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Boosting Enrollment at the Expense of Quality in Peru
By By Abraham Lama, Inter Press Service
 
  LIMA, Apr 25 (IPS) - Peru has taken primary school enrollment to an impressive 90 percent, but independent experts say the expansion has been achieved at the expense of quality.
 
  They point to high dropout and repetition rates and poorly- trained teachers who earn low wages. Moreover, enrollment figures are mere projections that fail to factor in dropout rates, say experts like Hugo Diaz of the independent Institute of Research for the Development of Education.
 
 "The children wandering around the streets, whether working or just bumming around, are not taken into account by the Education Ministry statistics,'' said Diaz.
 

  According to Education Ministry figures, more than 90 percent of children aged 6 to 12 and 54 percent of adolescents are enrolled in school in this South American country of 24 million.

 
  Of a total 7.8 million students in preschool, grade school and high school, 6.7 million are enrolled in cost-free public education institutions.
 
  Education authorities stress that all government-run primary school students receive free textbooks and breakfasts.
 
  The state spends around 255 dollars a year on every student enrolled in public schools. The free breakfasts are not included in that calculation, however, as they are not financed by the Education Ministry, but by the office of food assistance set up by the government of President Alberto Fujimori..
 
 The administration of Fujimori -- who has been in office since 1990 and is currently seeking a third term -- has built and refurbished public schools, which are equipped with sanitation services and electricity, except in the most remote and sparsely populated areas of the country.
 
  In his campaign for re-election, Fujimori has pledged to accelerate the installation of computers in high schools ''in order for all schools to have access to Internet in the near future.''
 
  Although the delivery of the first computers took place amidst great fanfare, it is not clear how many public schools actually received equipment and how many are still on the waiting list.
 
  ''In the past few decades, Peru has expanded enrollment, but at the cost of reducing quality,'' according to 'Data Social', a bulletin on social policies produced by the local independent thinktank Apoyo.
 
  One big problem affecting quality is the low salaries earned by teachers, which make it virtually impossible to attract the more highly-qualified applicants, who are drawn by the higher pay offered elsewhere.
 
  "We cannot make the most of investment in school infrastructure if the training levels and salaries of teachers are not improved,'' said Maria Teresa Tovar with the non-governmental Educational Forum.
 
 Diaz at the Institute of Research for the Development of Education pointed out that of the 110,000 applicants for the 30,000 new teaching positions that opened up last year, only 16 percent qualified.
 
  ''Only 17,000 were hired, 60 percent of whom qualified with the minimally acceptable number of points -- 11 or 12 out of 20 points -- while less than one percent scored 14 or more points,'' said Diaz.
 
 The low quality of education is also reflected by the high repetition rates. More than half a million primary school students, or 14.9 percent of the total, failed in 1998, according to statistics compiled by another independent thinktank, Cuanto.
 
  In urban areas, 17 percent of students have repeated at least one year of primary school, while that proportion rises to 26 percent in the countryside.
 
  Another shortcoming in the educational system is the number of hours spent in school: 450 hours a year in towns and cities and 226 in rural areas, compared to 1,000 hours a year in Chile and 1,750 in Japan.
 
  ''Besides the low training levels of teachers, the educational situation in Peru is affected by the poor nutritional levels of the 49 percent of the population living in poverty,'' said university professor Oscar Rivera.
 
''Undernourished kids have problems concentrating, tire easily and fall asleep in class, and in general are less motivated to study,'' Rivera pointed out.
The distribution of publicly financed free meals in poor urban and rural areas, through mothers' clubs, and of school breakfasts, are aimed at boosting nutritional levels among children living in poverty. A school lunch programme has also been announced.
Another reason for the high repetition rate is that children often skip class in order to work and contribute to the family income, or due to a lack of parental supervision.
Since its implementation in 1995, a programme designed to upgrade the quality of primary education, financed by the government and the World Bank, has trained 64,000 grade school teachers, which is around 55 percent of the total.
A similar programme, backed by the Inter-American Development Bank and focusing on secondary-level education, has trained 4,000 high school teachers, around 18 percent of the total.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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