Primary and Secondary Education

Chile Table of Contents

Until 1980, authority over all primary and secondary schools was concentrated in the national government's Ministry of Public Education. In addition to allocating funds to schools, the ministry certified the qualifications of all teachers and employed those in the state-run system. It developed all basic course content, even for private schools, and approved all textbooks to be used throughout the country.

Primary school teachers were trained mainly in normal schools, most of which were independent entities, although a few of these institutions were attached to universities. Secondary school teachers generally were graduates of pedagogical schools or university institutes, where students would be trained in the different disciplines they would later teach. Primary and secondary school teachers opting to work in the state-run system were assigned to schools during the first three years of their careers, a procedure that was meant to ensure that all rural and provincial schools had the requisite staffing. The careers of primary and secondary school teachers employed by the state were controlled by a national statute that determined promotions according to a point system and salaries according to a fixed scale. Salary supplements were given to those who taught in areas that were geographically isolated or had severe climates. Teachers also had job tenure beyond a certain probationary period. The Ministry of Public Education sponsored regular winter- and summer-vacation training programs for teachers that were designed to bring them up to date with curriculum changes and with new thinking in their disciplines. Merit increases were given to those who participated in these programs.

The Ministry of Public Education gave subsidies to private schools that did not charge tuition. These subsidies, amounting to about half the per-student cost of public education, were based on calculations of salary and other fixed costs. They were given primarily to schools sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church, as well as by Protestant churches. The teachers of these schools (except those who were in religious orders or in the clergy) were supposed to have the same salary and working conditions as teachers in the public system. Many teachers in the state-run system supplemented their salaries by taking on additional hours in the private schools, which were supposed to follow the national curriculum whether or not they received state subsidies, although they were free to add supplementary courses. All state-run primary and secondary schools were visited regularly by supervisors employed by the Ministry of Public Education, who would observe classes and monitor many final examinations. For purposes of certification, the final examinations of all private secondary schools were conducted by committees of teachers employed by the Ministry of Public Education.

Despite the successes of this education system in terms of expanding enrollments and ensuring a uniform standard of quality across the nation, the military regime's social and economic planners thought it gave the government too much influence over education, stifling parents' and local communities' freedom of choice. They also thought the administration of the system was too bureaucratic and inefficient.

The regime's education authorities decided to decentralize the administration of state schools by turning them over to the municipal governments. Presumably, the schools would thus become more responsive to local demands and needs, although the Ministry of Public Education continued to issue the basic guidelines to be followed in the curricula, to approve textbooks, and, in principle, to require the certification of teachers, although the standards became more flexible. Moreover, the national program of school breakfasts and lunches was transferred, along with the necessary resources, to the municipalities. The authorities committed the necessary funding to maintain universal primary enrollments and, after 1980, to continue to increase the size of secondary enrollments, despite the severe economic downturn of 1982-83.

With the 1980 reforms, all teachers in the state-run system became municipal employees, effectively ending the national system controlling teachers' careers. The result was new inequalities in terms of income and benefits for teachers. Despite increased education subsidies from the central government to poorer municipalities, the richer school systems were able to afford better teacher salaries and educational facilities. In addition, beginning in 1988 municipal authorities were permitted to fire teachers, ending the tenure they had enjoyed in the national career system, a measure that generated widespread manifestations of teacher discontent, including strikes.

The military government fostered the growth of privately run schools by further facilitating the process through which they could obtain subsidies. Moreover, tuition-free public and private schools were put on an equal footing in terms of access to state funding when both began to receive amounts calculated on a similar per-student basis. This amount was prorated on the basis of student attendance records, a measure that put the public systems at a disadvantage because private schools could be selective in their admissions; they could therefore draw their student body from those with more stable family backgrounds and hence could require more regular attendance and better behavior. As a result of these new incentives, enrollments in the publicly funded but privately administered system increased at the expense of the state-owned schools. In 1980, before the beginning of the reform program, the state-run schools had enrolled about 79 percent of primary and secondary students, private but state-subsidized schools enrolled 14 percent, and fully private schools (those that charged tuition) enrolled 7 percent. By the end of 1988, the proportion of students in the state-run schools (by then under municipal control) had dropped to 60 percent, the private but state-subsidized schools' proportion had increased to 33 percent, and the fully private schools continued to enroll 7 percent. Other data suggest that the number of primary and secondary students in private schools increased from 27 percent in 1981 to 56 percent in 1986. The authorities also transferred administration of the state's vocational, industrial, and agricultural schools to employer associations, although the public funding of these schools continued.

The Aylwin government doubled funding for education by 1992 and began to address the new challenge the nation confronted to increase the quality of education. As part of this effort, the government examined with renewed interest the issues of teacher morale, training, and careers. It decided to reinvigorate the national continuing education programs for teachers and to reintroduce a National Statute for Teachers. This recreated in part the previous national career system, with a minimum starting salary of about US$250 per month for primary school teachers and promotions and raises based on years of service, merit, additional training, and premiums for teaching in areas that were isolated or had harsh climates. However, because of the Aylwin government's commitment to the decentralization of authority, administration of the system of primary and secondary schools remained to a significant extent in the hands of local governments, with continued efforts to provide increased funding to the poorer municipalities and regions. An initiative by the Aylwin government also committed it to increasing technical training of workers and of youth who had already left the education system. By the end of 1993, about 100,000 people, principally youth, had graduated from such training programs.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress