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.