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Bolivia

Preprimary & Primary Education


Before 1900, tutors (generally from the clergy) educated the sons of white elite families. The Indians were taught only enough to convert them to Catholicism. At that date only 17 percent of the adult population was literate. But, in the early 1900s, a teaching mission from Belgium laid the foundation for the Bolivian rural primary school, and in 1931 Elizardo Pérez founded a large nuclear school, teaching grades five to eight. Subsequently, this central school became the model for education in the rural Andes. By the 1952 Revolution, in spite of this effort, less than one third of adults were literate. By the mid-1980s when the overall adult literacy stood at 75 percent, 350 centers for adult literacy programs, with approximately 2,000 teachers, were established. These programs however were set up mainly in La Paz. The last "Education For All" (EFA) survey compiled by international agencies headed by UNESCO reports substantial improvements in the literacy rate by genders. For 1997 it quotes 78.4 percent for female adults and 91.6 percent for male adults, but the rates also show the pervasive gender gap.

The most recent statistics available reveal the results of efforts to equalize the standards between females and males. For example, the gross enrollment ratio for preprimary education shows that the percentages for girls rose from 30.2 percent to 36.6 percent and for boys from 30.3 percent to 36.2 percent during the 10-year period from 1989 to 1999, an improvement slightly higher for females. As for the actual enrollment in primary school, the results are far more spectacular; the numbers rose from 57,855 for females to 85,085; and from 64,728 for males to 90,986. Although this rise was encouraging, the increase seems to be due largely to an increase in population, and the survival rate to fifth grade actually declined from 60.5 percent to 47.1 percent in 1998. Despite the small net gain in actual numbers who make it to fifth grade, not many children make it through the supposedly compulsory period. In fact, although there were 87,180 girls of the age to start primary education in 1990, only 38,390 or 44 percent actually registered. By 1999, out of 109,360 girls, 52,800 enrolled, or 48.2 percent. As for boys, out of a total of 88,500 in 1990, some 44,885 (50.7 percent) enrolled in primary education. By 1999, out of 113,660 boys of the entry age, more than half (51.9 percent) or 58,989 enrolled. Although the percentages from 1990 to 1999 have changed very little, there has been a considerable gain in the actual number of students attending school. Clearly, the increase is doing little more than keeping up with the increased population.

In the mid-1980s, approximately 60 percent of the 59,000 Bolivian teachers were teaching in urban schools, and the educational expenditures had plunged to less than 40 percent of the total expenditure of 1980. The portion of the gross domestic product (GDP) represented by education dropped from 3 percent to less than 2 percent because of the economic crisis. The latest numbers recorded by the EFA show a steady improvement in educational investment from 1989 to 1999. The public current expenditure in primary education as a percentage of the GNP went from 1.615 percent in 1990 to 2.265 percent in 1999. (Numbers peak in 1993, 1996, and 1997, which should translate into improved statistics in the future.) The public current expenditure in primary education per pupil, as a percentage of the GNP per capita, went from 10.08 percent to 11.96 percent—though it represents a decline from the peak years between 1992 and 1997. As in other levels of education, the reform movement made its way into initial and primary education, but many problems persist.

In 1998 the Bolivian Center for Educational Research and Implementation (CEBIAE) published its findings and came up with an integral proposal for educational innovation at the Preschooler and Primary levels (PIIEN) in the Bolivian Andes, a region lagging behind the rest of the nation. This alternative project—to be implemented in the nuclei of La Paz, Oruro, and Potosi—is based on the cumulative experience of participating primary school educators. A remarkable project, it has one main objective: the improvement of the quality of learning. The project aims to improve the quality of teaching, to democratize the management of education, to improve the local curriculum by making it truly intercultural, to promote the development of educational research, to construct learning networks between teachers in the many establishments of the nuclei, and to construct educational projects in the various educational units and in each nucleus of every unit. Other aims are to increase autonomy, personal initiative, and responsibility and to make good use of whatever qualities individuals demonstrate. The project promotes participation at all levels among students, teachers, and parents from different communities. Their participation helps develop the curriculum, make decisions on methodology, raise the levels of citizenship and intercultural awareness, increase communication, improve research, and democratically manage the school and ultimately the nucleus itself, all within the reform framework. The project tries to respond to teachers' needs and to local necessities; it brings the community together, but above all, it implements measures to allow teachers to educate themselves to become better teachers.

In order to carry out the functions of the project, four different types of networks are organized: between same grade teachers, between cycles, within the educational unit, and with the educational nuclei. This project went through a period of increased awareness starting in 1998, then through the recreation and constructive phase in 1999-2000. In 2000-2001 the consolidation phase was under way.

Enrollments are still higher in urban areas than rural areas, but the gap between them has seriously diminished, despite the fact that the urban count reflects many once-rural students who migrated to the cities to obtain an education. Night classes, more frequent in urban areas, have helped improve literacy and education at all levels, especially with older students. A 1989-1992 study done by the Secretary of Education showed that the number of students in intermediate education was still very low; less than 50 percent of the students of the appropriate age group were enrolled. As expected, an apparent discrepancy existed between cities and rural areas. In cities, close to 70 percent of students within the corresponding age range were enrolled in intermediate education, as opposed to around 25 percent in rural areas.

The number of students enrolling at both intermediate and secondary levels seems to be directly affected by such factors as the age of students, the size of the family, the language spoken at home, and the migration patterns. Significant, too, are the family expenses and the level of education of both parents, especially the level of the mother's education as it influences the education of female students. A higher family income correlates with a higher enrollment of males, while the use of Spanish at home and the educational level of the head of the household correlate with the enrollment of females. Being a recent migrant has a negative influence on the enrollment of both genders.

One fact is clearly noticeable: the more educated the parents are, the more Spanish is spoken at home; the more Spanish is spoken, the more income the family has and the less the adult family members trust the public educational system and the more they rely on private education. The weakness of public education, and the consequent public distrust of it, explains the need for reform in public education and the increase in the creation of many private schools starting in 1989. They provide a welcome alternative to public education, although they exist primarily in urban areas. The ETARE study of 1992 shows that the private sector serves 19.5 percent of the total students in urban areas but only 0.038 percent of the total students in rural areas. Parents increasingly demand quality education, which explains the large migration of students towards cities, even at the intermediate stage of education. Parents believe that their children' chances of obtaining financial aid at the university level is directly related to how well they do at the intermediate and secondary levels. According to data published by UDAPSO, based on information gathered by ETARE, in 1992, 10,167 or 37.8 percent of the rural enrollment migrated to an urban area to study at the intermediate level; these migrants represented 12.1 percent of the urban enrollment.

In another area of particular importance, sexual education is known to have a positive impact on fertility rates when female students attend school between the ages of 8 and 12 but, in 1992, more than half of the females (54 percent) in Bolivian urban areas and almost all the females (95 percent) in rural areas failed to complete the intermediate cycle during which they would have gained the necessary knowledge to make informed reproductive choices. Without the results of the latest study, it is difficult to do justice to Bolivia's progress in intermediate education, but there are reasons to believe that the situation has improved in the last decade. Gender parity was recently achieved in urban private schools at the intermediate level.


Additional topics

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