8 minute read


History & Background

Spanning a 2,400 mile length of the Pacific coast, Peru constitutes the third-largest country in South America at 1,285,216 square kilometers. At least as significant as the country's size, however, is its geographical and climatic diversity. The bulk of the nation's population of 22 million inhabits the arid but accessible coastal region west of the Andes, which creates a formidable barrier between the coast and the tropical rainforests that fill nearly 60 percent of Peru's land area east of the mountains. Since the time of Spanish colonization, the coastal region has enjoyed economic privilege over the inland areas, largely due to accessibility. The climate across the country ranges from tropical to glacial, with vast differences in the productivity of the soils and accessibility to transportation.

Peru's population has been historically split just as its geography, yet this division has been more fluid. After their sixteenth-century conquest of Peru, the Spanish placed themselves at the head of a strongly hierarchical existing population, subjugating the previously dominant Inca leaders but allowing them to retain a place of dominance over their subjects. Even after independence from Spain in 1825, race has continued to play a major role in Peruvian society. As in many other Latin American nations, a three-tiered hierarchy has emerged over time with those descended from the Spanish at the top, the native groups at the bottom, and mixed race or mestizaje, occupying a position of some respectability in between.

The formation of the contemporary Peruvian education system began with the arrival of significant numbers of Spaniards in the sixteenth century. The development of schools for the growing Spanish population was driven almost exclusively by the clergy, who gathered in greatest density at Lima, constituting as much as 15 percent of the capital city's population by the seventeenth century. Due to this concentration of clergy, Lima became established early in Peru's modern history as the center of education with many Spanish students migrating from outlying districts for their education. Eventually this migration extended to meztizos, those of mixed race, and most recently to the indigenous peoples of the nation. Only during the latter half of the twentieth century were provincial educational facilities developed that could compare with those in Lima. While education during the colonial period focused exclusively on those of the ruling class, the 1821 war of independence, led by San Martín, sought to enfranchise the entire population and opened educational opportunities to a wider segment of society. After three centuries of Spanish oppression, however, the Native Americans came to this opportunity largely illiterate, poor, and Monolingual; therefore, they were illprepared to advance into the higher levels of the new republic's society. Cultural biases in favor of the established educational centers and against the Native American and mestizo populations coupled with economic limitations to slow the expansion of the educational system. It took more than a century of slow progress to create an educational infrastructure that reached all the significant population centers across the nation. Secondary colegios were founded in Ayacucho and Huaráz in 1828, in Chiclayo in 1832, and in Trujillo in 1854. The effect of these and other provincial colegios was to reduce the need for educational migration to the major centers of Lima and Cuzco.

In the years following independence, the Peruvian governments that resulted from the series of 10 constitutions placed into effect between 1823 and 1993 have consistently accepted responsibility for universal education. In order to remedy the slow pace of progress in achieving this objective, governments initiated a series of significant and more or less successful reforms that marked the most important progress of the nation's first century. In 1855, a reform movement created the primary and secondary levels of the public schools. In 1866, the Prado government's Minister of Justice and Education, José Simeón Tejeda, worked to create the nation's first uniform secondary school curriculum, orienting studies more toward vocational training than toward the traditional college preparatory curriculum. At the same time, Tejeda labored toward gender equality, attempting to provide equal access to education for women and allowing women to teach in the nation's primary schools. An 1867 law called for a secondary school for each sex to be established in each provincial capital, although the full implementation of these reforms would only be accomplished many years later. Tejeda also worked to effect university reform, abolishing the colonial Colegio de San Marcos as an independent unit within the San Marcos University and creating faculties in sciences, letters, law, and theology. An 1875 movement introduced lycées modeled on the French system into the nation's secondary schools. Finally, in the first decade of the twentieth century, the administration and finance of the nation's schools were centralized under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. During that same period the ministry saw its budget doubled—to reach 17.2 percent of the national budget.

Despite these and other less celebrated efforts, the goal of universal, equal education suffered due to the strict social stratification still prevalent throughout the country and enforced by conservative cultural, political, and religious forces. Only in the post-World War II period was significant progress achieved in spreading education to the majority of school-age children in Peru. During the years of 1944 through 1962, a joint organization of educators from Peru and the United States created and funded the Servicio Cooperativo Peruano-Norteamericano de Educación (SECPANE), which aimed to increase educational access for Peru's Andean Native Americans. During its 18 years of existence, SECPANE instituted many initiatives, including the creation of central resource schools, well-provided with both equipment and staff, which served as hubs for a network of smaller schools. Despite the gains, however, upon SECPANE's termination in 1962, much of the progress was lost. The demise of SECPANE has been ascribed to various forces, including a lack of understanding of Peruvian social dynamics on the part of the administrators and teachers from the United States and their failure to more integrally involve Peruvian educators and administrators in the reforms so as to make the process more self-replicating.

A more successful reform came in 1972 when the Ministry of Education resolved to use education to prepare citizens for the workplace in ways that would help develop society, effect structural reforms in the culture, and make Peru more powerful and independent within the international community. This reform, which included a revival of many of the techniques used during the SECPANE years, was accompanied by a significant increase in educational funding and a renewed commitment to provide free and equal education for students from the primary schools through the university. During the 1960s and 1970s, considerable progress was attained in extending the reach of the educational system, with those termed "uneducated" by the government reduced from 32.8 percent to 13.5 percent between 1961 and 1981.

An economic crisis that culminated in 1990 with Peru having the world's highest inflation rate (7000 percent), an effective unemployment rate of 94 percent in Lima, and a nationwide poverty rate of 50 percent resulted in dramatic cut-backs in real-dollar funding for Peruvian education and a consequent deterioration of the school system. The succeeding government committed itself to a restoration and eventual expansion of education funding. At about the time that funding rose above pre-crisis levels, the Ministry of Education moved to reorganize and reform the entire educational system through a series of structural and curricular initiatives beginning in 1997 and aiming for complete implementation by 2007.

An understanding of Peru's educational culture cannot be complete without an awareness of the ethnic and social divisions within the nation. Historically, Peruvian society has been structured in such a way as to reinforce the existing hierarchy that placed Europeans at the top. Education has been seen, in the earliest days and, to a less obvious degree, up to the present as a tool for the maintenance of this hierarchy. Education has thus followed a two-fold philosophical program in effecting this maintenance, serving to underscore the innate superiority of the privileged classes while at the same time serving to assimilate indigenous people into the thought patterns and values of conformity. From a practical standpoint, cultural indoctrination has followed a three-part strategy for assimilation and control. First, religious instruction was used as a main goal of the education system, and the efforts to bring Catholicism to the indigenous people held strong for many years after the conquest. Second, education was called upon to train clergy and bureaucrats from among the lower classes, creating collaborators in their practice of assimilation. Third, education aimed to train the lower classes in the economic and social standards of the ruling class so that they might take their place as functioning, productive members of the society. Peru, in 1997, began a 10-year process of modernization and restructuring of the educational system, aimed at addressing many of the inequities of the past and better preparing students for the future.

Besides ethnic divisions, Peru has a long-standing division between urban and rural residents. The 1990 census located more than 70 percent of Peruvians as urban dwellers with a full 30 percent residing in the capital, Lima. Virtually all quality-of-life statistics, including income, literacy, and educational achievement demonstrate the relative advantage that urban dwellers hold over their rural counterparts. Of the improvements in educational performance between 1961 and 1981, most were sited in the urban areas. Language divisions persist despite long-standing attempts, only recently abandoned, to enforce Spanish as the universal language. Indigenous languages are spoken by approximately 25 percent of inhabitants, with Quechua being the primary language of some 80 percent of this group. Spanish remains the official language with Quechua and Aymara granted a semiofficial status in some regions. During the twentieth century, Peru's already complex population became complicated by a large number of immigrants, especially Japanese immigrants, who arrived mostly as farm workers. The most prominent of these Nikkeijin, as the descendents of these Japanese immigrants are called, Alberto Fujimori, served as Peruvian President from 1990 through 2000.

Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferencePeru - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education