Primary and Secondary Schools in Chile

About Primary and Secondary Schools in Chile

Chile, a large nation of 15 million people spread out along the Pacific coast of South America, is considered to have one of the continent’s most effective systems of primary and secondary education. Its rapid economic growth through the 1990s (largely the result of the country’s transition from a military dictatorship to a democratically-elected government) has brought relative affluence to many of Chile’s citizens, and freed up resources for use in education. The biggest challenge currently faced within the system is a gap between the number of positions in education that have been opened up and the number of qualified teachers that are available to fill them. Because the country’s economic and political changes over the last two decades have been so fast, hiring rates have struggled to keep up. This is, of course, a relatively minor problem compared to those faced by some other Latin American countries, and so Chile’s education system is considered to be in good shape despite this challenge.
In the early 2000s, Chile extended the years of compulsory schooling so that all children between the ages of 5 and 18 are required to attend primary and secondary school. This made the country the first in Latin America to have a full 13-year compulsory education system, and demonstrated the belief among Chilean leaders that education is essential to the country’s social and economic progress. That commitment is also evident in the high rates of enrollment that Chile enjoys. Among all children in Chile of proper age for primary school, over 93% are actually enrolled in school – an impressive number for a country of Chile’s size and development level. The number drops to about 70% for secondary school students, but is still higher than most Latin American countries. Chile has even managed to extend a high standard to its rural population, something that has proven to be a significant challenge for many of its neighbors.
In secondary school, students can choose one of three tracks or courses of study. The first two years of high school are the same for all students, but for the second two they can choose to go either on the Science and Humanities track, the Technical and Professional track, or the Art School track. Technical and vocational training is further subdivided into four subfields: industrial, which covers electricity, mechanics, plumbing, and other skilled trades; commercial, which includes business-related areas like management, secretarial skills, etc.; technical, a wide-ranging field that comprises everything from culinary schools to retail and childcare; and finally the polyvalent option, which combines several fields from other programs. For the last two years of compulsory secondary school (from age 16-18), Chilean teenagers choose a track and follow it through to the end. This enables them to prioritize their pursuits and spend more time learning about what is really interesting and useful for that particular student.

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