16 minute read


Educational System—overview

In the nineteenth century, Ecuador's education structure was under the control of the Catholic Church. During this century various political leaders had a tremendous effect on the education system. Ecuador has had a strong history of educators. As early as 1835, Vicente Rocafuerte began to change the education system of Ecuador. A strong believer in education, he was known to say "to govern is to educate." He stated that any government that holds power as a result of elections must have an education system that provides intellectual development and training for positions in industry and commerce. The National Assembly granted Rocafuerte the power to execute his educational objectives but they also required that he do the same for the Indian masses. Rocafuerte requested the creation of Colegio Santa Maria del Socorro, an all girl school in Quito. In 1836 he furthered his cause by attempting to establish a directorate to supervise curriculum and instruction throughout Ecuador. The purpose of this agency was to deal with university and secondary education. This agency, for example, developed the University of Quito's curriculum. Since it did not cover primary education, a slow educational development resulted at that level. In 1838 Rocafuerte established educational agencies to provide regional supervision in Guayaquil, Cuenca, Marabi, Loja, Chimborazo, and Imbabura. At this time primary education consisted only of religious and moral education, reading, writing, Spanish, and weights and measurements. The secondary school program differed from school to school and its curriculum was based on a variety of subject matters.

Arguably, the most significant education reform that Ecuador has ever experienced was that of Juan Leon Mera' in the 1850s. It based educational reform on the restoration of and emphasis on Ecuadorian themes in the entire educational system. Mera showed how "national education could encourage the integration of the country and define its cultural identity" (Paladines 1997). Gabriel Garcia Moreno took over the presidency of Ecuador in 1861. He made education the Church's responsibility. Secular educators were prohibited from teaching anything that would be considered different from church doctrine. Moreno wanted to create a system of primary schools. The Christian Brothers and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart took over the primary schools for boys and girls respectively.

The secondary schools, which prepared students for the university, were to be run by the Jesuits. At this time, primary education was free and mandatory. This increased the school population to 14,731 in 1871. In 1904, the structure of secondary schools was reorganized by reducing the program from seven to six years. The liberal arts program was reduced to the first three years of the program. In the last three years of secondary school a student must either specialize in philosophy, math, or natural science. The secondary school program required students to complete the following courses: moral and religious instruction, civics, hygiene, Spanish grammar, geography of Ecuador, world geography, history of Ecuador, world history, English or French, mathematics, literature, natural sciences, cosmography, physics, chemistry, philosophy, drafting, and penmanship.

There is no doubt that the governments of Ecuador have made good efforts to extend universal education through primary school. The Ministry of Education's 1970 plan addressed retention problems at the primary level and proposed workable solutions, a restructured curriculum, and increased practicality. Truly compulsory since the constitution of 1945, primary school has had a couple of serious leaps in the number of students attending. Perhaps the greatest leap was in the 1960s when primary enrollment almost doubled, secondary enrollment almost tripled, and those attending colleges and universities grew by 500 percent.

If the constitution of 1945 made primary school attendance mandatory by law, subsequent legislation required school attendance by all youth between the ages of 6 and 12. Before the 1960s primary schools in rural areas did not necessarily have a building nor did they uniformly offer education in grades one through six. In many areas no school existed within a reasonable radius until organizations like the Peace Corps stepped in. In other areas, only grades one through three or four were taught. The tuition free public educational system is mandatory from ages 6 to 14. In practice, however, many children drop out before age 15, 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. Enrollment in primary school has been increasing at an annual rate of 4.4 percent, faster than the population growth rate.

Primary education begins at age 6 with the first grade and ends at age 12 with sixth grade. Secondary education consists of two three-year cycles, a basic cycle, and a diversified cycle. This latter cycle may lead to higher education. University studies last from four to seven years, depending on specialization. The age limits for compulsory education are from 6 to 14. The minimum age for entry into preprimary education is four for kindergarten and six for the first grade of primary school. Preprimary education, which is noncompulsory, is two years. Primary school is six years. The primary years are divided into two cycles of three years each, and exams are given at the conclusion of each cycle.

Based on information from Banco Central del Ecuador, enrollment levels in 1979, 1983, 1984, and 1985 were respectively as follows: In primary school, 1,427,627; 1,677,364; 1,672,068; and 1,741,967. In the secondary school first cycle for the same years, 345,569; 405,445; 438,718; and 452,262. For the secondary school second cycle for the same years, 189,876; 244,833; 267,058; and 277,368. In higher education the total in 1979 was 225,343.

In 1989 the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) signed a historic agreement with the Ministry of Education that established a national program of bilingual, bicultural education designed and managed by CONAIE and its member organizations. It claims that 45 percent of Ecuador is indigenous, yet there is only 1 indigenous member of Congress (1995). It also claims that 80 percent of the rural, mostly indigenous population lives in poverty; that indigenous farmers produce 75 percent of Ecuador's basic foods while only having 35.5 percent of the arable land; and that these people are endangered by Ecuador having the highest rate of deforestation in the Americas.

Literacy rates have changed somewhat in terms of urban males and females. In 1950, approximately 89 percent of urban males were literate while in 1982 at least 96 percent were literate. In 1950, approximately 79 percent of urban females were literate while in 1982 about 94 percent were literate. In 1962, approximately 92 percent of urban males were literate while in 1974, about 94 percent of urban males were literate. In 1962, approximately 86 percent of urban females were literate while in 1974 that percentage had risen to 89 percent. In 1950 only 51 percent of rural males were literate but by 1982 that number had climbed to 80 percent. In 1950 only 38 percent of rural females were literate but by 1982 that number had climbed to 71 percent.

Traditionally, the school year is different in the sierra and costa regions. In the sierra, schools have operated from October to July; in the costa, they operate from April or May to December or January. This arrangement has been based on both climatic and economic considerations and has led to nationwide coordination problems as well as perpetuating a divisive regionalism. A proposal for a unified school year has not only been discussed but also enacted.

One problem, particularly in rural areas, is that even though education is compulsory, all classes were in Spanish even though, in many areas, indigenous Indian groups knew only their native languages. In the 1980s there were efforts to target literacy programs to the needs of the rural population and non-Spanish speakers, but Spanish is the official language of Ecuador. Quencha, the original language of the Incas, is widely spoken in the sierra and is being pushed for recognition as an official language. It is recognized by the Ecuadorian Constitution as an important part of Ecuadorian culture, but is not yet classified as an official language. Many Quechua words have been adopted into the colloquial language, oftentimes used to describe something that does not have a Spanish translation. Many of the indigenous people are bilingual using both their native languages and Spanish.

Examinations are given in the primary years at the end of each of two cycles of three years. Secondary education consists of two three-year cycles as well and exams are given at the end of each cycle. University studies last from four to seven years, and exams are given for entrance into university programs. Historically, since teachers relied on the lecture method, students were required to take notes and memorize massive amounts of material in the classics and humanities. Each level saw as its goal the preparation of students for the next level. Therefore students who did not complete a course of study found much of the material irrelevant memorization, and the attrition rate was high. In the last few years, serious attempts to change this have occurred both at the university and government levels.

In 1946, Belasco Ibarra authorized private universities to be established in Ecuador. This permitted the founding of the Universidad Catolica del Ecuador. The Constitution of 1946 also granted public schools the right to operate freely. The Ministry of Education was instructed to make its social services available to private schools. Although less than 18 percent of the primary enrollment in Ecuador is in private schools, the percentage of enrollment in private schools increases in secondary education. The Catholic Church runs more than 88 schools. Protestant schools are increasing but still are few. Private schools are largely urban phenomena, making up less than 6 percent of the rural schools private. Over 20 private secondary schools or normal schools offer teachertraining programs to prepare students to be elementary teachers. With the economic problems of the government, much of the new growth in colleges in Ecuador has lately been in private schools. The enrollment in private schools increases with grade level; slightly less than 20 percent of primary students and more than 40 percent of secondary students attend private schools. Private education was predominantly an urban phenomenon. Approximately one-third of urban primary and secondary schools were private. With the worsening of the governmental economic emergencies, new growth of the population able to take advantage of higher education has provided opportunities for private schools and fee-based development. In the 1960s the government established a strong, centralized control over both the public and private system and allotted a high proportion of the national budget to education in an attempt to gain this control over its own school system and that of religious schools.

Another organization dedicated to helping improve education in the science and technology arena is Fundacyt. This is a private foundation, whose president is also the National Secretary of Science and Technology under the vice president of the republic. Fundacyt has very ambitious goals including funding science and technology research and sending university graduates to get their Masters and Ph.D. degrees. Only 2000 Ecuadorians living in Ecuador have Ph.D.s, as compared to 14,000 in Venezuela. Santiago Carrasco, President of Fundacyt in 1999, sees a future in areas such as biotechnology, biological engineering, and health and genetic research. As part of the arrangement, students who receive scholarships must come back to Ecuador and work in the country.

Through the 1980s textbooks and teaching aids were limited so learning had to consist mostly of memorization and rote work since the entire class would not have textbooks. Memorization, board work, and note taking often took the place of reading. Often rural children would be forced to read urban oriented books when they had them. One of several textbook-rewriting programs began in the 1960s, but it made little headway. The more recent textbook updating is clearly already more successful. In the 1990s the Ministry of Education began the gargantuan task of updating textbooks to rid them of ethnic, gender, racial, and class prejudice. One of the most successful textbook publications was a collection of articles entitled Escuela Para Todos, which in 1972 were placed in adult education centers throughout the country. Government efforts to increase access to education have been connected to textbook publication and adoption.

Both UNESCO and OEA have played major roles in offering technical advice and help to Ecuador. USAID plays an important role in Ecuador, but the World Bank, with its studies of the educational system and its great influence as an international agency, plays an even greater role. Some deterioration in the higher education system can be expected with the strains of democratization if not accompanied by governmental expenditure increases or international funding. The Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance (VVOB) has during the last few years sent a group of GIS professionals to different Ecuadorian universities. The idea of this cooperation is primarily to improve the academic standard regarding GIS related subjects. A complementary benefit, however, is the implementation of GIS in both private and public projects. Experience was gained in the field of GIS applications in collaboration with academic staff and students within the faculties of agriculture and/or computer engineering of the National Polytechnical School (Quito), the University of Cuenca, and the National University of Loja. These universities were chosen because of their interest as well as for the likelihood of reaching their desired goal. Collaboration with the faculties of civil, agricultural, and/or computer engineering within these universities was considered most likely to achieve success. Local collaboration and support varied due to political and financial differences.

From these experiences some conclusions can be drawn regarding the situation of GIS at university level in Ecuador. The general and preliminary knowledge of computers among agricultural engineers, the availability of hardware and software at universities, the introduction and acceptance of new technologies, the ability of the infra-system to handle the technologies, and the career perspective of GIS-trained professionals are all areas of concern. Wealthy Ecuadorians and fortunate outstanding students have often had access to external studies, and various scholarship programs, such as the Fulbright, have provided selective access to post-graduate education. This is compounded by the newly created business class, which has a stabilizing influence on the middle class in Ecuador but is also dependent on its links with foreign firms, products, and partners.

In the 1980s and to an extent even earlier, the burgeoning school populations led to students graduating from institutions of higher learning without being able to get a job because the number of new jobs remained smaller than the number of increasingly higher educated students. This caused many well-educated Ecuadorians to leave the country for opportunities abroad. However, education has been tied to the banking system in Ecuador and a good deal of development has occurred through this joint venture with the Bank of Ecuador, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank. The Inter-American Development Bank reviews the economic reforms in Ecuador in relation to earlier efforts, sequencing, structural reform and stabilization, sustainability, and priority. A new understanding of the role of higher education in development has brought the beginnings of systemic reform and a new conceptualization of the potential roles in development education can play. The Inter-American Development Bank optimistically believes that while economic stabilization has been difficult to achieve some meaningful structural reform and development have emerged through the chaos. The economy-driven nature of reform has caused a systemic approach to moving forward at a much slower rate than might otherwise have occurred. Jameson suggests that education has not played a more successful role in development because "fundamental reform awaits a movement away from the current neo-liberal understanding of development" (Jameson 124). However, it seems that, despite the crisis, development is going on right now in Ecuador. Pragmatism, efficiency, and international competitiveness have caused both government and development sectors to look to education to function well in training all Ecuadorians. Forced upon Ecuador in part by its international lenders, systemic reform is occurring despite the defeat of plans to organize it. Higher education reforms are going on, and there is reason for optimism about the current economic reforms, actual outcomes, and at least initial assessments. Time will tell if the extended outcomes match the hopes and expectations of those involved with Ecuadorian higher education. Equity-driven reforms from the 1970s have taken another step in the 1990s. While the earlier reform extended education to disadvantaged groups such as women and indigenous people, the more recent reforms have extended the same educational opportunities to the disabled and those with learning problems so that society is maximizing human capital development or the human resources of its competent citizens. This is one of the rewards of inclusionary democracy in education.

As late as 1970, over 70 percent of the primary and secondary schools were run by the states, 10 percent by municipalities, and 20 percent or fewer by private organizations. The extreme increase in university enrollment and the expansion of enrollments at all levels, including higher education, are natural outgrowths of the expansion of primary and secondary education in earlier years and of the 1982 law guarantee of access to free university education without a national entrance examination. It originated from the need to create the education populace necessary for post-military democracy. Equity-driven reform fundamentally changed the nature of the educational system.

The Duran Ballen administration changed the mechanisms of access to economic and social services away from entitlements and government provision to market determination and the ability to pay. Higher education reform became private university and economic reform. In the 1960s the rural curriculum was upgraded to better compare with that of urban institutions, and the curriculum was revised to be more relevant to students' lives and to reflect the modern world. The government, after April 1998, promoted school autonomy in the rural centers and pushed municipalities to take charge of the educational establishments. The city of Loja, for instance, has turned over 10 schools to municipal control. It is also developing a new legal structure that includes the restructuring of teacher pay scales, the creating of new mechanisms for disciplining teachers through the Network Councils, and the transferring responsibility for teacher training to NGOs. On 11 November 1998, the Inter-American Development Bank announced the approval of a $45 million loan to Ecuador to support improvement in rural education by organizing school systems with greater autonomy and parent participation. A pioneering component of the program is projected to be results-based incentives for teachers that will improve quality and innovation in instruction. The project was expected to benefit around l,800 schools or 20 percent of the rural schools in Ecuador and is focused on improvements in grades one through nine. Investments were planned in school infrastructure and educational materials, and technical assistance was to be provided to assist the development of stronger, more autonomous systems. Non-profit organizations, universities, and other civil society organizations were to be enlisted to assist in the strengthening of rural school networks to reduce the isolation of individual schools and offer greater possibilities of educational improvement. One result of the great growth in enrollment of schools in Ecuador was that almost all funds went to the salaries of the teachers and little was left for building and maintenance costs. This worked to the disadvantage of rural areas. According to the 1983 UNESCO Statistical Yearbook, in 1980 approximately 33 percent of total government expenditures went to education, but only 6 percent of this was used for capital construction. A training component of the program was to increase management skills of local school officials, thereby enhancing their capacity for management in a more autonomous setting. Investments were planned in bilingual programs to benefit indigenous communities. The project, planned to be carried out by the Education Ministry, is designed to serve as a model to improve basic rural education throughout Ecuador. The total cost of the program is 50 million dollars. The IDB loan is for 25 years with a four year grace period at the variable annual interest rate. Local counterpart funds total $5 million.

Additional topics

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