reform—a new stage
of Education of Chile
University Contacts: International Academic Affairs
The education system in Chile encompasses public
and private institutions, and includes the following schooling
• 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
Teachers for preschool and elementary and high
schools receive their training at the universities or professional
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
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
EDUCATIONAL REFORM—A NEW STAGE
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
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
Institute for Statistics
Also, the amount invested in scholastic infrastructure
is eleven times higher than was invested 14 years ago.
EXCERPTS FROM A SPEECH
BY SERGIO BITAR, MINISTER OF EDUCATION OF CHILE,
UPON THE INAUGURATION OF THE 2005 ACADEMIC YEAR
March 17, 2005
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
Importance of Higher Education in the
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
• 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
Chile Follows This Path
Higher education in Chile is developing along
these lines; in the past fifteen years, it has experienced an
• 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
• 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
• 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.
• 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
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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• Greater equality in access to higher
• A higher education of duly accredited quality;
• Strengthening state universities; and
• Increase the science and technology capability of