In the late 1980s, formal education was divided into four cycles: a preprimary two-year cycle, six years of primary school, secondary school, which was divided into two three-year cycles, and higher education. Children could begin attending preprimary school at four; primary school began at age six. Attendance theoretically was compulsory for children from six to fourteen years of age. The first three-year cycle of secondary school was a general curriculum that elaborated on that of primary school. In the second cycle, students could specialize in one of several different curriculums. An academic, liberals arts course led to university admission; other specialized courses prepared students for technical schools or teachers' training.
Roughly 20 percent of primary and secondary schools were privately run. The role of private schools increased with grade level; slightly less than 20 percent of primary students and more than 40 percent of secondary students attended private schools. Private education was a predominantly urban phenomena. Approximately one-third of city primary and secondary schools were private.
The country had twelve state universities, equally divided between the Costa and the Sierra, and an additional five private universities--three in the Sierra and two in the Costa. A number of polytechnic schools and teachers' colleges offered specialized postsecondary studies. The number of university students per 100,000 population grew fivefold from 1960 to 1980; the number of professors grew ten times. About two-thirds of those enrolled in higher education attended public institutions, especially the Central University in Quito.
The 1960s and 1970s saw a major expansion in educational opportunities at every level. Spending increased until by 1980 education represented one-third of total government outlays. Enrollments, which had begun to climb in the 1950s, continued their increase. Retention rates at the primary and secondary level also improved.
Expansion created its own set of problems, however. Construction failed to keep up with the increase in students. A significant proportion of teachers lacked full accreditation, especially at the levels of secondary and higher education. These deficiencies were most evident in the countryside where the percentage of uncertified primary teachers was estimated to be double that of the cities. Finally, despite enrollment increases, by the 1980s the percentage of school-aged children attending school lagged. Rates were particularly low for rural primary-school-aged children. Relatively few children continued beyond the first cycle of secondary school.
Illiteracy rates, especially those in the countryside, also remained elevated. The Ministry of Education and Culture, municipal governments, and the military all offered literacy classes. Overall, the programs had limited impact, however; most of the decline in illiteracy came through increased school enrollments. In the 1980s, there were efforts to target literacy programs to the needs of the rural populace and non-Spanish speakers.
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