Previous to the independence, Christian religious orders predominantly influenced Chilean education. In fact, Jesuits founded the first educational institutions in the country. Since the Primera Junta Nacional de Gobierno (First National Government Junta) in 1810 there was interest on developing educational systems in the new country manifested by the independentist movement members. This desire was concretized by an approved decree that specifically waived taxes for a year and a half on books, maps, printers, physics instruments and machinery that contributed to social and educational advancement. Based on this predisposition to facilitate education, during the year 1813 the National Library was created, freedom of press was instituted, and the first official government newspaper, El Monitor Araucano, was established.
These efforts though were consolidated only partially due to prioritization of needs. Solidifying Chilean independence, as well as continuous wars related to territorial limits with adjacent countries, delayed the establishment of public education at a national level that covered all social strata.
From the conquest, late 1500s, to the early periods of the independence, the 1800s, education was in the hands of Catholic organizations. Churches, where reading and writing were taught, had as a main objective evangelizing and gaining new Christians raised in the faith. Additionally, education was highly stratified, it was intended for members of traditional Spanish families, and later, for aristocrats who formed the national elite. Equally, education was emphasized for men who were expected to hold political positions and play roles of leadership for the nation.
Following the Spanish colonial pattern at the time in the Americas, priests were predominantly scholars. The Aurora de Chile, (The Chilean Sunrise) the first Chilean newspaper was created and edited by Camilo Enriquez, a catholic priest, patriot, and man of letters who was deeply influenced by the ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Other Europeans influenced Chilean early educational models. The German educator Friedrich Froebel, the father of kindergarten, and the Swiss educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, whose interest in creating schools for the poor and the new didactic for elementary education influenced the development of Chilean education that likewise was reflected on teaching training.
Tradition, on the other hand, predominated over law, educational institutions were created mainly for boys, as in the case of secondary education. Equally, from a professional point of view, girls' access to education was also limited. Only twelve years after the first normal school was opened for males, the first school for girls of this type was created.
It was not until the beginning of the 20th century when drastic and moderate educational reforms solidified public education in the country mainly motivated by political movements and social force led by labor unions.
In 1927, the Ministry of Education was created, having as a main role to plan, implement, and enforce educational laws and oversee the conditions of education at a national level. With the exception of some short periods of time, its administration was characterized by offering centralized policies that favored uniform curricula nationwide including content, providing text books, and basic school supplies free of charge for elementary education. This policy favored relocation of families along the country making education transition easy for children to readapt to new schools on different geographical areas of the nation for decades.
Curricular flexibility began to be attained at the end of the second decade of the 20th century, when advances in education were conducted and partially accomplished by radical laws. Nevertheless, due to political turns, a promising educational system was abruptly ended.
Chilean education adopted a great degree of rigidity reflected on social and geographical inequalities. The most disadvantaged children were those of poor stratum who lived in rural areas where authority did not enforce matriculation and access to schools was difficult due to distance. Emphasis on education for the economically disadvantaged and rural zones of the country was given by president's E. Frei M. Christian Democratic government during the last five years of the 1960s decade when more contemporary methodologies were applied to public education or re-adopted from previous projects carried out in the 1920s and 1930s.
The school dropout rate was also a concern among policy makers. Afterstudying the situation during the 1950s, social strategies were implemented to reduce this rate by offering free nutritionally balanced breakfast and lunch to assist school-age children who fell below the poverty level and had no other significant assets. The Junta Nacional de Auxilio Escolar y Becas or JNAEB National Council for School Aid and Scholarships) was created to assess social needs that could prevent children from abandoning school prematurely. Low-income children were also provided with regular access to health and dental care and treatments, if required, free of charge on a regular basis as referred by school authorities. Other services were developed to serve the stratum, Colonias de Veraneo (vacation summer camps) were offered to students during their summer vacations that liberated them from work and as a strategy to motivate elementary school attendance. This initiative was put in practice for the first time in 1929, but was discontinued due to political circumstances. Nevertheless, it was revived as a successful effective program in elementary education by the JNAEB. All these initiatives were implemented to reduce school inequalities and to provide equal opportunity of education.
Scholarships were offered on a competitive basis for those low-income students who demonstrated academic outstanding performance to continue their secondary education. Funds for postsecondary education were allocated in the form of scholarships that did not have to be repaid.
Until 1965, primary grades were 6 years of compulsory schooling and 6 years of optional secondary education called bachillerato or humanidades (baccalaureate/humanities). The reform of 1966 extended free elementary compulsory public education to eight years while reduced secondary grades to four, changing its name to grados de enseñanza media (high school).
Administrative decentralization began with the country geo-political regionalization in 1974. Later on, during the decade of 1980, the process of school municipalization provided more autonomy to educational institutions, while the government authorized subsidized private schools, known as escuelas subvencionadas for elementary and secondary education in the country. The Ministry of Education approved the Education Organic Constitutional Law of 1990 that authorized educational centers/institutions to develop their own curricula for elementary and secondary education.
A significant characteristic of the most recent national education reform is the extension of the school day transforming it into a single shift—whereas traditionally, most schools group children and teachers into two shifts: morning and afternoon. This new modality has been implemented since 1998. The two-shift school day supported the notion of better utilizing public school buildings by offering more courses while keeping a low student-teacher ratio. Students were given the option to attend school either in the morning or in the afternoon. The single shift schedule refers to the extension of the number of pedagogical hours students remain in school to solidify the learning process leading to expand curricular content areas: specifically, increasing weekly hours from 30 to 38 in elementary education and to 42 hours in high school.
The reform was questioned by school professionals arguing the need for more school buildings to contain all students and teachers to keep low teacher-student ratio. Existing facilities don't have the capacity to absorb the demand for education under these conditions. Aware of the magnitude of this change, gradual implementation was planned; for this purpose, the government allocated extra funds exclusively to build new school buildings as a first step. Another concern that afflicted educators and administrators was a shortage of teachers who previously worked two shifts to cope with low salaries, as compared to other professions. The new schedule load increase did not financially compensate the second shift teachers held in the previous system. This reform was not accepted by everyone in the educational system. Private school professionals argued that they lacked funds to hire teachers for longer hours, additionally, private educators argued that extending the number of hours in schools not necessarily would improve the quality of education, remarking that quality and quantity not necessarily correlated. Another argument posed by opponents was centered on traditionally under-funded zones, which ultimately led to displaced students.
Spanish has been the only language of instruction in public schools, however, one of the most recent attempts to improve education for the ethnically disadvantaged has been the incorporation of bilingual-bicultural programs. The Unidad de Cultura y Educación de la Corporación Nacional de Desarrollo Indígena or CONADI (Division of Culture and Education of the National Corporation for Indigenous Development), represented different tribes, presented in 1995 a proposal on Educación Intercultural Bilingúe in which they expressed their interest of preserving their native languages and cultures. Together with the recognition of Chilean indigenous groups by the government (Law 19.253 D of 5.10.1993) local universities where zones of high indigenous density existed had adhered to the initiative. In 1998-1999 a pilot project sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Division of Multicultural and Bilingual Education, made a national call to compile didactic material for 1st and 2nd grades on a competitive basis. This was the first initiative of this nature in the country conducive in solidifying the project.
All the reforms during the twentieth century were efforts addressed to improve education for all students. They were to establish high content and performance standards and redesign the various components of the educational system in a coordinated and coherent fashion to support and solidify students' learning and promote universal education in the country.
Examples of effective policies were reflected on the progressive literacy rate among Chileans 15 and older during the last century: from 50.0 percent in 1920, to 80.0 percent in 1952, to currently attaining 95.6 percent in 1998.
The enrollment of students in elementary education increased from 64.0 percent at the beginning of the 1960s, to 95.0 percent in the 1970s, and 98.3 percent in 1998. A mixed educational system, non-sectarian private and public, innovative in Latin America, provides parents with the option to send their children to the school of their choice, while funding is available to subsidize private schools. A national flexible free market economy has permitted Chile to allocate funds exclusively to subsidize private schools. In Chile, 93 percent of schools that serve children attending elementary and secondary education in the country are financed by the government. The central government uniformly distributes financial support paid per pupil attending school, being calculated per trimester in addition to the municipal budget assigned locally per institution.
In 1981, about 78 percent of Chilean students were registered in municipal schools as compared to 56 percent in 1996; and 15 percent of students in 1981 registered in private subsidized schools as compared to 35 percent in 1996. Private institutions have captured a stable rate (during the same periods) of approximately 10 percent of the total students nationally.
The drop out rate of 21 percent in elementary education during the 1970s was dramatically reduced to 1.5 percent in 1998 and to 5 percent in secondary education the same year.
Average schooling among Chileans in 1992 was 7.2 years, increasing to 9.9 in 1998. The average among men was 9.6 years, and was 10.6 among women. In 1998, the Ministry of Education allocated 82.7 percent of its financial resources to preschools, elementary and secondary educational systems, 16.1 percent to higher education, and 1.2 percent to cultural programs. Since 1992, The Education Quality and Equity Improvement Program of the National Ministry of Education has advocated to systematically focus on the quality of education in the country. This project has been financed with the support of the World Bank loans.
General Characteristics of the Chilean Public Education: The school calendar starts in March and ends in December. In Chile, students in elementary and secondary schools wear uniforms showing a badge that identifies the institution. The national public transportation provides reduced fares to students attending elementary, secondary, and higher education, who are properly identified with cards granted by their institutions, who need transportation at the local level. The grading system has a 1 to 7 scale, 1 being the lowest, requiring 4.0 as minimum passing grade. Repetition of grade has been the practice in the country when minimum levels of competence have not been attained by students in order to ensure assimilation of curricular content. The repetition rate in 1993 was 8 percent at municipal schools, 6 percent at subsidized schools, and 2 percent at private schools in elementary education.
The distribution of educational institutions as of 1998 was: 59.6 percent municipal schools, 28.8 percent private subsidized schools, 10.9 percent private schools, and 0.7 percent to others. The maximum teacher-student ratio of 1:45 per class has been established by the Ministry of Education.
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