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Puerto Rico - Secondary Education

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferencePuerto Rico - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education


Senior high school enrollments in the 1997-98 year totaled 119,428 (57,141 males and 62,287 females). This enrollment number shows a substantial dwindling from a primary school high to a high school low. Also, whereas boys outnumber girls in the primary and middle schools, the reverse is true in the senior high schools. It is at this level that dropout rates increase radically. Whereas, according to statistics released by the Department of Education, in 1997-98 there were some 52,606 pupils enrolled in first grade, only 33,099 were counted in twelth grade that year, a drop of about two-fifths. Causes identified for this high dropout rate range from pregnancy and marriage to getting a job, from academic failure to disciplinary problems. The statistics don't mention cultural and/or family reasons or boredom and peer pressure.

The goals of the tenth to twelfth grade curriculum have been summarized as follows by the Department of Education guidelines: to promote the transition from concrete to abstract thought; to encourage the transformation from individualism and competitiveness to social cooperation; to facilitate the transition of study competence to work competence; to help the pupil go from reliance on memorization to applying what he or she knows in the real world; and to teach the art of "self-apprenticeship." Thus the young man or woman will think critically, be able to make proper decisions, use technology, evaluate and judge, be responsible, and possess a worthy scale of personal and social values. At the same time, the high school diploma means adequate communicative skills; a high level of expression in both Spanish and English; a capacity for creative work; a conceptual mastery of diverse areas of knowledge; and a sense of self-esteem.

The program requires three credit years of Spanish, English, mathematics (including computer science), social studies, and science; 1 credit year of visual arts, dance, music and theater each; one semester (one-half credit) of health (including sexual education); and three years of physical education with the possibility of participating in intramural and extramural sports.

Finally, Puerto Rico maintains 24 selective specialized high schools: 2 in science and mathematics; 11 in fine arts; 1 in sports; 1 in radio and TV; 6 bilingual; 1 pretechnical; and 2 in talent development.

Private Primary & Secondary Education: The history of bitterness and systemic political antagonism between the private (largely Roman Catholic) and public sectors in education has had a choking effect on primary schooling in Puerto Rico. These antagonisms have not yet been laid entirely to rest, although there are welcome signs that they need not be prolonged over yet another century. Much of the prestige attached to private schools in Puerto Rico derives from the unevenness of the public sector. During the first half of the twentieth century, an average of about 4 percent of school children were enrolled in private schools (10 percent in 1960). Growth in this sector has been vertiginous, with, in 1988, some 128,554 children so enrolled. Parents, themselves the product of the public schools, have often reluctantly chosen to place their children in private schools when they can afford it so as not to expose them to the dangers and the inadequacies they perceive their children would face were they to attend local public schools. For other parents of the élite socio-economic class, private education is a social and class tradition. Still others, who have succeeded economically, will place their children in upper-class private schools in the hopes that they will be helped thereby in moving up the social ladder. Critics of the private schools charge, not without reason, that such schools constitute an important means of perpetuating across generations the existence of an impermeable governing and economically powerful élite. Many such critics also say that this class has become increasingly out of touch with the realities of the country; it is absorbed in globalization and safeguarding its own perquisites.

According to the Organic Law of 1990, private schools beneath college and university level must be licensed by the Oficina de Licencias (License Office) of the Consejo de la Educación (Council of Education). The existence of a physical plant, presence of labs and library, sanitary conditions, as well as a satisfactory curriculum and properly trained teachers, are all factors considered in the process. By 1995 about 550 schools obtained licenses; in addition there exist some 290 vocational and technical schools that must also obtain licenses (López Yustos).

As might be expected, the curriculum of most private schools rarely departs from that set for public primary schools, except for the more or less strong emphasis placed in many of the former on religious instruction and traditional moral teaching. Resources in the élite schools (buildings, library collections, more individual attention, computers, variety of opportunities of different sorts, and "proper" peers) are generally superior to those of the vast majority of public schools. The classroom atmosphere is usually more tranquil and classes are smaller than in the public sector. Although the erstwhile numerous order-related teaching staff has often given way to lay teachers, teacher morale is generally high. In most instances each private school offers a K (or Pre-K) through 12 track.

In all private schools, as well as in many public schools, rather strict dress codes are imposed and observed. These involve blouse and jumpers for girls and trousers and shirts for boys, often with colors specified.

College/university preparation is generally perceived as the various institutions' common major goal and chief educational raison d'être. Since as far back as 1940, graduates of the better private schools have rather consistently outperformed their public coevals at the University of Puerto Rico, and a significant proportion of them go on to study at prestigious colleges and universities in the United States (Nieves Falcón).

Mention should also be made of the still-increasing importance of Protestant schools, which range from the fundamentalist to such mainstream Anglo-Saxon institutions as the Episcopalian school in Santurce. Although the different denominations often correspond to socioeconomic classes, there remains nevertheless much social mobility between them. In part the flourishing of these schools is due to the perceived social dangers associated with the public schools, as well as to the upper crust character often attributed to the well-known Roman Catholic institutions.

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