Sep. 17, 2015
The World Bank commended the Government of Ecuador (GoE) in 2015 for its extensive restructuring of the education sector, signaling its commitment “to promoting long-term, comprehensive, and sustainable investment in Ecuador's human capital, which will bear future multiplier effects throughout all sectors." Since the onset of his incumbency, President Rafael Correa, a former economics professor, has introduced a wide range of effectual social policies funded by the country's rich oil resources. These social investments have been targeted at reducing poverty, inequality, and promoting social inclusion. Ecuador has become the regional frontrunner in poverty reduction, with those living beneath the national poverty line decreasing from 37.6% to 24.5% between 2006 and 2014. However, in order to consolidate its social policy success, the government has set out to universalize access to, and improve the quality of, education—ensuring the effects of learning domino across the social strata.
The program information document for Ecuador, Supporting Education Reform in Targeted Districts, published in February 2015 by the World Bank Group, outlines the key education policy changes in country for the past eight years through President Correa's tenure. These include: the Ecuadorian Constitution of 2008, the Fundamental Law of Intercultural Education of 2011 (Ley Orgánica de Educación Intercultural – LOEI), the Ten-year Education Sector Plan 2006-15 (Plan Decenal de Educación – PDE), and National Development Plan 2013-2017 (“Plan del Buen Vivir"). These steps were accompanied by $2.3 billion a year in government spending on education.
The foundations of the education reforms incorporate: the reorganization of the supply of education opportunities, through the concentration of all pre-tertiary academic levels in “hubs"; improvements in infrastructure and equipment; the implementation of a national system of evaluation that includes student, teacher, and institutional performance assessments; and the development of a new system of professional teacher development. The World Bank notes that these efforts have so far, “produced significant improvements both in coverage and learning outcomes."
In 2007, when President Correa was first elected into office, gross enrolment at pre-school year age was 84.8%, gross enrollment at upper-secondary age was 76.7%, and net enrollment was 53%. These figures have greatly improved thanks to the reforms. UNICEF's State of the World's Children Country Statistical Table for Ecuador displays the vastness of the improvements. The latest data (2012) pits the literacy rate of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 at 98.6% for males and 98.8% for females. The figure for the number of internet users per 100 population for 2012 was 35.1. The pre-primary school participation gross enrolment ratio for males (2008-12) was 149.2%, and for females was 151.8%. The primary school participation gross enrolment ratio for males (2008-12) was 120.7% for males and 120.5% for females. The primary school participation net attendance ratio for males (2008-2012) was 95.9% and for females was 96.3%. The survival rate to last primary grade for 2008-2012 was 92.1%. The secondary school participation rate net enrolment ratio (2008-2012) was 73.5% for males and 75.1% for females—a 20% increase from 2007 figures. The figures for the net attendance ratio of secondary school participation was also high, at 78.2% for males and 80% for females.
THE KEY REFORMS
The Ley Orgánica de Educación Intercultural 2007
This critical reform structurally adjusted and reorganized the education system and legislated for 10 years of compulsory education. The pre-tertiary system was readjusted to include two phases of early learning—Inicial I (for 0-2 year olds) and Inicial II (for 3-4 year olds). This would then be followed by ten years of basic education formed of one year preschool (age 5), six years primary (for 6-11 year olds), three years lower secondary (for 12-14 year olds), and finally three years of upper secondary (for 15-17 year olds). This last phase also includes compulsory specialization to prepare students for their future careers. Students can choose to specialize in the academic track or technical track.
El Modelo de Reordenamiento de la Oferta Educativa/ (Unidades Educativas del Milenio (The Educational Opportunity Reorganization Model/ Millennium School)
This initiative, which was launched in 2012, was formed to allocate “hub" schools, known as millennium schools, which would combine all grade levels from preschool to upper secondary. The aim behind this was to enhance the efficiency and utility of educational facilities, advancing the quality of education across the board. All school grades would now have access to the best facilities, including sports facilities, computer labs, and learning materials. The long-run goal of President Correa's government was to cut the number of schools down to 5,000 from the 2012 number of 18,400 schools. The GoE has the objective of developing 800 new millennium schools, and remodeling 750 old schools by 2017. 600 of these will have a 2,200-student enrolment capacity, and 200 of these will have a 1,100 enrolment capacity. The total cost of the initiative is estimated to amount to around $8 billion.
A key part of this initiative was further set out in the Ecuadorian Constitution of 2008, Inclusive Education Project for People with Disabilities and Manuela Espejo Program. This program has the objective of ensuring the education system is comprehensive and encompassing, and accessible to those with disabilities. In every school district, at least one millennium school will have disability accessible facilities. The Technical Secretariat for Disabilities will oversee the redevelopment of the schools, carrying out surveys to ensure compliance across the board. The GoE is currently also producing learning materials targeted at raising disability awareness; these will be distributed throughout all schools.
Instituto Nacional de Evaluación Educativa, INEVAL (National Institute of Education Assessment)
This new institute was created to oversee the independent evaluation and monitoring of the education system. The organization's role is the collection and examination of raw data stemming from a nation-wide appraisal of students, teachers, and schools. In the 4th, 7th, 10th and 12th grade skills and learning standards are assessed. INEVAL also evaluates the skills of teachers through examinations and indicators. An online learning community, the Comunidad Educativa en Línea, is also being developed by INEVAL in order to create an e-Governance system across all school districts.
The GoE is investing in creating a “culture of quality" within the education system. The pillar of this has been improving the skills of teaching staff. The WB lists the reforms to improve teaching standards in the country: high standards for admission into the elite group of nationally-recognized teachers (Magisterio Nacional); better teacher remunerations, partially linked to evaluations; the development of a better teaching career path from a teacher's initial training through continued training and master-level education programs; and, an improved training system that builds on the use of new pedagogical and didactic models of discipline and the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs); lastly, to improve pre-service training, the National Education University (la Universidad Nacional de Educación), which follows the standards of excellence of the Finnish system, has been created.
The GoE is currently overhauling the entire higher education system. Public universities currently receive $490 million in government funds. They will now have to account for the funds they receive by meeting certain standards, which also apply to private institutions. 14 low-quality private universities were shut down for not meeting required standards in 2012. The GoE cornerstone for raising standards across the higher education system is the Consejo de Evaluación, Acreditación y Aseguramiento de la Calidad de la Educación Superior (CEAACES), an agency formed in 2010, with the aim of accrediting universities.
As part of the overhaul, tenure will be opened up to international academics in order to source internationally competitive research staff, and new institutions will be built focused on research and innovation. President Correa has committed to building a knowledge-based economy since he took office in 2007. As part of the GoE's plans, a pioneering $1.3 billion initiative is taking place, to build a “city of knowledge" an hour and a half away from Quito's international airport. This 4,000-ha development will eventually house a university (Yachay University), 13 public research institutes, a technology park and industry. The Times Higher Education Guide commended the project, and noted that Yachay University in particular, will help deliver the high-level skills needed to advance Ecuadorian industry. Yachay University, which received its first student pool in March 2014, currently employs 40 professors—90% of whom are from outside Ecuador. The long-term objective is to recruit 200 more tenured and tenure-track professors and 60 lecturers. The Times notes that, “Yachay Tech will provide postgraduate study for about 1,000 master's and PhD students, who will eventually provide staff for other institutions." Currently, Ecuador's higher education system is largely teaching based, and is lagging behind in research.
In an interview with TBY, Santiago Gangotena, the Chancellor of Universidad San Francisco de Quito, explained the potential of Ecuador to become an international hub for students and academics wishing to research biology, geology, and geography. He noted the biological stations at 3,800 meters in the paramo, at 1,800 meters in the Cloud Forest, at sea level in the Petrified Forest of Puyango, at the Galápagos Islands in San Cristobal Island, and at the Amazon Basin. These stations are evidence of a country with the capacity and the impetus to become a world leader in scientific research, attract the best of international talent, and build strong relationships with international universities. Chancellor Gangotena pointed out, “We have a well-established relationship with the University of Illinois, which is one of the number one schools in engineering. Boston College and Boston University, as well as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are other institutions we have strong relationships with."
The GoE's vast program of education reforms is creating high standards and a “culture of quality" across the country, building a new generation of highly-skilled human capital who will be the driving force of a growing and diverse Ecuadorian economy. The investment in the higher education sector is bestowing Ecuador the potential to become a regional hub of innovation and research. This, combined with the initiatives to boost the standards of schools, will continue to lift thousands out of poverty, giving every child the chance of a dream career.