Education in the colonial era was largely limited to the upper class. The wealthy either hired tutors or sent their children abroad. Although there were a few private schools in operation following the declaration of independence in 1811, they languished throughout most of the nineteenth century. The only secondary school closed in 1822. By the end of the War of the Triple Alliance, perhaps as little as 14 percent of the populace was literate.
Starting with the inauguration of the public secondary school system in 1877, public education grew steadily in the decades following the war. In 1889 the National University of Asunción was founded, and in 1896 the first teacher-training school began operation. By the eve of the Chaco War, there were several teachers' colleges, a number of secondary schools, and a few technical schools. The decades following the Chaco War were marked by widespread expansion of the educational system. Between the end of that war and the beginning of World War II, enrollments nearly doubled. They continued to expand in subsequent decades. Enrollments grew even faster at universities and secondary schools than at the elementary level.
Paraguay had two universities: the National University and the Catholic University. Both had branches in several interior cities. In the mid-1980s, about 20,000 students were enrolled in the National University and some 8,000 in the Catholic University. The number of applicants for university admission grew because of the growing numbers of students completing secondary school. In the mid-1970s, both universities began offering a variety of short-term degree programs in an effort to meet the increased demand for admission. The programs were designed to reduce pressure on traditional professional courses of study such as engineering, law, and medicine.
Formal education was under the direction of the Ministry of Education and Worship. The six-year cycle of primary school was free and compulsory for children from ages seven to fourteen. Secondary education consisted of two three-year programs, each leading to a baccalaureate degree. The diversified program emphasized training in the humanities and was preparatory to study at a university or teacher- training institute. The technical program was designed for students entering any of a number of postsecondary schools offering training in commerce, industry, or agriculture.
Schools were financed by the government and a variety of user sources. The Ministry of Education and Worship's budget represented slightly less than 15 percent of the government budget in the early 1980s. Virtually all of the costs of rural primary schools and nearly 90 percent of the costs of urban primary schools were covered by government funds. Public secondary schools received from half to three-quarters of their budget for current expenditures from the national government.
There was a perennial shortage of adequately trained teachers; this was especially true of rural teachers, who were often uncertified. Primary school teachers were required to complete a two-year postsecondary school training program. Secondary teachers were supposed to have an additional two years of specialized training. Curricula changes demanded extensive upgrading of teachers' skills. There were retraining programs available through the Higher Institute of Education and several regional centers.
Reforms in the 1980s attempted to make the educational system more responsive to the needs of the population. Rural Paraguayans had long faced a lack of educational facilities, materials, and teachers. The reforms attempted to meet some of these needs through multigrade programs designed to achieve a more efficient allocation of scarce resources. By the early 1980s, there were about 2,000 multigrade programs reaching more than 55,000 students.
Student enrollments increased at all levels during the 1970s and early 1980s. Overall enrollment grew nearly 6 percent per year in the late 1970s. The number of students enrolled in the basic cycle of secondary school grew from 49,000 in 1975 to 76,000 in 1980. The number of students attending primary school increased by roughly one-quarter during this period; rural school children, who historically had had very limited access to education, represented most of the increase. The number of rural children attending primary school increased by more than one-third between 1972 and 1981.
Despite the growth of school enrollments, the proportion of school-age children enrolled in classes actually remained constant or declined between 1965 and 1985. Only in higher education did enrollments grow faster than the school-age population.
In the mid-1980s, the official literacy rate was above 80 percent. More males than females were able to read and write, although literacy was increasing faster among females. About 90 percent of city dwellers could read; rural Paraguayans lagged behind their urban counterparts by about 10 percent.
Critics charged that the official literacy figures greatly overestimated the numbers who could actually read and write. They argued that the government counted as literate anyone who attended primary school--a dubious assumption given the large number of monolingual Guaraní speakers who entered but failed to complete elementary school. Such speakers represented an estimated 90 percent of the children entering rural primary schools. Many men who entered the armed forces as conscripts first learned to read during their military service.
In the early 1970s, less than 5 percent of those entering rural elementary schools finished this course of study, as compared to 30 percent of urban youngsters. Only 1 percent of rural children finished secondary school; the figure for city children was 10 percent. Rural schools also were plagued with high rates of student absenteeism and grade repetition. A 1980 survey showed a substantial improvement in the percentage of children completing the elementary school cycle. The figure for who completed their course of privacy school studies had risen to 38 percent. Although the completion rate for rural students climbed to 25 percent, this figure was substantially below that for urban youngsters.
In the late 1970s, the Ministry of Education and Worship attempted to deal with the crisis in rural education by developing a bilingual program for monolingual Guaraní. The program was designed to develop basic oral skills in Guaraní and oral and written skills in Spanish. Guaraní literature also was available at the secondary and university levels.
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