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Bolivia, officially known as the Plurinational State of Bolivia, is a landlocked country in central South America, bordered to the north and the east by Brazil, to the south by Paraguay and Argentina, to the southwest by Chile and to the west by Peru. Once a part of the Inca, and later Spanish Empires, Bolivia declared its independence in 1809, a declaration that sparked tension and was followed by 16 years of war before the region ultimately established a Republic—a Republic they named Bolivia after Simon Bolivar.
Bolivia is now a fully democratic republic with nine departments that oversee important areas of interest in the country, including education, energy and agriculture. Its varied geography ranges from the tall peaks of the Andes Mountains to the valley of the Amazon Basin. Chief industries in this “developing” country include agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining and manufacturing, and statistics show that more than half (53%) of the population lives at or below the country’s poverty level.
Bolivia has a population of roughly 10 million and is a multiethnic society made up of Amerindians, Mestizos, Europeans and Africans. Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in the country, although Quechua is listed as the official language and 34 other indigenous languages are also recognized by the government. Christianity is the most commonly practiced religious doctrine, divided between those that are Roman Catholic, Anglican and other Protestant denominations. Religious minorities that exist in Bolivia include Islam, Hinduism and Judaism.
Bolivia culture has been heavily influenced by the Quechua, the Aymara and popular elements of Latin America as a whole. The country has produced several world-renowned artists, and its music, which is based on the rich folklore of the region, can be heard and danced to at many of Bolivia’s annual festivals, including Carnaval de Oruro, the country’s largest national celebration.
Education in Bolivia
Like many developing countries, when it comes to education in Bolivia there is a wide divide between the rural and urban areas. Illiteracy rates in the country’s more rural areas continue to be high, even while the rest of the country is becoming increasingly literate. This disparity can largely be attributed to the unfortunate reality of most rural children: the need to drop out of school and work instead, so as to help contribute economically to the family. Current statistics show that, on average, rural children attend school for approximately 4.2 years, while children in urban cities attend for a little more than 9 years. Despite some of these negative statistics that would suggest otherwise, Bolivia does spend a comparably large chunk of its national budget (23%) on education.
Education is free and compulsory for all children ages 7-14, and is divided between a 5-year primary school-cycle, three years of intermediate school and four years of secondary education. At the secondary level, the initial two years are conducted in an integrated program that incorporates both academic and vocational elements. In the final two years of high school, however, students can choose to pursue an academic track—a prerequisite to university admission—or a technical/vocational track, in which students can earn certification in a host of occupational fields.
Bolivia has several public and private universities and colleges, where students can earn undergraduate and graduate degrees, along with technical and professional licenses for a career of their choosing. Unfortunately, higher education in Bolivia is not as valued as it is in some of the larger and wealthier South American countries (Brazil, Argentina), and while there are certainly a number of opportunities available for eligible students, this level is not regularly pursued by the majority of Bolivians. The most recent data, published in 2006, showed that only 1 percent of Bolivia’s adult population had earned a college degree.