The education system

Educational reform—a new stage

English opens doors

Ministry of Education of Chile

Chilean University Contacts: International Academic Affairs


The education system in Chile encompasses public and private institutions, and includes the following schooling levels:

• Preschool (educación parvularia), which is attended by children less than 6 years old;

• Primary/Elementary school (educación básica), which consists of eight grades;

• Secondary/High school (educación media), which consists of four grades and offers students a choice of two types of diplomas (the general science-liberal arts diploma, or the vocational-technical diploma (which combines the general studies program with preparation for a trade);

• Higher education (educación superior), which is received at universities, professional institutes, or technical centers.

Teachers for preschool and elementary and high schools receive their training at the universities or professional institutes.

Encompassing a diversity of public and private schools and institutions, the Chilean education is managed through a combined system, in which the government has a conducting role; there is a decentralized public education; and a strong private participation in the school system.

The government maintains normative, evaluative, and supervisory functions, as well as technical and financial support. The Ministry of Education approves the plans and programs for national obligatory study. In 1990, however, the new Education Law (Ley Orgánica Constitucional de Educación) recognized the ability of educational centers to plan and apply their own curriculum (“curricular decentralization”).

The direct administration of educational centers is decentralized. In the case of primary and secondary schools, it is at the level of municipal governments or private entities.

The private education has “official recognition” if it fulfills curriculum norms set by the government and certain minimum legal requirements. Private institutions account for 43% of the elementary and high school students and 50% of the higher education students.

Private preschools, elementary and high schools are divided in two categories: those financed by private tuition and those which receive financial support from the government (educación particular subvencionada).

The government has a subsidy system in place for free private education that has also applied to municipal schools since 1980. Currently, 92% of elementary and high school students attend public municipal schools or private centers that receive some form of government aid.

In addition, the government contributes to the decentralized education with technical and material support, such as free text books and supplies for classroom libraries for all students in primary schools, benefits or services for low-income students, free continuing education for teachers, programs for improving educational quality, and technical assistance. These services are equally available to municipal and subsidized schools.

Institutions of higher education are the autonomous state universities and the private universities, professional institutes, and technical centers.

The government provides various types of support to higher education, which is paid by the students. The public universities and private universities founded before 1980 have the right to receive state aid. In addition, there is also support available for loans and scholarships for lower-income students and funds for institutional development and scientific and technological research.


Education has been a strategic public objective; it is the basis not only for successfully facing the challenges of globalization and the knowledge society but also for responding to a longer life expectancy and better living conditions, in a more just, integrated social order.

At the beginning of the 1990s, a transcendental educational reform, the largest in the history of Chile, started, in which equality and quality have been the main objectives.

Students now study a new curriculum, on par with the educational necessities of the 21st century. They have 3.5 times more nutritional rations than in 1990; receive textbooks in all subsidized institutions; complete between 200 and 250 classroom hours more per year with the full school day; and have access not only to better conditions due to an increased investment in educational infrastructure, but also 90% of them to computer labs in primary and secondary schools.

The new phase in educational reform is centered on quality; the desire is to guarantee all students a quality education, regardless of their socioeconomic conditions.

An important milestone occurred in May of 2003, when the Constitutional Reform established and guaranteed twelve years of free, obligatory education. With this, all Chileans are assured access to high school until 21 years of age.

Other key aspects of the global world include fluency in a foreign language and development of basic skills in the new information and communication technologies, which are the driving forces behind the digital literacy instruction and a program to improve the English classes in schools called “English Opens Doors”. More info here.

Likewise, the government seeks to increase the advanced human capital with a superior higher education, available to all talented students. At the same time, it plans to invest resources in a plan for under- and postgraduate studies in science and technology.

From 1990-2004, the education budget has increased four times. In Chile, the government expenditure on education as a percentage of government expenditure is at the level of 18.7%, higher than the 6.2% average for OEDC countries (WEI 2004). UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Also, the amount invested in scholastic infrastructure is eleven times higher than was invested 14 years ago.


March 17, 2005

Translated from the original Spanish

Education: The Heart of Our Commitment to the Development of Chile

At the dawn of the 21st century, the success of nations relies as never before on the knowledge of their inhabitants.

The wealth of nations increases with education, science, technology, and innovation. The most advanced countries are fully aware of this and channel their resources and energies to educational, scientific, and cultural improvement and the development of these talents in everyone. They know that their future progress depends on the quality of their education.

Chile now has the possibility to enter this stage, and the responsibility to expand the access and quality of higher education is ours to fulfill.

The agreements signed with the European Union, the United States, APEC, Korea, and soon with China, India, Singapore, and New Zealand, offer a great opportunity for Chilean youth. They should possess technical competency and the ability to lead processes, work in teams, adapt themselves to accelerated changes, and be proficient in English and other foreign languages, as well as the communication technologies.

It has been fifteen years since we profoundly transformed our education system, and since then, we have become a leader in Latin America.

In democracy, the horizon of Chile has expanded beyond the borders of our Latin America; now we strive to reduce the distance between us and the most advance countries.

Higher education is also a growing desire for our youth and their families; for a great majority, it has the same significance that high school had for many, forty or fifty years ago. The Constitutional Reform of 2003, which established a free, obligatory high school education guaranteed by the state, was an extension of the free, obligatory primary education set up in 1965 by President Eduardo Frei four decades ago.

The Knowledge Society is a global entity, and the aspirations of a Chile open to the world, with full access to primary and secondary education, has revealed the importance of higher education and the strategic priority for advanced human capital

Importance of Higher Education in the 21st Century

The institutions of higher education fulfill vital functions in this new global and national context. These include:

• To create an advanced human capital of societies composed of their personnel management, professionals, technicians, primary and secondary education teachers, scientists and engineers that participate in investigative research and experimental development, and in general, the people that productively use advanced knowledge and information networks;

• To offer, at the undergraduate level, opportunities for continuing education for all who need or desire to improve, renew, or broaden their competency and abilities;

• To produce advance information and knowledge for nations’ governments and economic growth, through analysis, investigation and experimentation in the different disciplines and their collaboration with businesses, public organizations, and the community;

• To serve as a vital support for the reflective culture and public debate, pillars upon which democracy relies and personal political and civil liberties are constructed; and

• To stimulate regional and municipal development and to open more doors to the world in science, technology, and contemporary ideas.

Chile Follows This Path

Higher education in Chile is developing along these lines; in the past fifteen years, it has experienced an enormous transformation:

• 245,000 students sought higher education in 1990; this year, more than 600,000 youth have matriculated, 2.4 times more. Close to 40% (37.5%, exactly) of people between 18 and 24 study at an institution of higher learning.

• In 1990, 72,000 students received public financial aid. In 2005, the beneficiaries will be 170,000 (2.4 times more) with a total, between grants and loans, of 83 billion Chilean pesos (about US$148 million), set aside in the 2005 budget.

• At the beginning of the 1990s, 25,000 professionals and technicians had received a diploma from an institution of higher education; today, that number is 60,000 (2.4 times more).

• In 1990, we started a program called “Improvement of Quality and Equity of Higher Education” (MECESUP; Mejoramiento de la Calidad y Equidad de la Superior Educación), which has expanded and notably improved the infrastructure of the universities. From 1999 to 2004, MECESUP support for these institutions equaled 155.185 billion Chilean pesos (approx. US$270 million).

• We have increased more than ten times the number of doctors graduated in various disciplines in the arts and sciences and extraordinarily broadened the offering of masters programs in many areas of professional specialization.

• In 1990, we initiated a system of supervision and licensing for new private higher education institutions. Today, that system is relied upon for evaluation and accreditation for undergraduate and graduate programs, university programs and institution. It is open to all groups, and a growing number of universities and professional institutions, professional careers, and masters and doctorate programs voluntarily subscribe to it.

Towards the Bicentennial

We have laid a strong base to prepare for our bicentennial in 2010, with a dynamic higher education capable of meeting the challenges of our nation’s development.

If we continue on this path of reform, then:

• We will have about 800,000 youth matriculate.

• The institutions will be accredited and some will have already begun the second cycle of quality accreditation, through fully institutionalized evaluation processes.

• A modern public information system that is accessible to all will be set up to guide the educational offer and strengthen the ties between education and business, development, and innovation.

• The undergraduate system will be better attuned to the processes of curricular modernization that are occurring at the best universities in the world. Information management, the abilities to master the digital world and English are distinct examples of the competencies that we should acquire more rapidly.

• A better integrated system to more easily transfer a technical education to a professional education and later to the various forms of postgraduate studies will be in place. Further, we will have a system in which work experience will be recognized.

• There will be greater flexibility and mobility at the national and international level. The international agreements that Chile has signed offer opportunities to Chilean professionals, and similarly, our country has become an important destination for professionals of other nationalities. One recent example of this is the agreement to automatically recognize diplomas and degrees between Chile and Argentina for accredited careers.

• A growing number of professionals with doctorates will be fully integrated in the universities and businesses, supporting the development of science and technology.

• Regional universities will be more active in the development of their regions and the country.

Priorities for 2005

To meet the goals of the bicentennial, we need to increase and strengthen the reforms to our higher education, starting with President Lagos’ administration.

This year we will focus on four essential and overlapping areas:

• Greater equality in access to higher education;

• A higher education of duly accredited quality;

• Strengthening state universities; and

• Increase the science and technology capability of the country.


Copyright © 2005, Embassy of Chile, Washington, DC and GlobeScope, Inc.