Despite plans dating back to 1812 to establish widespread primary education, elementary school attendance did not become compulsory until 1920. However, the government did not provide effective means to enforce this policy fully. There was considerable progress, especially in the 1920s and the 1940s, but by mid-century children of primary school age were still not universally enrolled. The principal difficulty lay in the incomplete matriculation and high dropout rate of the nation's poorest children. For this reason, in 1953 the government created the National Council for School Aid and Grants (Junta Nacional de Auxílio Escolar y Becas), which was charged with providing scholarships and with making school breakfasts and lunches available to all children in the tuition-free private and public schools. Through these means, policy makers hoped to encourage the very poorest parents to send their children to school and keep them there. By the early 1970s, school breakfasts were reaching 64 percent of all primary school students, and lunches were being provided to 30 percent. This strategy was apparently successful, and in the mid-1960s, primary education became nearly universal. In 1966 the number of years of primary (and therefore compulsory) education was increased from six to eight; secondary education was thereby reduced to four years. In the mid-1980s, primary school attendance fluctuated between 93 percent and 96 percent of the relevant age-group--a percentage that was less than universal only because some children advanced into secondary school at the age of fourteen instead of the normal age of fifteen.

Beginning in the first half of the nineteenth century, Chile's governments made an effort to create secondary schools and led Latin America in establishing high schools for girls as well as for boys. By 1931 Chile had forty-one state-run high schools for boys and thirty-eight for girls, as well as fifty-nine private high schools for boys and sixty for girls, with a total enrollment of 20,211 boys and 15,014 girls. Reflecting French and German influences on the nation's secondary education, high schools were intended to provide a rigorous preparation for university education.

Chile had other postprimary educational channels that were meant to impart more practical or professional forms of training. Among these were normal schools for the instruction of primary school teachers (the first one for women was created in 1854), agricultural schools (that taught the rudiments of agronomy, animal husbandry, and forestry), industrial schools (with such specialties as mechanics or electricity), commercial schools (with specialties in accounting and secretarial training), so-called technical women's schools (that mainly taught home economics), and schools for painting, sculpture, and music. In 1931 there were 135 of these schools, with a total enrollment of 11,420 males and 11,391 females.

Matriculation of relevant age-groups in all forms of secondary education remained low, as can be surmised from the 1931 figures, and progress was slow. The most rapid advances occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s under the governments of presidents Frei and Allende, which increased spending for education at all levels. By 1970 about 38 percent of all fifteen- to eighteen-year olds in the country had matriculated from one form or another of secondary education; by 1974 that figure increased to 51 percent. Moreover, the curriculum in schools other than high schools had been enhanced significantly, and the graduates of such schools could opt to continue on to university levels. During the rest of the 1970s, under the military government's first six years in power, secondary school enrollments as a percentage of the relevant age-group stagnated. However, in the 1980s enrollments resumed their upward trend. Thus, from a level of 53 percent of the relevant age-group in 1979, secondary school matriculations rose to 75 percent in 1989.

Although the Chilean state traditionally directed about half of its education budget to universities that were either free or charged only nominal matriculation fees, the numbers of students in them had always been tiny as a proportion of the national population between nineteen and twenty-four years of age. As in other areas of education, the Frei and Allende administrations sponsored the largest expansions in postsecondary enrollments. The total numbers of students (including only those in the relevant age-group) almost doubled, from 41,801 in 1965 to 70,588 in 1970, and more than doubled from that number, to 145,663 in 1973. However, these enrollment figures were only equal to about 8 percent and 13 percent of the relevant age-group in 1970 and 1973, respectively. During the rest of the 1970s, the total number of students in universities declined, reaching a low of around 9 percent of the relevant age-group in 1980, including students enrolled in the so-called Professional Institutes (Institutos Profesionales--IPs), which had been separated from the universities by the military government. During the 1980s, the numbers of students in universities and in the IPs increased slowly and stood at about 153,100 in 1989, or 10.3 percent of the relevant agegroup . However, the military government fostered the creation of Technical Training Centers (Centros de Formación Técnica--CFT) as an alternative to postsecondary education. Enrollment in these centers increased rapidly during the 1980s, to about 76,400 students by 1989. In 1991 a total of 245,875 students were in some form of higher or postsecondary education.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, under the influence of German advisers, Chile began to develop preprimary education. Matriculation in these programs also remained very small until the 1960s. In contrast to its attitude toward higher education, the military government took great interest in this form of education, and enrollments increased greatly during the Pinochet years. Statefunded programs for preschoolers, which enrolled about 59,000 children in 1970, had increased their matriculation to about 109,600 by 1974. In 1989 they enrolled 213,200 children, or about 12 percent of the population under five years of age.

Primary and Secondary Education
Higher Education

Country Studies main page | Chile Country Studies main page