I’m intrigued. The façade of the Universidad de Chile on Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins in Santiago displays a huge banner with a quote from Nicanor Parra, the anti-poet: “Don’t stop being a flea in the minotaur’s ear”. The university celebrates Parra’s 100th birthday recalling part of the speech he gave at the opening of the academic year in 1999. I haven’t read Parra, I’m not familiar with his subject matter but if I had a guess at what the quote means I’d think of the role of a critical university, standing up to the relevant powers with its own voice and annoying the hell out of the establishment. And maybe I wouldn’t be too far off. In a letter to Luis Riveros, Parra’s signature reads ‘Académico de la muela del juicio’ –Academic of the Wisdom Tooth. So irreverence counts, be it flea-style or of a more dental nature.
Staying on topic, it’s exasperation that sums up my participation in the VI Congreso Iberoamericano de Pedagogía, hosted and (dis)organised by Universidad Católica Silva Henríquez and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso. Where do I start? No abstracts. No time keeping. No information. No place to display conference posters. No conference proceedings. No wifi. No substance. And who the heck schedules a tour of Valparaíso, UNESCO World Heritage site, to coincide with presentations? Had I not hitched a lift back to Santiago with two Chilean academics who agreed that Silva Henríquez could have done a much better job, I would have been happy to suggest that sending a spy over to Europe to learn how to organize a conference was a damn good plan. Oh nasty. Me retracto de todo lo dicho. I take back everything I said. Not.
On a different note, it’s been interesting to learn that getting an education in Chile is extremely expensive, regardless of universities being state-owned or private. Werner Westermann, who leads one of ROER4D’s sub-projects, tells me that attrition rates in his institution reach nearly 50% in first year, partly blamed on students seriously lacking basic learning skills. His study of the effectiveness of OER use to improve freshmen’s mathematical and logical thinking is the only initiative I know of that relates to open education in the region. Surprising. I can’t think of a scenario where OER and open education make better sense.