COULD DO BETTER

Peru 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: EDUCATION

The government has charted a new course that is progressively increasing enrollment and improving educational conditions in the country. These reforms extended free and compulsory school education to all students aged between 5 and 16, known as Educación Básica.

The educational sector was a casualty of decades of economic volatility and political instability that characterized the 1980s and early 1990s in particular. When the economy started to recover, educators found themselves with little to work with in terms of infrastructure and material resources. Almost two decades later, this paucity of investment still hampers educational attainment but starting in 1996, the government has charted a new course that is progressively increasing enrollment and improving educational conditions in the country. These reforms extended free and compulsory school education to all students aged between 5 and 16, known as Educación Básica (general education) y Técnico Productiva (technical education).

The decade ahead holds challenges of a different nature. The secondary period of compulsory education is still somewhat aspirational. According to UNESCO, one quarter of the relevant age group does not currently enroll in upper secondary education. This is especially the case in remote parts of the Andean Highlands, and the Amazonian rainforest in the country's interior. The government is addressing these disparities in coverage by building more schools, and installing teachers that speak indigenous languages.

In May 2015, the Ministry of Education (MINEDU) announced that 15,000 teachers will be hired to provide better Intercultural Bilingual Education (EIB) in 53 indigenous Peruvian communities, where more than one million students reside. Weeks later, the Finance Ministry authorized a lump sum of $82.71 million to finance public investment in 73 educational infrastructure projects throughout the country. Several infrastructure investments have also been unveiled. In addition to this one-off investment, MINEDU allocated $768 million of its $6.4 billion 2015 budget on infrastructure. Another $58.4 million is slated for improvement of public school libraries across the country. After already investing $17.6m on classroom upgrades for schools in Lima, the government has turned its attention to the periphery. In April, the government announced that it was spending $21 million to build new schools and larger classrooms across the Amazon, Loreto, San Martín and Ucayali regions, which are among the poorest in the country. In the southern part of the country, $635 million in education infrastructure projects are going to benefit more than 1,000 educational centers, which serve around 94,000 students.

Another sign that education is at the forefront of state-level policy was Peru's recent commitment to invest at minimum 6% of the national GDP in education by 2021. While speaking at the 2015 World Education Forum (WEF), Peru's Education Minister Jaime Saavedra also spoke in favor of raising education's share of the government budget to 20% (it currently stands at 17%, while state contributions account for 3.5% of GDP).

In fact, most of these educational aspirations were central to President Ollanta Humala's 2011 campaign, and his promises resonated with the national electorate. Education spending is up to to 3.5% of GDP for 2015 from around 3% last year. 21,000 new scholarships were added to the 30,000 given out last year. Overall, the education budget was increased by 23% between 2014 and 2015, although the economy expanded by only 2.4% last year due to the regional economic slowdown

HOW IT WORKS

All didactic policy, regulation, and curriculum guidelines are set by the MINEDU, which is the overarching authority at all levels of education in the country. Administration and implementation of policies for primary and secondary level education is enacted by localized authorities in 25 regiones (states).

The National System of Evaluation, Accreditation and Certification of Higher Education (SINEACE) regulates accreditation. The law mandates the option of institutional and program accreditation as well as certification in professional fields. The process is still voluntary except for teacher training programs and programs in health sciences. In addition, accreditation efforts are focused on programs, rather than the institutions themselves. Evaluation happens through self-study followed by external audits.

Starting in 2015, the National Superintendency of University Higher Education (SUNEDU) replaced the National Assembly of Rectors (ANR) under a new higher education law, as part of an effort to improve quality standards within the sector. SUNEDU oversees quality assurance procedures and approves university operating licenses. This new body is broadly tasked with setting higher education policies by the MINEDU, but its precise roles are still somewhat unclear. In the organizations bylaws, it role includes defining and implementing the processes of documentation and information collection, and registration of college degrees and titles.

Students are optimistic about these changes, as well as their general prospects upon graduation. In years past, lax regulations opened the market to diploma mills, and even at better schools, professors were often only slightly better educated than their pupils. This threatened the value of Peruvian college diplomas, and many students found themselves with little more than a depleted bank account when the time came to look for a job. The new regime has imposed new standards for professors, and students are responding enthusiastically. Over 83% of students surveyed by Ipsos approved of the new regime and regulations. A few months later in June 2015, Zogby Analytics found that nearly three quarters of students in Peru believe that institutions now offer career-oriented skills and proper training to students so they can better serve future employers. In terms of their individual prospects, 61% of students in Peru expressed optimism about education—the same percentage as in the US.

President Humala is still pushing for further legislation to raise standards which as of June 2015, was still pending in Congress. His reforms have their detractors as well, and some students are unhappy about their loss of influence and benefits. The government is also changing how it pays for tertiary education. Citing economic slowdown, parts of the budget were cut, however other investment went up. Since 2011, the Beca 18 program has offered funding for studies in Peru and abroad to low income, academically outstanding public school students. The program had awarded more than 11,000 grants as of 2014, and aims to benefit 50,000 by 2016, making it an essential tool for poverty reduction and fighting inequality in Peru.

There are 51 public universities, where students do not pay tuition, and 89 private ones which charge a variety of rates for instruction. University-level institutions also include specialized art, music and religious institutions that roughly correspond to the conservatory model. While many of the country's best universities are private, a recent influx of newcomers seeking to cash in on the growing middle class has raised concerns over quality, prompting the 2014-2015 reforms. Private universities must now meet minimum standards, and are subject to inspection. Total undergraduate enrollments reached just over one million in 2013, with 331,593 students enrolled in private universities and 697,518 in public universities. These numbers are projected to rise for the next decade at least, as access to higher education has been historically tenuous.

PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION

While private enterprise can be relied on to meet the growing demand for higher education among Peru's middle class, teaching primary aged students in the country's more remote, and poorer regions presents a challenge. It is often hard for rural students, especially girls, to make the daily trips to schools, as they come from isolated areas.

Since 2005, enrollment has increased to 72% for ages 3 to 5 years old, the 6 to 11-year-old age group is at 97% and the 12 to 16-year-old age group is at 91% enrollment. However, these numbers do not tell the whole story, and are higher than the actual percentage in classrooms. Some 34% of children between the ages 5 to 17 are in the labor force. In other words, enrollment rates do not equate attendance, and many pupils are prevented from attending my economic necessity. Under such circumstances, economic conditions among Peru's poorest are a better indication of attendance.

Educating the country's indigenous population is another challenge, as bilingual education has been poorly funded in years past. According to a 2014 Boren publication, almost 46% of indigenous students were not provided education in their native language. In Peru, 12% of school-age children speak an indigenous language at home, and in some provinces, this rate rises to well above 50%. In 2013, the country was spending just over 1% of its educational budget on intercultural and bilingual education. This artifact of decades of inattention to indigenous peoples was identified as a critical part of the nation's economic development.

The announcement in May 2015 that 15,000 more bilingual educators were to be added to the payroll was warmly welcomed. Peru has around 20,000 bilingual education schools that serve 1.08 million students according to the Ministry of Education. These efforts will also require the country to bolster its teacher training capacity. Currently, there are 39 pedagogical and nine universities offering career training in this field, but with plans to enroll 4,300 teachers in 2016, these facilities will be hard pressed to accommodate them. And with at least three years at this rate, these schools have a busy future.

THE ROAD AHEAD

In addition to funding choices, educators are debating the purpose of education in the country. Historically, students have opted for liberal arts related studies along the line of social sciences, over hard sciences. Under President Humala, this emphasis has shifted, and private corporations are getting in on the action. Many students complete their studies abroad, and firms often struggle to find properly trained employees. Other universities are emulating the success of the Lima-based not-for-profit Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología, (UTEC), which opened in 2010 and offers a range of engineering courses.

UTEC is funded by five Peruvian companies (or those with significant interest in the country). The majority of investment came from Hochschild Mining, a Peru-focused (but UK headquartered) silver and gold producer. By 2022, UTEC plans to increase enrollment tenfold.

TALKING HEADS

The Peruvian government plans to make Peru a bilingual country by 2021. In order to achieve that goal, the country is working with the British government to improve the quality of English-language education in Peru. In November of 2014, Peruvian Minister of Education Jaime Saavedra signed a Memorandum of Understanding with British Minister of State for School Reform Nick Gibb, outlining technical assistance and support that the British government will provide to improve English language education.The program started training 200 new Peruvian English teachers in the UK in early 2015, and will later establish a series of teacher development summer schools in Peru, run by British education organizations. These summer schools in Peru will train around 1,000 Peruvian teachers each summer. In addition, the British government has committed to sending 500 British teachers to Peru to support local Peruvian teachers. The costs of the program will be borne by both the British and Peruvian governments. The Peruvian Ministry of Education calculates that the program will cost 100 million sol in 2015 alone. Schools in Peru will increase instructional hours for English language skills from two hours to five per week. The program will be supported by the national program for scholarships and educational loans of Peru (PRONABEC).