The Peruvian educational system serves young people from shortly after birth until the completion of university studies, although many limitations and exclusions make this system far from universal. A developmental preprimary system attempts to prepare students for primary education during their first six years of life. According to the legal standards of the nation, Peruvian children have access to equal and compulsory primary education from the ages of 6 to 11. Upon completion of primary education, students proceed to a unified two-year program of secondary education in a general secondary school from ages 12 to 14. At the end of the general secondary program, students are divided into two tracks for a three-year program from ages 14 to 16. The more academic of these tracks is the Ciclo Diversificado Científico-Humanista, which awards a Bachillerato Academico upon completion. The second track, the technical secondary school, awards its completing students a Bachillerato Técnico. Aside from the three-tiered program of traditional education, the nation also provides special education services for nearly 300,000 students annually. These students include those with cognitive and physical disabilities as well as emotional instability. Education in Peru is compulsory from the ages of 6 through 16. The academic year runs from April to December for 38 school weeks each year. In the secondary schools, each week includes 36 class periods.
Peru in 1999 supported 56,671 schools and 284,511 classrooms nationwide, serving a total of 7,553,011 students. The 2000 statistics showed an increase to 7.8 million students, of whom 6.7 million attended free state-funded schools. Of these students, slightly more than half (50.5 percent) are male. Of the nation's 351,441 teachers, females outnumbered males by a rate of 57 to 43. Ministry of Education statistics estimate that 96.9 percent of primary-age children and 85.9 percent of secondary-age children were enrolled in school in 1999, up from 88.0 percent and 79.4 percent respectively in 1993. Throughout all levels of education, students in rural schools were considerably more apt to be older than the prescribed age for their current level of school, reflecting the relative weakness of the early-childhood programs in rural areas. Similarly, rural students are much more likely to receive scholastic assistance than their urban counterparts.
Although slightly underrepresented in the primary and secondary schools, the status of women in Peruvian education has improved dramatically since the Tejeda Ministry of Education began opening the way to full participation for women. The inclusion of minorities, most notably Native Americans, in the education system remains a work in progress. The history of Peruvian education can be outlined using the series of initiatives attempted since independence at integrating the Native Americans into the system. In the 1960s, the government instituted a new basic education law, which dictated that any community building its own schoolhouse would be assigned a teacher by the government. In the wake of this, hundreds of peasant communities worked together to bring a school into their midst. The Ministry of Education made good on the promise of teachers, greatly raising the enrollment rates of eligible students. Although recent reforms and practices suggest that the educational system is moving toward a less assimilationist attitude, historically, Native American students were viewed and were encouraged to view themselves as distinctively and defectively "other." Many indigenous people viewed the educational system as a means toward reducing this difference, thus forcing them to blend with the dominant culture. Education has, even in recent years, taken an active role in disparaging Native American culture, including encouraging students to discard their traditional clothing and not to speak the vernacular language.
In 1990, a total of 72 percent of the population reported speaking only Spanish, compared with 60 percent in 1961. Roughly 18 percent of the total population is bilingual in Spanish and a native language, while around 10 percent report being monolingual in a native language. This number, while only 50 percent of the non-Spanishspeaking population reported in 1960, still represents a significant portion of the nation's potential students. Although Spanish remains both the official language of the nation and the primary language of instruction, earlier efforts at suppressing native tongues have ended. In recent decades, the government has reversed its Spanish-only policies, processing through a period of neutrality, to current promotion and support for both bilingual education, mostly Spanish-Quechua and Spanish-Aymara, and study and preservation of various native languages. Recent initiatives utilizing bilingual education in the Andean and Amazon regions of the nation have resulted in pronounced progress in literacy and educational achievement among those peoples. Despite efforts at linguistic inclusion within the government at large and the education establishment in particular, literacy and fluency in Spanish remain a virtual requirement for participating within the national life and exercising rights as a citizen.
Between 1950 and 1990, the number of students enrolled in private schools declined from 34 percent to 14 percent. This decline can be traced to two conflicting forces. First, the overall rate of matriculation among all eligible students increased significantly over this period. With virtually all of these new students moving into the public schools, the private schools' proportion of the total student population declined without an actual decline in headcount. Second, the economic crisis of the 1980s caused a slight reduction in enrollments in private schools, although this force was by far the less significant of the two.
All private schools operate on a non-profit basis with state oversight and regulation. Private schools are generally self-funding, although some receive a subsidy from the government that assists in the payment of teacher salaries. Fees levied by private schools are set by a fees and scholarships committee within the individual school, composed of the school's director, its principal (or a designated representative), a member of the faculty, and a representative of the parents. The fees assessed range from $15 to $300 monthly. Roughly 25 percent of private-school students attend schools provided by religious bodies.
All curricular materials, syllabi, and course outlines are created and provided by the Ministry of Education. These materials, once created, are required by law to remain in place for at least six years before revisions can be effected. Local control is allowed for decisions concerning the details of content delivery and teaching methodologies in order to provide flexibility in accommodating the variations in language. While the first years of primary curriculum are tightly scripted by the Ministry of Education, teachers in grades five and six are given relatively more freedom in allocating time dedicated to the required classes. In the lower grades, teachers are restricted to variations in the actual delivery but are given very little flexibility in terms of content. Teachers are required to prepare an annual plan, before the beginning of the school year, through which they coordinate their proposed pedagogy with the personal and regional needs found in their classes. While content is tightly controlled by the government, teaching methods are largely left up to the individual teachers, who are encouraged to take into account the maturity levels and learning habits of their students, their own particular teaching styles and strengths, and the resources available in and around the school.
From the beginning of the republic to the present, Peruvian leaders have seen education as a vital force in economic development. The nation's ability to effect recovery from the economic crisis of the 1980s can be traced not just to sound economic policies on the part of the government but to the expansion of both the educational infrastructure and the proportion of highly educated people within the society. Economic development in the Amazon and trans-Andean regions have followed closely behind the establishment and expansion of education services in those areas.
Aside from its role in economic development, education has been a major force in political and social development. Early reformers like San Martín saw education as a means toward guaranteeing the survival of an independent state. The nation's history of military dictatorship and government corruption can be traced to some degree to the failure of a century-long series of initiatives toward universal education. Conversely, the nation's recent relative political stability, especially in the light of such potentially devastating forces as economic disasters, political corruption, and the Shining Path movement, suggests that progress toward the expansion and improvement of the education system have begun to fulfill San Martín's hopes.
A final area in which education fosters development is in national identity. In the wake of the devastating War of the Pacific, which resulted in Peru losing wealth, prestige, and territory, education became the primary means by which the government inculcated a nationalistic vision within students. Although the curricula of the 1997 reform seems headed away from this tendency, textbooks and classroom objectives in the schools have traditionally been laden with nationalistic and sometimes jingoistic materials, which laud the heroes of the past and at the same time vilify two long-time enemies, Chile and Ecuador.
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