8 minute read


History & Background

In the fifteenth century, Incan invaders, having conquered the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, incorporated the land and its people as Tawantinsuyu, under then Incan ruler Huayna Capac who a quarter of a century later divided his empire between two of his sons. One of the sons, Atahualpa, received the northern portion that included Ecuador, and a civil war erupted. While the Incan brothers were fighting for control of the empire, Bartolome Ruiz, a Spanish explorer under the command of Francisco Pizarro, landed in Ecuador in 1526. By 1533 Pizarro's forces were in command of the country and had executed Atahualpa. In 1548, Gonzalo Pizarro was defeated by the forces of a subsequent royal emissary and executed for treason. This ended the era of the conquistador and started two and a half centuries of colonial rule. Colonial Ecuador was first considered a territory within the vice-royalty of Peru, but in 1563 Quito became a presidency or a judicial district of the vice-royalty with its own courts and president. In 1822, at the Battle of Pichincha, Spanish royalists were defeated by Antonio Jose de Sucre Alcala, and Quito became known as the Department of the South, which was part of the confederacy known as the Republic of Colombia, a confederation with Venezuela and Colombia. Simon Bolivar had liberated the area by the same year. Some church control of education was loosened and Bolivar attended to the establishment of schools, libraries and other educational institutions. Church run schools continued to dominate the education culture of Ecuador. 1830 saw the breakup of the confederation, and Quito became an independent state adopting the name of Ecuador. By 1861 Garcia Moreno, the father of Ecuador's Conservative party, had organized the elementary school system. The next two decades witnessed growth in the number of schools in Ecuador, the budget for education, and the number of universities. Compulsory education was also introduced.

Today Ecuador is the smallest of the Andean countries, but it has the highest average population density in South America, the highest annual rate of natural population increase (2.8 percent) over the last decade of any country in South America, and the highest percentage of Native Americans. Extending over both sides of the equator, it is bordered in the north by Colombia and in the east and south by Peru. The Galapagos Islands are a province of Ecuador. Native Americans make up 40 to 60 percent of the population. Approximately 52 percent of the population live in the coastal lowlands with an average population density of 80 persons per square kilometer. The most densely populated region is Guayas, which includes Guayaquil with 130 persons per square kilometer. The development of oilfields and agriculture over the last 25 years has resulted in a significant increase in the population of the eastern region without sufficient educational support for this new population.

The period since the late 1980s when Ecuador moved beyond the debt crisis has witnessed a number of significant improvements in macroeconomic performance, some wise decisions as to what to do with society's surpluses and stabilized inflation. The 1980s were dominated by efforts to reverse the declining GDP, to limit inflation, and to shore up the currency, although the GDP fell by .3 percent per year from 1980 to 1992, and inflation averaged 39.5 percent. Increased capital flow into Ecuador combined with some stability in the early 1990s allowed Duran Ballen's administration (1992-1994) to stabilize inflation at around 25 percent. For the next two years after his administration, positive growth of 3.3 percent occurred. Part of Ecuador's economic and political instabilities arose from the fluctuations in world market prices of its main products, oil, bananas, and shrimp. Having joined the World Trade Organization in 1996, it has failed to comply with many of its policies. Growth has been uneven due to ill-conceived and unsuccessful fiscal stabilization methods. While it had recently recovered some stability with the increase in oil prices, the aftermath of El Niño and the depressed oil market of 1997-1998 drove Ecuador's economy into a free-fall in 1999 beginning with the decline of the banking sector in the early part of that year. A 70 percent depreciation of the currency with a desperate government dolarizing it in 2000 caused that government to collapse. With the highest 10 percent of the population possessing a household income or consumption percentage share of 37.6 percent (1994) of the purchasing power parity of $54.5 billion (1999 estimate), inequalities in the education system are as inevitable as finance-driven reforms.

On 5 February 1997, between 2.5 and 3.0 million Ecuadorians, about one-quarter of the population, demonstrated in the streets against the president they had elected the previous July. While attempting systemic change, the uprising actually strengthened the military. In September 1998, President Mahuad announced the cancellation of subsidies on electricity, cooking gas, and fuel while at the same time beginning a new system of cash assistance to poor mothers. Added to these economic problems, in January and February 1995 the old border dispute with Peru flamed into open conflict in the upper Cenepa valley, although subsequent peace talks have proved successful. In August 1998, a flare-up of tension occurred again and was resolved in 1999.

The last decade of Ecuadorian politics has been filled with problems. In 1996, Abdala Bucaram, from the Guayaquil-based Roldosista Party (PRE), won the presidency on a platform that promised populist economic and social reforms and the breaking of what Bucaram termed the power of the nation's oligarchy. During his short term of office, Bucaram's administration drew criticism for corruption and Bucaram was deposed by the Congress in February 1997 on grounds of alleged mental incompetence. In his place the Congress named Interim President Fabian Alarcon, who had been President of Congress and head of the small Radical Alfarist Front party. Alarcon's interim presidency was endorsed by a May 1997 popular referendum. With the 1996 election, the indigenous population began to abandon its traditional policy of shunning the official political system and has entered the political arena as a force which will inevitably grow more powerful.

The new government leaders have attempted to deal with some of Ecuador's problems and to develop the country's potential. Ecuador passed comprehensive legislation setting forth protections for intellectual property rights in May 1998. The government has suggested plans to partially privatize some of the major state enterprises and has obtained legal authority to privatize 35 percent of the telephone service. However, two auctions of the telephone company scheduled for late 1997 and early 1998 had to be canceled due to a lack of bidders. There is substantial political opposition to privatization proposals. Since 22 January 2000, the chief of state has been President Gustavo Noboa, following a military indigenous coup that deposed President Mahuad. The last presidential election was held 31 May 1998 with a run-off election on 12 July 1998. The next officially scheduled election is 2002.

Servicing the national debt continues to be a drain on Ecuador, absorbing large portions of its foreign exchange earnings and fiscal receipts (14 percent and 45 percent). Ecuador's public foreign debt burden rose 0.25 percent to $11.2 billion in February compared with the month before. This debt is equivalent to 66.1 percent of the Andean nation's gross domestic product. Ecuador alarmed international investors in 1999 when it defaulted on part of its foreign debt. The government restructured Brady and Euro bond debt in August 2000, issuing new global bonds to reduce this debt by 40.6 percent. The Paris Club of creditor nations suspended negotiations with Ecuador over more than $300 million in debt and also over $800 million in debt agreed to in September 2000 if Ecuador does not reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund. In April 2000, Ecuador's Congress failed to approve an International Monetary Fund required tax increase. Ecuador is facing a grave economic crisis that greatly influences its plans to improve its education system.

Ecuador's diverse middle class has concentrated itself in cities and larger towns. A minute, ill-defined group during most of the country's history, its numbers grew in the twentieth century. In the late 1970s, estimates based on income indicated that roughly 20 percent of the population was middle class. Economic expansion and increase in government employment contributed both to the size of the middle class in absolute numbers and to the group's political awareness. The rise of a middle class whose interest was not like that of the rural oligarchy transformed national politics. The upper echelons of this middle class frequently identified with and emulated the elite while the lower levels often made common cause with the more prosperous segments of the working class.

The public education system is tuition free and attendance is mandatory from ages 6 to 14. In practice, however, many children drop out before age 14, and in rural areas only about one-third complete sixth grade. The government is striving to create better programs for the rural and urban poor, especially in technical and occupational training. In recent years, it has also been successful in reducing illiteracy. Literacy, according to age structure, is as follows: 0-14 years, 36.23 percent (male 2,379,541 and female 2,301,543); 15-64 years, 59.4 percent (male 3,794,515 and female 3,880,367); and 65 years and over, 4.37 percent (male 262,701 and female 301,425) (2000 estimate). Enrollment in primary schools has been increasing at an annual rate of 4.4 percent, which is faster than the population rate growth. According to the 1979 constitution, the central government must allocate at least 30 percent of its revenue to education, but in practice it allots education a much smaller percentage.

Public universities have an open admissions policy. In recent years, however, large increases in the student population, budget difficulties, and extreme politicization of the university system have led to a decline in academic standards in some areas. The central, provincial, and municipal government all contribute to the financing of education. The provincial role is generally limited primarily to the construction and furnishing of schools. The municipal government has been required to give 15 percent of their budgets to education while the central government increasingly contributed to education until the 1980s.

Additional topics

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