WEAPONS OF MATH INSTRUCTION

Ecuador 2013 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: EDUCATION

Under President Correa, the education sector is undergoing significant changes aimed at boosting access and transforming the country into a research hub.

Ecuador's higher education budget grew from $529.1 million in 2006 to $1.317 billion in 2012, with an end-game target of investment in science and technology equal to 1% of GDP, the minimum recommended by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Correa administration has also increased checks on teacher quality while pumping money into the refurbishment and construction of schools—this figure has reached approximately $300 million since January 2007, when President Correa was first elected. A package of scholarships and other educational assistance is helping to boost the quality of universities, both public and private, and, in some cases, the results speak for themselves; in 2013, nine Ecuadorean universities placed in the QS University Rankings: Latin America, a list of the continent's 300 best higher education institutions. The entire education spectrum, from primary school to university, is also set for a boost over 2013, albeit controversially as President Correa targets out-of-work Spanish teachers to teach in the country, as well as educate Ecuadorean instructors.

A HELPING HAND

In order to meet its goals in human talent, the government awards scholarships for students to attend some of the world's top universities. So far, over 5,000 scholarships have been awarded in this manner. Other investments in quality include the GoTeachers program, which sends Ecuadorean teachers abroad to study English with the hope that they will return to boost language skills in Ecuador. The program is run by SENESCYT, a government body that oversees education in the country, and is run in association with Kansas State University. Since the program began in June 2012, through until end-2013, 622 Ecuadorean teachers will have completed English-language training in the US. SENESCYT now plans to train 5,000 more teachers in this way and open up new partnerships with universities in the US.

A plan was also announced in mid 2013 to hire 5,500 Spanish teachers and professors, who struggle to find employment in their own country, to make the move to Ecuador to help rebuild the system from kindergarten to university level. As many as 500 professors could arrive at Ecuadorean universities, while 5,000 primary and secondary level teachers could also make the trip to the South American country. With a 25% national unemployment rate, Ecuador will not have trouble attracting Spanish teachers, who are being offered wages ranging from $2,226 to $5,009 a month, as well as benefits such as housing, food, and transport subsidies. It is this, however, that some Ecuadorean teachers have objected to, with their own wages often just half of the rates being offered to the Spanish teachers. The government, however, claims that teaching vacancies are holding back the system, and is planning to bring in future hires from various other European countries.

GOING HIGHER

There are 50 universities in total, nine of which have entered the QS University Rankings: Latin America list in 2013. Around 35% of the higher education system is in private hands, with such institutions offering the most prestigious and, usually, the highest quality teaching. President Correa aims to strengthen the public education system, however. At the heart of this plan is the Universidad Nacional de Educacion (UNAE), a state university that will coordinate the reconstruction of Ecuador's public educational system. The multi-million dollar project, which began limited classes in 2012, is under development in the city of Azogues, near Cuenca. In addition to the Yachay Research University, which is expected to open its doors to the north of Quito in 2014, the UNAE is expected to contribute significantly to research in science and technology in the nation, as the Correa administration targets yearly national R&D investment of 1%.

BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME

Approximately 8% of government spending is focused on education, or around 1% of GDP. Much of this—around $280 million since 2007—has been earmarked for the construction and refurbishment of schools. This is expected to go a long way to encouraging parents in rural regions to send their children to school, as historically many pupils have foregone secondary education to begin working at a young age—in 2011, only 10% of rural children aged between nine and 15 were attending school. Getting students through high school is the first step, but it is university graduates that President Correa is targeting. “We must continue providing tools to low-income families to send their children to the university," Dr. Fidel Márquez Sánchez, Rector of Universidad Ecotec, adding that “we have to keep in mind that this is not a business where you come to make money; rather you contribute to the development of society and the country."

In that vein, universities, in the hope that improvements in primary and secondary education will improve the quality of undergraduate candidates, are offering a wider range of scholarships. One such institution is USFQ, which provides over $5 million a year in financial aid scholarships. “We have students from all walks of life in Ecuador," said Vice-Dean Carlos Montufar.

As Ecuador's education revolution rolls on, there will certainly be hurdles, the toughest of which is getting more students into secondary education. With greater access afforded by the construction and refurbishment of primary and secondary schools across the country, especially in rural areas, together with an improvement in quality, more Ecuadoreans will feel that the education on offer will benefit them in the long term. A cornerstone of President Correa's economic platform, we can only expect the education budget to continue rising in the coming years.