The Education System In Latin American
The Andean Region: Peru and Ecuador
Latin America is a region of rich cultural history and traditions. Latin America’s civilizations date back thousands of years ago and are diverse not only to others around the world but also among themselves. Their national identity and customs are embraced with much pride to this very day. But beneath their annual festivals, eclectic cosine, soulful music and expressive art lies many social and economical inequalities. Most, if not all, Latin American countries have struggled to deal with these serious issues and have tried to solve them in various ways; some through liberal democratic governments. These issues are very much prevalent in the Andean Region in Latin America, more specifically in Peru and Ecuador.
There are many explanations to why there is such economic disparages in Peru and Ecuador, and their educational system is one of them. To better understand the issues and problems with Peru and Ecuador’s educational systems and the effects they have on their population, one must understand the history behind education in these two countries. Also, one must understand the structures of their educational system as well. The objective of this paper is not to give a full, in depth explanation to all the aspects of the Peruvian and Ecuadorian educational systems, for to do so in this type of paper would be impossible. Instead, the main emphasis on this paper is to give a brief overview of the history and structure of both countries educational systems and then analyze the issues that are prevalent in both systems.
Like most Latin American countries, Peru and Ecuador’s educational system was first structured and orchestrated by the Catholic Church after the Spanish Colonial Conquest of South America. The Catholic Church, during the majority of the Colonial Era, was the main educational body in Peru and Ecuador. The institutions that were formed were highly selective, mostly meant for the well off, and were the focal points of the town or city they were located in. Education was mostly available to males of the elites or upper middle class. The women of the same two social classes at this time were not offered the same amount of opportunities to be educated and thus many were illiterate; a pattern that continues to this day in both Peru and Ecuador. The only forms of education that a woman could attain were schools that involved teaching household skills of if the woman became a Nun. Unlike the wealthy, the poor had a very limited chance of going to a school. For the few that did, they were educated in less suitable facilities by the clergy and barely went passed the primary level of education. This pattern of educational inequality for the poor in Peru and Ecuador is still a prevalent issue to this very day.
If was not until the Enlightenment Period that the world started to rethink many social and economical issues that effected society. Peru and Ecuador were no exceptions to this and sought to gain their Independence from Spain. It was not until the early 1820s that they were finally free of Spain and started to develop more liberal government systems. Although, like many Latin American countries, the governments of these two countries had their liberal and conservative transitions in governmental rule, education was still drastically changing. Soon, the basic structures of the school systems were being highly influenced by Napoleonic France. A more centralized hierarchal tier system was formed giving more organization to the education systems. Universal education was still not fully formed in Peru and Ecuador and would not be until the latter half of the 1800s when the state system took away the clergies power by secularizing education.
With the formation of more liberal democracies in Peru and Ecuador, the power of the Church started to wane though governmental legislation. The Church then lost its grip on both of the two countries’ educational systems. The government took over the schooling of their nations and began to secularize all the public run facilities. Like most Latin American countries at this time, once the state started to take control of the education system, they began to universalize it and make it mandatory for the children to at east finish primary school. The immigration of Europeans also heavily influenced the idea of “public schools” and many Latin American countries modeled their school systems off of England’s own school structure.
Although there was an increase in those enrolled in school during the late 1800s, many of the poor, mostly rural indigenous Indians, did not get a proper education. This is because of the language barriers on the Amerindians who spoke several dialects of their native tongue, Quechua, and the Spanish speaking institutions. This issue still causes many problems in the education of many rural Peruvian and Ecuadorians. The problem of low female enrollment rates at this time in history was also a major issue. Many women’s societies protested the imbalance of educated men verses women and wanted a more equal system. A Peruvian woman’s activist in Lima, Carolina Freyre de Jaimes, wrote to her fellow sisters in the newspaper El Correo del Perú:
We need to raise woman’s intelligence to the level of men through education or she will continue to be housebound…[Education] is available to those with money while ignorance reigns among the masses. The schools offer a rich varied curriculum for the elite and the intellectual misery for the more numerous poor. To form a free society we must elevate women, amplify their educational opportunities, give them professions in they need employment, and inculcate habits of work, sobriety, and good customs.
The words of Carolina Freyre de Jaimes still ring true today in regards to how the wealthy have a better opportunity to be educated and that there is a large amount of women in Peru and Ecuador not being properly educated. Although these problems are still persisting, the formation of state run educational systems, mostly since the early 1900s, in both countries has improved the literacy levels. The uniformity of the schools and educational systems consolidated a path that is universal throughout both nations and helped make the school career of the students more transparent.
Schooling in Peru and Ecuador can start during ages 0-3 (cunos) or ages 3-5 (nidos). This first level of education is called the Initial Education level. This level is rarely offered in public schools and is primarily a starting level education only available to the wealthy that can afford private education for their younger children. This level of education is equivalent to kindergarten in the United States and is a preparatory stage of education for students to transition to their future educational endeavors. There is a push inside both countries to offer this level of education to the broader population, but it is not taken too seriously with the government because of the lack of funding available to the implement such a project.
The next stage of education offered in Peru and Ecuador, and is usually the first form of formal education most children receive in both countries, is the Primary Education level. This level of education ranges from children who are six years old to twelve years old, but because of recurring failure rates many are older before they complete the full six years of schooling. Primary schooling is offered to those who have psychical or mental special needs as well as night classes, which are offered to adults. Like all public schooling in Peru and Ecuador, education is technically free, that is, the facilities are. There are “hidden costs” in both of these “free” public educational systems that are incurred on the families who have to send their children to go to school. Some of the costs include, a uniform, textbooks, writing materials and all other items needed in the classroom that are not otherwise offered to the students from the school directly due to lack of funding. The topics that are taught in the Primary School level range from school to school depending on the area they are located in. For example, a school located near the rural areas of the county will emphasis agricultural lessons verses an urban school would emphasis economic or industrial topics. Occupational skills training is also available at this level but is emphasized more in the next level of education, Secondary Education, if the student so chooses to pursue their learning further.
The next level of education is the Secondary Education level. This stage in the student’s schooling has five grades and, like the Primary Schooling, it is paid for by the state. Again, the state may pay for the facilities, but the student still has other costs that their family has to pay for themselves. The Secondary schools are divided into general and vocational schools. The vocational schools teach the students manual job skills such as carpentry. The general schools emphasis a more academic curriculum. The school day is broken up into a morning session and an afternoon session, the student has to attend one. The session has seven classes lasting around 45 minutes. When the student is enrolled into Secondary schooling, he or possibly she has to choose the educational programs they want to study. The options that the students can choose from are agriculture, craft/manufacturing, commerce, industrial or science/humanities. Depending of the location of the school, the students decide what program they wish to study in. The majority of students who wish to pursue a higher education in a college or university take the science/humanities program because the entrance exams for most high learning institutions emphasis that subject matter.
The final step in a Peruvian or Ecuadorian student’s education is going to a university. In the 1930’s there were only four universities in Ecuador, now there are a total of sixty-one. In Peru there were about thirty universities in the early 1980s a number that has increased in the last thirty years. That being said, there is still a small percentage of students who actually make it that far to attend such places and even fewer graduate with a degree. Although some of the universities are state owned, the families of the student must pay for them to attend. Many of the universities are located in the city, causing the student and most likely their entire family to move to the already overpopulated urban setting. In recent years, more universities have been opening outside the city but the majority of them are still centralized in the larger population areas, which causes great depopulation of the rural areas. Completion of a degree not only allows economic prosperity to be more likely but also gives the graduate and their family an heir of sophistication as well as a high social standing. Paulston writes: “The middle- or lower class student…now seeks to improve future earning potential, while simultaneously improving his social and cultural status.”
Peru and Ecuador’s educational systems are structured similarly and also have the same issues in regards to who is educated and how well that education is administered. As of 1981 the literacy percentage of the Ecuadorian Indian population was 52.5% while the Mestizo’s literacy percentage was nearly 75%. In recent years the percentage has increased for the Indian population but the disparity is still very prevalent, a pattern that is quite similar in Peru as well. The literacy and education of women in both countries is a major issue and shows the cultural traditions of gender between these two countries. In Peru alone, studies from 1983 show that the illiteracy rates among women was over 25% while the male percentage was 9.5%. Over 32% of women ages 15 years and older were without any educational instruction verses 9.2% of males. Again in recent years illiteracy has decreased but both countries still have an overwhelming amount of women, especially rural women, who are still not receiving an adequate education.
There are several reasons for the staggering problems in the educational systems of Peru and Ecuador that affect the poor citizens, mostly rural Indians, and the women population as a whole. One of the most drastic issues in regards to the disparities in the educational systems of Peru and Ecuador is the fact that many of the rural Indian populations are located in areas that are very hard to access and thus are unable to get adequate materials and teachers to their local schools. In a sense, they are simply forgotten and given the very minimum amount of supplies to conduct a lesson. In contrast, schools that are in a more populated town or city have better access to supplies and teachers and are usually families of Mestizos. Brook writes: “The outlying rural regions, if for no other reasons then of the simple logistics of transportation, will inevitably be less well provided for then the major urban areas.” So, because of the rural Indian’s location, the governments are unwilling to send the resources needed because it is too difficult and costly to do so and thus the rural Indian populations suffer.
Another reason for the Indian educational disparities in Peru and Ecuador is the fact that many speak their native tongue, Quechua, rather than Spanish. This causes many issues for most teachers who can only speak Spanish. Many teachers, for their lack of education and pay, loose interest in trying to teach the students in these areas the basic subject matters in the Primary level and instead try to at least teach them basic Spanish. Because of this, many students repeatedly fail the grade they are in just because they were unable to grasp the Spanish language fast enough. There have been experiments to teach the students through bilingual programs, like the one formed by DINEIB (National Board for Intercultural and Bilingual Education) in 1988, but still students struggle to learn a language at the same time learning content.
Finally, many critics of Peruvian and Ecuadorian educational systems state that the main cause for their poor quality is the fact that the teachers are under paid over worked and not properly educated in teaching pedagogy. Most teachers have to take up second jobs to be able to provide for their family. Some drive taxis or do other oddball jobs to even make ends meet. This severely deters their attention to their students, causing them to not prepare lesson plans or allow after school time with their struggling students. If properly paid, some argue, teachers would have more time to spend working to help their students rather than to work another job. Another issue with the teachers in Peru and Ecuador is the fact that many center their instruction on lecture rather than student centered teaching. Many are not properly trained to facilitate a productive environment for learning in the schools they teach in. Some suggest that teachers be put through more intensive in-services to help them learn better teaching strategies.
In the past their have been two programs that have been implemented in Ecuador and eventually similarly implemented in Peru that tried to reform education and make it more effective for students. The two programs that were implemented were called the Nuclearisation Program, formed in 1974, and the Non-formal Educational Program. Both programs were implemented to help close the gap for rural Indians, the poor and women. The Nuclearisation Program was made to help bring the community of the town, and the rural areas around it, to find better ways to educate the students. The objective was to democratize the education process in the community and help suit the areas needs best by having discussion meetings with town and area leaders. The program turned out to only benefit the larger towns and many of the decisions were in favor of the larger populous of the area leaving the smaller rural Indian population little say in the meetings. Nothing drastically changed from the program, and the Indian population was still being poorly educated and given few resources to work with. The Non-formal Education Program was more of a success because it was intended more for the rural communities. The program emphasized meeting the educational needs of whatever area the school was in depending on the likely jobs available in that community. For example, more agricultural classes were taught an implemented if the community’s students would most likely be involved in farming professions in their future. The Non-formal Education Program was a success but many rural Indians still lack the proper resources and teaching today.
Throughout most of Peru’s and Ecuador’s history, education has been an issue. Since the Colonial Era, much of the population was not properly educated and to this day there are many marginalized groups, the poor, the rural Indians and women, who are still not getting an adequate schooling. There have been some initiatives to help solve the problem but, as Brook states: “Too often, the schemes intended to integrate marginal groups are themselves not wholly appropriate…because they only attack the symptoms of that marginality and not the causes.” Peru and Ecuador have taken measures in the past few decades to help those who need it the most, but the issues are just as alive as they were five hundred years ago.