Education in Chile




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Education System Overview

Chilean Students - Santiago, RM

Education in Chile is considered to be inequitable amongst the population.

The Ministry of Education is responsible for pre-primary, primary, and secondary schooling in Chile. The pre-primary level is two years of non-compulsory education for children four to five years of age.Primary and secondary education are compulsory. Primary education is from ages 6 to 13, and secondary education is from ages 14 to 17. In 2000, 99 percent of school-age children were studying at primary schools, and 90 at secondary schools.

School Categories

In terms of financing, there are the following kinds of schools:

1.     Municipal: State-subsidized schools run by municipalities, which may also contribute monetarily to the schools. The majority of the population studies at these schools (64% at the primary level).

2.     Particular Subvencionado: Private with a government subsidy. At the primary level, 29% of the population attends this kind of school.

3.     Particular: Private. At the primary level, 7% of the population attends this kind of school.

4.     Corporate Schools: Schools run by corporations and which receive the same state subsidy that the municipal schools receive.

After graduation from high school, students may choose to go to college, to work, or to study at a professional institute or technical center. In Chile, a university education is much less common and much more prestigious than in the U.S.

Prueba Selección Universitaria (PSU) is the national exam that students must take in their last year of high school, if they want to enter college.

Chilean public universities are more competitive than private ones, although the private colleges may have additional entrance examinations. Some students opt to enter a pre-university program to prepare for the exam.

At the university level, students are divided by faculty and then by year. University students study for four to seven years; those studying for four or five years usually get the equivalent of a bachelor's degree. Degrees in engineering, medicine and law are given after six or seven years of college.

Chilean Government-Sponsored Programs

There are a number of Chilean Government-sponsored programs which support English-language learning, scholarships, and testing for Chilean citizens. In no particular order of importance or funding, following are at least five notable programs:

CORFO: The overall mission of this agency is to encourage and support entrepreneurship and innovation. Of one of the many legs this organization supports includes offering adult professionals in selected and approved industries two- or four-months of intensive English courses.

SIMCE: This yearly administered testing to children throughout the country, measures their skills in various topics. Recently, English-language acquisition was added to the skill list of the nation-wide SIMCE testing.

ENGLISH OPENS DOORS (Inglés Abre Puertas): This multi-faceted, Chilean Ministry of Education-sponsored program, has morphed since its inception in year 2002, but has included inviting English-speaking volunteers into the country to assist English acquisition into the public school system (kinder through 12th grade).

SENCE: The Chilean government provides income tax credits to employers that pay for employees that participate in language courses from companies that meet the SENSE requirements as set forth by the Chilean governmental standards and regulations.

BECAS CHILE: Educational scholarships provided to advanced Chilean university-level students that intend to study abroad in those countries where English will be the primary language of instruction for any variety of career studies.

Chile has the best education system in Latin America according to the PISA report, coming 44th out of 65 countries. The report compares education systems by assessing 15 year olds’ ability in reading, mathematics and science.


 An overview

Chile’s literacy rate is 96%, the highest in Latin America ahead of Argentina or Brazil, and also slightly higher than more developed countries such as Portugal.


From 1965, education was compulsory from ages 6 to 13. However in 2003, a new law was approved making school mandatory up to 18 years of age, ensuring a total of 12 years of compulsory education.


The state is responsible for schooling, and public education is paid for by education vouchers given out by the government. This way, education is guaranteed for everybody but parents can choose which school suits their children best. The majority of students (93%) benefit from these vouchers while 7% opt to attend private schools.


This system of education vouchers is also used in Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia. It was introduced in Chile in 1981 to give access to education to all children, regardless of their personal background. However, parents’ incomes are not assessed, and the same amount of vouchers is given to all students. This has created an inequality between rich and poorer families, as rich families can afford to “top-up” the vouchers with additional money, potentially giving their children access to a better education. This situation has been pointed out by the OECD and the UNESCO.


In Chile, children can attend preschool for free but it’s not compulsory, it has different levels divided in 2-year cycles. After preschool (0-5 years old) students attend primary school for eight years.


Primary school is divided into two cycles and each cycle is divided into four years. Public schools are owned by the local municipality, while private schools may receive help from the government.


Middle (secondary) school lasts four years and students can choose the path they would like to follow: scientific-humanist (regular), technical-professional (vocational) or artistic. Chilean students can also go to a Liceo in which they receive a technical education and are prepared for the PSU (Prueba de Selección Universitaria), the test they have to pass to enter university.


Either way, schools often ask parents to pay fees when a student starts middle school, whereas primary school is completely free.


Nearly 100% of children between 6 and 14 are registered in primary education and almost 88% continue through secondary school.




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