as will be shown in the next section – defined the main outcomes of citizenship education while operating as restricted deliberation spaces that fed bureaucratic designs and decisions.

The dictatorship was defeated in a national plebiscite in 1988 and in the open presidential elections of 1989. On March 10, 1990, the day before handing over the presidency to a center-left coalition government, the dictatorship proclaimed several laws to protect its legacies, the authoritarian regime defined by the 1980 Constitution and a neoliberal economic model. One of these bills was a general education law (LOCE), which among other things terminated the ministerial monopoly on school curricula and educational plans, a power the state had held since the nineteenth century (Cox 2006b). Through this process, school autonomy increased, so that within the curricular framework of Fundamental Objectives and Minimum Mandatory Contents defined by the Ministry, schools could develop their own plans and programs, including those related to citizenship education.

Educational freedom as the capacity to create a mission-driven, nonprofit school, along the lines of a religious or lay educational project, had a long history in Chile but under strong state regulatory power. The dictatorship’s educational reforms of 1980 changed this institutional legacy, allowing for-profit schools and universities. Following its unexpected defeat in 1988 and 1989, the outgoing government relaxed state regulatory power over the school system with its 11th-hour 1990 law. This deregulation was consistent with the dictatorships’ neoliberal social policy framework but mostly aimed at limiting the powers of the incoming democratic government.

Citizenship Education under Democracy

Since the 1990s, citizenship education policies in many nations have undergone important changes. In the UK, France, and Australia, for example, concerns over low rates of youth participation in politics and political alienation shaped civic education reforms that variously introduced new classes and a greater focus on understanding the functioning of government and democracy (Haigh et al. 2014). In line with this worldwide trend, the Chilean government’s national commission on twenty-first-century educational challenges proposed a framework for modifying the citizenship education curricula for primary and secondary education (Gobierno de Chile 1995).

Those recommendations came during a period of educational reform after the restoration of democracy. However, the reform failed to substantially change the deregulated neoliberal system implemented by the dictatorship, which had created school vouchers, transferred public school oversight from the Ministry to municipalities, increased curricular flexibility, permitted for-profit education, and loosened teacher contracts (Gauri 1998). Reversing these changes was either not possible due to authoritarian institutional legacies or undesirable in an era in which structural adjustment policies and neoliberal reforms were being implemented across the world. Chilean education reforms in the 1990s had different priorities: introducing information technologies, targeting socially deprived segments of society, injecting additional funds into the system, extending the length of the school day, improving labor conditions for teachers, and, finally, reforming curricular content (Espínola and De Moura Castro 1999).

The Ministry of Education proposed a curriculum that included a series of emerging themes – each potentially connected to citizenship education – such as gender, environment, and human rights. The opposition objected to the proposal, comparing it with the ENU project of the Popular Unity government (Cox 2006a; Picazo 2007). Points of technical dispute included the distribution of hours between the different subjects as well as the fate of elective subjects, but attempts to introduce the emerging themes to citizenship education provoked much of the opposition’s resistance (Cox 2006a). Fearing ideological confrontation and unable to end the political gridlock over the educational reform initiative, the first post-authoritarian democratic government (1990–1994) decided to withdraw the proposal.

Conditioned by authoritarian legacies and threatened with the use of force by the military, the second center-left democratically elected government (1994–2000) appointed a national commission to solve the education reform impasse (Mardones 2018, 751). The commission had 32 members from different areas of national life and included a technical committee. It produced a report stating that the curriculum should include a civic education component that would familiarize students with the mechanisms and day-to-day processes of society’s functioning, which at the same time would allow them “… to fulfill their duties and demand their rights as a member of the community” (Gobierno de Chile 1995). According to Cox (2006a), the national commission approach adopted by the government opened both an expert and a citizen forum that ultimately articulated a political decision using a framework of consensus and cooperation. To Picazo (2007), this consensus was achieved within the technical committee by purposefully ignoring the normative dimension of education, which intermingles with the normative dimension of democracy itself. The commission’s politically neutral declaration on civic education avoided entering into the still ongoing democracy–dictatorship cleavage. Within the framework of adversarial politics, pragmaticism emerged with a mask of consensus and deliberation, to make feasible comprehensive reform.

Defining what should be incorporated into the curriculum has been a field of intense dispute in many countries. In the USA, the controversies over the content of the subject of social studies have been characterized as a true ideological war (Evans 2004), a hopeless confrontation between radical and conservative excesses regarding democracy and citizenship (Barber 1992). In one corner there is a vision that aims to maintain a specific social order according to values and the country’s traditional institutions (social reproduction) and in the other, a vision that disputes this order (social reconstruction) via critical examination of traditions, institutions, and existing social practices (Ross 2004). Chile’s specific historical evolution produced the same confrontation.

To facilitate its approval, the government decoupled the curricular reform from the more comprehensive educational reform. While some components of the education reform require congressional processing, the curricular reform requires only executive decrees, which are mostly molded by internal government politics. The details of the executive decrees on curricular reform were shaped at the bureaucratic level of the Ministry of Education’s Curriculum and Evaluation Unit (UCE). The UCE conducted several rounds of consultations with education scholars, teachers, and policymakers, ultimately generating the curricular frameworks for primary and secondary education, approved in 1996 and 1998, respectively (Espínola and De Moura Castro 1999).

In these curricular frameworks, four fundamental changes were introduced, following international practices (Mardones 2018, 752). First, the model of civic education, centered on the description of the organization and functioning of the political system, was replaced by the model of citizenship education, which includes three dimensions: knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Second, the frameworks eliminated the specific subject of “civic education and economics,” replacing it with objectives and contents that ran through different subjects across every grade. Third, that content would be preferentially taught within the subject of “history and social sciences” but complemented in language and communication, class council (created in 1953), and philosophy. Fourth, citizenship education would be present in other areas of the school experience, such as student organizations, community service, debate or litigation tournaments, civic ceremonial events, and other extracurricular activities (Gobierno de Chile 2005). These four changes generally aligned with citizenship education practices at the time in a number of other nations. In addition, and notably, the emerging themes (gender, environment, and human rights) that had obstructed the first round of consultations in 1991 were included in the 1996 and 1998 curricular reforms. This suggests that it was the political dynamics of the transition to democracy that explain the blockade in 1991, which evaporated when the transition consolidated.

The following years saw growing concern and controversy over inequality of education opportunities. One legacy of the neoliberal educational reforms in Chile is broad access to schools accompanied by high, persistent socioeconomic stratification (SES) school segregation, resulting from market dynamics (Valenzuela et al. 2013). That is, the quality of education a student receives is highly correlated with the amount of money families can pay. This educational inequality, alongside low youth voter turnout, was the main concern expressed by a 2005 government commission on citizenship education comprised of experts, scholars, politicians, and social actors (Gobierno de Chile 2005; Mardones 2015).

The socioeconomic stratification problem became part of a broader struggle when taken up by a number of social mobilizations over education which have been especially active since 2006 (Somma 2012). As for boosting youth electoral participation, the 2005 commission’s report inspired the 2009 and 2013 curricular adjustments which without fundamentally altering the content defined in the 1990s aligned with international citizenship education standards (Cox and García 2017). Nevertheless, and again mirroring trends in other nations, young people in Chile remain alienated from formal political institutions, such as elections and political parties, and are more likely to engage instead in informal, protest-based forms of action (Somma and Bargsted 2015).

Since 2006, an incredibly strong student social movement emerged and consolidated in Chile and remains extremely active. This student social movement encompasses mostly secondary and higher education students and the social organizations that support their demands. With a variety of objectives and loose coordination, the student social movement has lasted and been effective at protesting for the improvement of education quality, the reduction of socioeconomic stratification in education, and ending for-profit primary, secondary, and higher education. Additionally, the student social movement agitated for free-of-charge higher education. Today, perhaps the movement’s most noteworthy achievement is the fact that free higher education is available to 60 percent of students from the lowest-income families, with a commitment by the government to eventually reach universal coverage. Those private universities receiving funding from the state have chafed not so much at the general purpose of this policy but because of its ill-designed mechanisms, which have compromised their financial sustainability. In any case, since 2006 the student social movement has successfully framed vigorous national debate over education (Somma 2012; Von Bülow and Bidegain 2015). However, the Chilean education social movement has demanded little or nothing with respect to citizenship education, which has developed as a normative and technical issue mostly discussed by experts within the confines of government commissions rather than by the wider public.

The latest development in the public policy of citizenship education in Chile was the reintroduction in 2018 of citizenship education for the last two grades of secondary education. Law 20,911 requires all Chilean schools, public and private, to include a citizenship education plan from preschool through secondary and was enacted in April 2016 by Congress, marking the first time that legislators, rather than bureaucrats and technical consultants on government commissions, formally discussed and sanctioned citizenship education (Gobierno de Chile 2016). The legislation provides legal impetus to the guidelines while giving teachers a greater sense of the purpose of a fragmented, confused curricular framework. The law mandates that schools must integrate the bulk of national curricular guidelines, most notably on democracy, human rights, and diversity, although the law has left out two emerging issues of importance in international academic and political debates: national identity in face of massive migratory influxes and global citizenship. So far these elsewhere salient issues have been absent from the Chilean discourses on citizenship education.

Global Citizenship and National Identity: The Missing Issues in Contemporary Chilean Debate

Strengthening national identities has been a major goal in the developed world, pursued at times via citizenship education. Denmark, for example, undertook a curricular reform in the 1990s with the objective of protecting democracy, social cohesion, and national identity, all challenged by globalization (Jensen and Mouritsen 2015). The right-wing government that took office in 2001 held that some youth in Denmark lacked a sufficiently democratic mentality and, without a sense of national belonging, would be prone to disaffection or radicalization. In response, the curriculum was centralized and Danish history, language, and literature, and citizenship education content increased (Jensen and Mouritsen 2015).

The aforementioned 1990s citizenship education reforms in France and England intended to strengthen democracy, just like in Denmark, with a focus on tolerance of racial and ethnic diversity (Osler and Starkey 2001). Their response was to include a focus on traditional national identity. Citizenship education in France, for example, has maintained the objective of reinforcing the state’s republican character, which has in some cases created conflict with private, ethnic, or religious groups that might weaken the national identity and that, therefore, should be submitted to the republican ethos (Osler and Starkey 2001). The same occurs in the USA, where the diverse cultural origins of its population are recognized, yet there is a widespread idea that there exists a set of easily identifiable common beliefs that should be promoted (Westheimer and Kahne 2004).

From the international experience, it is not clear whether the formula of embracing multiculturalism while reinforcing national identity centered on traditional patriotic values is effectively more inclusive than past forms. The challenge lies in updating an ever-shifting national identity to retain a commonality alongside plurality.

In the 2017 national census, 12.4% of Chile’s population identified themselves as belonging to an indigenous people. Since the 1990s, the multiculturalism debate in Chile has contemplated indigenous peoples and their demands for land restitution, poverty and inequality reduction, cultural recognition, self-governance, and legislative quotas. Layering over this issue is the emerging immigration debate. According to census data, immigrants grew from 0.81% of the population in 1992 to 4.35% in 2017 (Gobierno de Chile 2018).

Immigrants in Chile are mainly from other Latin-American and Caribbean countries. Even though this 4.35% figure is relatively low, it is a growing trend that is altering Chile’s social landscape. In any case, it is high enough to constitute an important issue for Chile’s government. The legal status of immigrants, discrimination, and access to social services, including education, are common discussion topics nowadays. If the abovementioned countries are any guide, recognition and efforts toward social cohesion might be addressed by citizenship education.

As for global citizenship, nationalism has been viewed as impeding the forging of an international community (Banks 2004), while in democratic theory, the concept of global citizenship has been incorporated as a critical component of citizenship education (Mardones 2012; Nussbaum 1996). Motivations for promoting the global citizenship education model vary, but two noteworthy extremes are developing labor skills that a globalized economy needs, the “global competence approach,” and developing cultural sensitivity and empathy toward non-countrymen, the “global consciousness approach” (Goren and Yemini 2017). The latter is a key feature of the concept of “cosmopolitanism,” which Amy Gutmann (1999) defines as “an affect towards all human beings, independent of particular identities.”

From a policy perspective, UNESCO has been a leading advocate of global citizenship, with a focus on sustainable development, justice, social equity, and global solidarity (2015). But despite UNESCO’s efforts, a study of six Latin-American countries – including Chile (Cox 2010) – shows that global citizenship does not even appear as a thematic category in their curricula (Mardones et al. 2014).


In Chile, deliberative politics around citizenship education falls short of its purposes, despite the topic’s highly normative character. Excepting the progressive education movement, deliberative politics seems to have had marginal impact on the way policy has evolved. Meanwhile, the adversarial approach’s straightforward explanation of citizenship education as the outcome of the preferences of self-interested actors also fails to provide a full explanation. The institutional approach produces a more useful perspective that considers historical development, context, and institutional legacies, as well as interests, values, preferences, and ideas. Citizenship education curricula, for example, are the result of several layers of ideas, policy tools, and institutions. No winning government coalition can completely erase these legacies; not even the dictatorship, with its formidable power, could ensure that the curricula could be implemented in its authoritarian and neoliberal character at the grassroot level.

For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Chile, civic education was present but submerged in wider political processes and broader policy domains, as shown by the comprehensive neoliberal reform of the school system during the dictatorship. This reform had two notable political implications. The first was the attempt to promote the protected democracy model under the aegis of allegedly politically neutral civic education and to depoliticize institutions and society – a failed attempt, considering the dictatorship’s later electoral defeat. The second implication was the promulgation of the general education law in 1990 at the end of the dictatorship, which among other things enabled school-level curricular flexibility within the general guidelines prescribed by the government. This was valuable in ensuring educational freedom. However, the dictatorship never intended to boost educational freedom but to limit the political discretion of the incoming center-left democratic government.

Thus, this policy is not a mere direct by-product of winners advancing their narrow interests but also the unintended consequences of other political purposes. For example, neither the idea of global citizenship nor the challenges of national identity vis-á-vis multiculturalism have seemed preeminent up to now in Chile. Instead, Chile’s troubled recent record of and efforts to promote human rights have been prominent. Entering the twenty-first century, curricular adjustments in Chile, as in other countries, responded specifically to the perception of the low quality of democracy, considering indicators of alienation from formal political institutions such as voter turnout and political party disengagement, in addition to rampant social inequality and the socioeconomic stratification of the school system.

Massive social protests and student mobilizations along with an even broader social debate on the need for a new constitution have recently pushed education policy in Chile away from a neoliberal legacy. However, changes in citizenship education occurred specifically through expert consultation, combined with bureaucratic, not legislative, decision-making, excepting the 2016 citizenship education law. The prospects for a deliberative turn in citizenship education policy seem good thanks to the newly designed local agencies for public education, where students and parents should have a formal voice in political control of their schools. The empowerment of parents and students will counterbalance or complement the adversarial exchange with the expert commission consultation, politicians, bureaucrats, school authorities, and teachers. Moreover, as the institutional perspective suggests, this empowerment would add key stakeholders in a highly complex process that also involves history, context, institutional legacies, public ideas, and normative goals.



This chapter is a result of a broader research initiative for which the author has received funding from the Chilean government through FONDECYT project No. 1171448. The author wishes to thank Dania Straughan and Nikolai Stieglitz for English editing and proofreading and Alejandra Marinovic and the editors of this handbook for extensive comments and suggestions.


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© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Ciencia PolíticaPontificia Universidad Católica de ChileSantiagoChile

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