Peru's Education Reform
Part I: "More Schools"

By Norman Gall

December 1974

The pressures of population growth on the resources of a developing society are felt through three main variables: quantitative increase in the number of people: rises in the levels of consumption and economic participation per inhabitant; and variations in per capita productivity through changes in the manpower’s age structure and in its economic yields.

The development of Peruvian education in recent decades provides a striking example of the interplay of these factors. While only one in every forty Peruvians had access to public education in 1900, the proportion of those participating in the education system rose to one-in-four by the mid-1960s. While Peru’s population has increased since 1900 at the geometric rate of 1.9 per cent annually, enrollments have risen at 5.4 per cent per year during the same period, or nearly three times as fast as population, reflecting one of the world’s highest rates of educational expansion in this century. At the same time, education’s share of Peru’s public budget rose from 2.9 per cent in 1900 to 30 per cent in 1966, one of the highest in Latin America, and this severely strained the financial resources of the state as continued high birthrates and dramatic declines in infant mortality radically expanded the school-age population. The rapid educational expansion, while showing spectacular growth rates in the remote and backward Departments of the Andes, also has been closely associated with urbanization and migration to the coastal cities. In Metropolitan Lima, roughly 47 per cent of the population between the ages of five and 39 was engaged in some kind of formal education in the 1970-1972 period.

These Reports attempt to illustrate the stake in education of the Peruvian people as their "Revolutionary Government" of generals and colonels attempts to carry out a major Education Reform. On one hand, the expansion of schooling is one of the principal means of increased consumption and opportunity for the common man in Peru; it provides the single clear and coherent expression of social democracy in Peru’s recent history, growing both in impact and momentum in the course of this century. On the other hand, the waste and chaos of educational expansion has severely limited Peru’s economic productivity, imposing heavy financial burdens on the state and society and aggravating the immediate consequences of its high (3.1%) population growth rate. Educational expansion can pay for itself by increasing the productivity of the labor force, and, as elsewhere, by reducing family size, A major goal of Peru’s Education Reform is to build an educational system that will spur rather than retard economic development.

* * * * *

Some pedagogues imagine that if a man knows the sources of the Amazon and the mean temperature of Berlin he has gone half-way toward solving social problems. If by some miracle our illiterates would wake up tomorrow not only knowing how to read and write, but also with university diplomas, the Indian problem will not have been solved. The proletariat of the ignorant will be succeeded by that of bachelors and doctors. Physicians without patients. lawyers without clients, engineers without projects, writers without readers, artists without patrons, professors without disciples, all abound in the most civilized nations, forming the vast army of brains with learning and stomachs without bread. Where the haciendas of the coast measure 8,000 acres, where those of the sierra are from 30 to 50 leagues, the nation must be divided into lords and serfs.

From Manuel Gonzales Prada, Nuestros Indios (1904).

The schoolhouse at Mallma stands at the eastern extreme of the Hacienda Lauramarca in the highlands of southern Peru, alongside the dirt road that crosses the barren mountains of the Department of Cuzco and slowly descends to the jungle outpost of Puerto Maldonado, two days’ journey beyond. The school, a sagging, whitewashed adobe structure with two tiny windows and a thatched roof, is cradled in the narrow valley of the Rio T’inqui; the river descends through a gray-green landscape of grass, stubble, and glacial stone from the white slopes of Mount Ausanecate, 21,000 feet high, which holds all Lauramarca in its spiritual and ecological dominion. According to the Indians, the white mountain is a god who has abandoned his people. This feeling of abandonment haunts the people of Lauramarca, as they emerge from their traditional ways into an incipient, perhaps stillborn modernization.

The school at Mallma is dark and damp and windy for most of the year. Its single classroom— divided by a flimsy partition so the teacher can conduct two groups at the same time—is furnished with old wooden school desks, some homemade and others provided by the Ministry of Education. It is populated by children of a wide variety of ages who can communicate only in Quechua—the ancient Andean tongue that in its many local dialects is still the vernacular of most of the highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador—and who come to school in traditional Indian dress of brightly colored wool caps, red and black homespun clothing, and sandals cut from old rubber tires. Most of the pupils sit two and three abreast at the desks, laboriously copying and memorizing dimly understood Spanish words from the blackboard and reciting aloud from carefully preserved copies of Lola y Pepe, a reading primer issued in 1950. Those without seats spend their days in the half-darkness along the walls on dank benches made of adobe bricks, beneath yellowed paper portraits of the martyred naval heroes of Peru’s disastrous War of the Pacific against Chile (1879-1884). Since the school provides instruction only through the second grade, one can expect only modest educational achievements before its pupils are reclaimed by the rural routine of pasturing llamas and alpacas, and growing potatoes.

Although the peasants at Mallma built their school 40 years ago in a show of great enthusiasm and determination, paying the first teachers’ salaries from their own pockets, enrollment has declined in recent years to the point that some parents have taken to matriculating their children over and over again to prevent the school from closing for lack of pupils. "This is because having a school gives a community a certain importance," one of the teachers at Lauramarca told me. "A school puts a remote Indian community on the map. The government sends representatives—school inspectors—to inquire from time to time about the school and the community. In turn, the community can get outside help through the school. The number of one-room schools at Lauramarca has expanded so fast that there are not enough children to attend them. At Mallma there are 30 pupils enrolled, but the average daily attendance is only 15 because the parents say the children must pasture their animals. However, attendance shoots up suddenly when the teacher or inspector threatens to close the school. After two years in school the pupils at least know how to sign their names."

The founder of the school at Mallma is Constantino Condori Mandora, an 86-year-old Indian who wears a floppy sheepskin hat and a tattered brown poncho on his excursions outside his family’s adobe hovel next to the road and the school, two landmarks around which the peasants of Mallma have tended to cluster their homes in recent years. The old man walks with great difficulty and his eyes are crusted with the covering of a trachoma that has left him almost completely blind. When I asked don Constantino why the people of Mallma made such sacrifices to send their children to school, he explained that "we want them to learn just a few words [of Spanish]. We don’t want our children to be illiterate like us, nor to suffer for their ignorance like we do. We can’t do any business or enter any government office ourselves, because we don’t know anything. For any letter or document we must pay a tintorillo [scribe] to write it out and sign it for us. I decided to organize the school 40 years ago when the manager of the hacienda ordered me to go to the city of Cuzco to serve as a pongo [unpaid servant] in his house there. When I said I wanted to send a substitute to work in my place, the manager sent me to Cuzco with a letter to the chief of police saying that I was an enemy of the hacienda and didn’t want to work, that I should be jailed by the police. Because I couldn’t read, I had no way of knowing what the letter said. Fortunately, I showed the letter first to a friend, who showed it to a lawyer, who said there was no legal reason for me to go to the police station and that I should return to my community. It was then that I decided to organize the school to end our ignorance. First we paid the teachers ourselves, and then the Adventists ran the school. The Ministry of Education took it over in 1961. We can say we have benefited from the school’s existence because our children have learned, at least, to say Buenos Dias, Buenas Tardes, and Buenas Noches."

The 200,000 acres of rolling, windy puna that compose the Hacienda Lauramarca are located in the Province of Quispicanchis. one of the more remote economically backward and demographically stagnant areas of the Peruvian sierra. With high mortality, poor communications, low migration rates, and the bulk of its people surviving by primeval forms of subsistence agriculture, Quispicanchis is one of the 11 of Cuzco Department’s 13 provinces that had neither gained nor lost significantly in population between the censuses of 1940 and 1972; in that period Peru as a whole had doubled in population and the number of people living in "urban areas" quadrupled. According the 1940 census, only 15 per cent of the population of Quispicanchis above age five had ever attended school. Around that time Bernard Mishkin wrote in his essay on "The Contemporary Quechua":

The sierra, although it is the most densely populated region of the country with the largest number of populated centers, is the most lacking in educational facilities. Enormous areas are to be found in which not one school exists. In some places, Quechua communities attempted to fill a sharply felt need by establishing classes in Spanish at their own expense. But these schools were soon abandoned. The mestizo teachers, who had not completely mastered the alphabet, lost heart when they were unable to collect the pittance they were promised. The children, on the other hand, lost whatever interest they had at the outset as a result of the miserable instruction.... In those places where the Indians have access to schools, language proves to be an insuperable difficulty for the Quechua students. Instruction, in practically all cases, is given in Spanish. The Quechua students are unable to follow it and, after a brief but unsuccessful effort, are satisfied to devote themselves to tidying the school grounds and to physical education. Meanwhile, the teacher can concentrate his best efforts in behalf of the mestizo children who come from Spanish-speaking homes.

In 1957 the Peruvian anthropologist Gustavo Alencastre visited the Hacienda Lauramarca for the Ministry of Labor to report on social conditions after the serfs formed a sindicato and went on strike in response to a pasture enclosure movement carried out by the hacienda’s new Argentine owners. Because of the long history of social conflict at Lauramarca and because this was the first peasant sindicato to be formed in Cuzco in recent decades, Alencastre’s report, recommending expropriation, was read with great interest by officials in Lima and then suppressed. The report contained the findings of a 1957 census which revealed that, of the 2,929 persons above seven years old on the hacienda, only 163 knew how to read and write, and many of these literates were managers, drivers, and clerks working at T’inqui, the hacienda’s administrative center; of the 812 children between seven and 16 years old, only 50 (six per cent) were attending the three schools then functioning on the hacienda.

However, some important changes were already under way. Between 1956 and 1963, primary school enrollments nearly doubled in Quispicanchis, reaching 7,451 pupils and then climbing more slowly over the following decade to about 10,000 in 1973. By the time of my first visit to Lauramarca in 1970, shortly after the hacienda was expropriated under the sweeping land reform carried out by the military regime that seized power in late 1968, the number of two-year schools had risen sharply from three to seven. In the four years since the hacienda was expropriated and turned into a cooperative under the agrarian reform, few of Lauramarca’s 975 peasant families have participated in the affairs of the cooperative, distrusting the government officials who came to take the place of the hacienda’s managers and preferring to grow their own potatoes and tend their own livestock. However, perhaps the most palpable change generated by the new cooperative was the establishment of a five-year primary school at T’inqui, which for the first time gave the people of Lauramarca a chance to finish their primary schooling without going beyond the boundaries of an estate that is roughly the size of Luxembourg or Rhode Island. Beyond this, the peasants themselves are building a second five-year primary school at Pampacancha, another of Lauramarca’s roadside settlements, with factory-made roof and doors provided by SINAMOS, the civilian political arm of the military regime.

"The new school will have two classrooms, and is being built with each family contributing 100 adobes each," said Claudia Alarcón de Vega, the teacher at Pampacancha who founded the present school in 1965. "When I came here nine years ago I was very lonely. There was just the school, which had been used before to teach literacy classes, and two huts beside the road; and I was very afraid to be alone at night. But the people were very good to me and very enthusiastic about the school. I used this enthusiasm to get them to build stone fences around the school, a chapel, and a cooperative store, and they provided the school with desks, tables, and a blackboard. In the old school the papers fly and the pupils catch cold when the wind blows down the valley, but the new school will have larger windows giving more light and is being built so the wind won’t blow across the classrooms. In exchange for their work on the school the Catholic charity CARITAS gives the peasants U.S. Food for Peace donations, which is a great incentive. The new five-year school will greatly improve their chances of finishing their primary education because, until now, this usually has meant living away from home, paying one of the merchants of Ocongate room and board and working in their house as a servant. Very few boys do this, and none of the girls study beyond the second grade because their parents want them to work as shepherds. While it will be easier now for everybody to complete primary school, great obstacles still prevent students from Lauramarca from going on to secondary school because the nearest Colegio Nacional is in the provincial capital, Urcos, which is four hours over the mountains by bus or truck."

One of the striking things about the current educational expansion in Peru is how many people from backward rural areas manage to cross these geographic and economic barriers to continue their education. In the sierra this usually means Indian boys leaving their community for the provincial or departmental capital to study secondary school, living in hovels on rations of corn and potatoes sent from their homes. In the slums of Lima this means parents who earn less than $2 daily spending their weekends building new classrooms and schools to accommodate mushrooming enrollments, then purchasing equipment for these buildings and paying teachers’ salaries from their own pockets. In the Department of Cuzco, where population has been rising by 1.3 per cent over the past three decades, school enrollments have been increasing at nearly four times that rate in the same period, exceeding 14 per cent per year during the 1961-1966 climax of this expansion. Between 1940 and 1972 the population of the city of Cuzeo tripled, from 40,000 to 120,000, and the contribution of the educational impulse to this growth is not hard to see. In 1956 there were 1,567 adults studying primary school at night, while there were no secondary night study facilities and the University of Cuzco had an enrollment of about 800 students. By 1973 there were 6,545 students at the university, while there were roughly 10,000 adults enrolled in primary and secondary classes at night. In other words, about half of Cuzco’s population in the 15-30 age group—the largest migratory cohort— were studying at night or in the university.

The Colegio de Ciencias, founded by Simón Bolivar in 1825, stands on a broad plaza in the center of Cuzco next to the great colonial church of San Francisco. At night the interior patio of the Colegio somberly resembles a prison yard of one of the larger state penitentiaries in the United States: shadowy figures scurry through the cold across the yard from nowhere to nowhere, while teachers and students huddle in overcoats in dimly-lit classrooms of the four-story building. In one of these classrooms I met Gilberto Cardenas, aged 19, a peasant from Acomayo Province who has been studying in Cuzco for the past three years while working in a bakery. "I sleep in the bakery and work there from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M., and then attend class at night," he said. "They pay me 300 sols ($7) per month, plus room and board. My father has only one hectare of land, but he manages to send potatoes and chuño (dehydrated potato) to his four sons who are studying here in Cuzco. Two of my brothers are studying in the Faculty of Education at the University, and another brother and myself are studying at night here in the Colegio de Ciencias. I want to finish my secondary education so I can join the Civil Guard (national police), which would pay 8,000 sols ($180) a month." According to one of his teachers, there are now 1,500 pupils studying at night at the Colegio, one-fourth more than last year and half again as many as in 1972. "Enrollment would increase even more rapidly if we had the facilities. All these young people believe that education is the only means of advancement, though roughly three-fourths drop out before finishing."

Recently I visited a night primary school on the Avenida Túpac Amaru in the Pueblo Jóven (barriada, or squatter settlement) of Collique on the desert hills outside Lima. There several hundred adults studied by the light of kerosene lamps in the bleak classrooms of the Fé y Alegría school, which functioned almost continuously from 8 A.M. to 10 P.M. in different shifts. Among those studying there was Victor Mamani Cutunta, a 20-year-old former hacienda serf from the district of San Jerónimo near Cuzco. In the course of a taped classroom discussion of why the barriada dwellers made such sacrifices to study at night, Mamani explained in his halting, softspoken way: "I come here to learn to read a little more and to defend my rights and not to be deceived year after year. Because if one goes out looking for work, the boss asks how much schooling you’ve had and whether you know how to read. He asks for papers, documents, and if you’re lacking these things he treats you like garbage, saying this cholo (Indian converting to Hispanic culture) doesn’t even know how to read. So we all must know how to read to defend our rights. Otherwise we are fooled and exploited like we were in Cuzco, where the hacendado was the owner of everything and ruled the lives of 300 or 400 persons. The hacendado treated them like slaves and did not want them to study, because if they studied they would awaken and disappear from his hacienda. My parents are still there on the hacienda, because they never learned a single letter and speak only Quechua. Most people there worked for the hacendado, so that one person could live from the labor of those beneath him. Here in Lima one can go to school and learn what the teacher has to teach. Little by little one begins to understand. Then one can go to any city or town to find work, because one knows his rights and how to defend himself. Until my brother brought me to Lima two years ago I never had been to school and didn’t know how to read. The hacendado had taken us to a plantation he had in the jungle region of Madre de Diós in the Amazon basin, where it rained a lot and where we cultivated rice and yuca. The hacendados of Cuzco often had plantations in the jungle as well. Because there were no roads to Madre de Diós, the hacendado had to take his peons there by airplane. My brother had to fight hard to get me out of there."


The wastage and desperation of Peru’s educational expansion has provoked harsh and anguished judgments over the years. In his 1897 message to Congress, at a time when only one in every 40 Peruvians had access to public education, President Nicolás de Piérola, somberly observed: "Primary instruction is insufficient, badly done and disproportionate to the great expense it imposes on us." Seven decades later, after enrollments in the public schools had multiplied forty-fold in one of the great educational expansions of modern times, bringing one in every four Peruvians into some form of publicly-sponsored classroom study, the Education Reform Commission of Peru’s "Revolutionary Government" of generals and colonels was equally caustic in a 1970 report that became a best-seller in the bookstalls of Lima:

A system that in 1967 spent 4.8 per cent of our GNP—one of the highest percentages in Latin America—and that managed to graduate from secondary school only 12 of every 100 pupils that enrolled in Transition (kindergarten) shows faults and distortions so deep that they must be examined carefully... these enormous outlays for education have not become reproductive investments, but have largely been wasted and contribute only weakly to the purpose pursued.

While the expansion of the school population has been most dramatic since 1957, it often is forgotten that enrollments have been increasing throughout this century at an overall geometric rate of 5.4 per cent annually, nearly triple the growth rate of the population as a whole. (Appendices II and III examine the difficulties of maintaining or expanding present enrollment rates if population continues to multiply as in the 1960s.) Meanwhile, education’s share of Peru’s public budget rose from 2.9 per cent in 1900 to 30 per cent in 1966. The Education Reform Commission—composed of educators from within and outside the public system—noted that during the 1958-1968 decade the number of primary school pupils nearly doubled and those in secondary and university classrooms more than tripled. Meanwhile, the dropout rate declined from 95 per cent in the 1950s to 87 per cent in 1967 to 75 per cent in 1973, leading the Commission to observe that the gains in keeping primary pupils in school have "provoked an upward explosion of enrollments in secondary schools and the universities." Nevertheless, the dropout rate remained so high that the Commission asked: "What kind of educational system do we have that annually casts away from the schools like garbage more than one-third of a million pupils?"

To answer such a question we must go at least as far back as the beginning of the republican period. Like other Latin American constitutions, Peru’s constitution of 1823 was a declaration of distant intent as much as one of law, especially in its provisions describing education as a common need to be satisfied by the Republic through the establishment of universities in each departmental capital and primary schools in the smallest inhabited places. Because education was concentrated almost entirely in the hands of the Church in colonial times, a Supreme Decree of 1823 ordered all convents and monasteries to establish free primary schools under the supervision of the bishops, who generally chose to ignore the decree. On April 14, 1825 the Liberator Simon Bolivar, who was dictator in the first years of the Republic, wrote of the "complete abandonment of public education in all the towns of Peru. In none of them are there primary schools, and children grow up in the most absolute ignorance." In 1847 President Ramón Castilla, one of the ablest executives in Peru’s history, told Congress that "public instruction has received all priority consistent with the deficiency of our resources and our conviction of its advantages and benefits. Primary schools have been extended as much as possible, supervising as closely as possible the teachers who run the schools, attended now by pupils from all classes of society." Castilla went on to say that, despite insufficient revenues, "it is satisfying for me to inform you that the primary schools of the Republic are attended by 29,942 pupils, which is proportionately much greater than in other countries of South America."

For the rest of the nineteenth century primary school attendance increased annually by 1.8 per cent, nearly double the rate of population growth, reaching 85,000 by 1904 as the population grew from two million in 1850 to about 3.5 million in 1900. From that time on enrollments began to rise in sudden surges, starting with the administration of President Jose Pardo (1904-1908) when 2,000 primary schools were built in four years and the number of pupils increased from 85,000 to 156,000. During those years of sudden educational expansion, Peru was governed by an export-oriented civilian oligarchy whose motives were perceptively analyzed in 1928 by the prophet of Peruvian Marxism, José Carlos Mariátegui:

The period of economic reorganization by the civilistas, begun in 1895 by the Piérola government, brought a period of revision of the system and methods of instruction. The work of forming a capitalist economy, interrupted by the War of 1879-1884 and its aftermath, was started again, and thus the problem of gradually adapting public education to the needs of economic development was posed. The State, which in times of poverty and error abandoned primary education to the municipalities, resumed this service. With the foundation of the Normal School in Lima the groundwork was laid for public primary education for the people.... This period was characterized by a shift toward the Anglo-Saxon model. The reform of secondary education in 1902 was the first step in that direction. But, limited to only one level of instruction, it was a false step. The civilista regime reestablished by Pierola did not know how to put its educational policy on a sure course. Its intellectuals, educated in a garrulous and swollen verbalism or in a lymphatic and academic erudition, had only the mediocre skills of tintorillos [parasitic scribes who live off Indians].

A generation later Jorge Basadre, Peru’s leading historian and twice Minister of Education, further developed this view:

In Peru, as in nearly all other Latin American countries in the first decades of this century, the educational policy was to have limited public primary schooling, secondary instruction divided between a small number of public Colegios Nacionales, attended by certain sectors of the middle class, while the greater part of the student population went to private colegios that tended to proliferate and were rather costly. It was an elite system.... The country was governed by a coastal aristocracy whose fortune was based, above all, on export agriculture and, in the interior, by the landlords of the sierra. The agrarian-mercantile nature of Peruvian society led her to preserve the old forms of education with a free primary school that bore a middle class spirit and was practically inaccessible to the rural masses; a few secondary schools that were waiting-rooms for the universities that, in turn, were oriented toward the bureaucracy and the liberal professions without concern for industrial and economic development.

Such a system was based on an early growth that was slow and painful. The Normal School in Lima, whose creation was decreed in 1822, did not begin functioning until 1859 and lasted only 10 years, during which time it had a succession of eight directors and managed to graduate only two teachers. The ministerial decree closing the school spoke of "deeply rooted organizational vices that even today are sustained with excessive pretensions that are difficult if not impossible to combat successfully." At the same time, education was financed by a crazy patchwork of special taxes, many of which were never collected, on land, in comes, harvests, and goods sold, and there was little discussion of the content and purpose of schooling. "We had as a kind of rest from the tiring task of learning to read the lessons from mural charts on which they taught us the different geographical features and the main units of the metric system," José Antonio Encinas, one of Peru’s leading educational philosophers, recalled of his school days in Puno after the War of the Pacific. "All we did was repeat what the teacher said. We had no idea of the value, meaning or use of these figures.... The most monotonous of our classroom activities was to memorize the tables of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. In sing-song fashion we repeated from memory the four tables without any practical application." After becoming a teacher in his native Puno, Encinas observed that the government in Lima "obeyed the recommendations of provincial bosses and sent as Inspectors of Instruction... people of doubtful background and an absolute lack of pedagogical knowledge: lawyers without clients, former Sub-Prefects and police chiefs, politicians’ bodyguards. All this social garbage served the Civilist Party in the transcendental mission of reforming public education." During an intense parliamentary debate in 1917 over the hiring of more school inspectors, one Deputy said: "A Minister of Public Instruction in Peru is truly a Prometheus chained to a peak, a toy of the politicians who make him choose between his chains and the precipice. We Congressmen are used to considering all functionaries in Education in our respective provinces as being dependent on our choice and subject to our approval." In the same debate another Deputy added: "Meddling of the politicians has reached the point that some have arranged the appointment of the majordomos of their haciendas as school inspectors and then received the salaries of these majordomos under power of attorney."

The fitful, explosive growth of schooling in this century curiously coincides with periods of civilian rather than military rule. The decades in which enrollments have risen sharply—the 1920s, the 1940s, and 1960s—have also been periods of economic expansion under civilian presidents, while the military coups of 1930, 1948, and 1968 all came during economic crises that dictated both fiscal retrenchment and a slowdown in the rate of enrollment. Also, military rulers have been much less skillful than civilian politicians in dealing with such concomitants of educational expansion as student uprisings and the growing size and belligerency of teachers’ organizations. Nevertheless, under both military and civilian rule the radical rise in school enrollments has been seen as part of a redistribution both of wealth and political rights that is reaching into the most remote areas of a nation deeply divided by geographical, racial, and cultural barriers.

According to Professor Shane Hunt of Princeton University, a leading analyst and historian of the Peruvian economy,


... a look at the evolving composition of Peruvian expenditure shows that government’s expanding share [of GNPJ has indeed been associated with increasing redistributive impact, through the growing importance of education and health expenditure.... It should be noted that this educational expansion is not merely the reflection of an upward drift in expenditure common to all poor countries. Although educational expansion has taken place elsewhere, nevertheless the Peruvian expansion was extraordinary, so that by 1963 it was devoting a larger share of GNP to education than was any other Latin American country.... It is here in education that we see most clearly the pressures on the government budget for allocating a greater share of political and economic output to groups newly arrived in the political arena. Whether these groups be residents of provincial towns or new migrants to Lima, perhaps their first and strongest demand of government is education for their children. Education is a derived demand, however; the primary demand is for occupational advancement, and so it is that the expansion of educational expenditure under [President Fernando] Belaunde (1963-1968) has had as its purpose the expansion of employment and income for prospective teachers as much as the expansion of educational opportunity for children.

Between 1960 and 1968 the number of Peruvian universities rose from seven to 33 and the students enrolled in university teacher-training programs multiplied fivefold, from 6,381 to 31,953. Normal school enrollments grew seventeenfold, from 1,017 in 1956 to 17,590 in 1967; and the number of normal schools, public and private, rose from 14 to 111 in the same 11-year period. A young professor of education at the University of Huamanga in Ayacucho, whose arrest with 37 other "extremists" in the battle over the gratuity of secondary education set off the bloody Huanta and Ayacucho uprisings of June 1969, told me: "A professional degree in Peru today has become what a title of nobility was in colonial times. In the past a poor family would make incredible sacrifices so their sons could become priests or army officers to give the family some social and economic status. Now the sons and daughters of the same kinds of families swell the enrollments of the universities, with the poorest and least-qualified entering the teacher-training programs. But there are so many education graduates nowadays that many of them cannot find teaching jobs, or if they find one it usually is in the kind of poor rural area from which they’ve been trying to escape." In the words of a recent Education Ministry study:

The normal schools and the universities are preparing future teachers without taking into account our educational needs. Although we have only 600,000 pupils in secondary schools and three million in primary, the universities have prepared 24 programs for secondary teachers and only nine for primary instruction, with 23,000 students being trained to be secondary teachers and only 2,700 preparing for primary teaching... in total disregard of national reality.... The result of this mad action of the normal schools and universities is to cast into the labor market thousands of young people who don’t find jobs. The secondary teacher-training programs graduate about 5,200 pupils annually to meet a demand of about 1,000 new secondary teachers each year.... In primary schools there is the opposite situation: a relative scarcity of teachers, not so much for a lack of graduates as their refusal to work in the zones where they are most needed, forcing the Ministry to appoint primary school teachers without degrees or professional studies.... The curriculum is characterized by an excess of individual subjects to be learned by rote memory.... The result is a deficient preparation of teachers, not merely deficient in the special subject matter and excellent or good in methodology, but deficient in both.

The enormous educational expansion of recent years has failed to change the image of the rural school and teacher. In 1953 the luxuriously financed Cornell University project in applied anthropology at the Vicos hacienda, in the Callejón de Huaylas in the Department of Ancash, built a large schoolhouse with six classrooms, a library, and offices; the next year an even larger building was completed that contained an auditorium, kitchen, refectory, and carpentry and metal-working shops, giving the Vicos Indians—who a few years before were hacienda serfs—"primary education facilities superior to those of the Spanish-speaking towns of the area." In a book analyzing the educational experience at Vicos over the next decade, the Peruvian anthropologist Mario C. Vazquez, one of the initiators of the project, reported that between 1952 and 1959, the Vicos school functioned most in the nine-month Peruvian school year (April to December) in 1959, when it was open for 151 days, although the average attendance of the school’s nine teachers was only 114 days, or 12.5 days per month. "Inasmuch as the absenteeism of teachers encourages the absenteeism and desertion of pupils, it is enough to say that the best teachers come to school from Monday to Friday, while those called ‘tourists’ come only two or three days per week or only in the mornings.... In many cases the reports of class attendance of pupils in each school are adulterated according to the teacher’s interest." "The routine of the teachers is: arrival at Vicos on Mondays between 7 and 10 A.M., some on bicycles and others on foot from the nearby town of Macará, where the bus brings them. They come with the idea of staying in Vicos until 3 P.M. Friday, but the majority return to their homes two or three times in the week, usually after mid-day. This situation never could be controlled by the school director, because he does the same. Those who remain in Vicos have to prepare their food themselves. Only one teacher stays there with his family." During a typical school day that stretches from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., only about four hours are spent in classroom study and the rest in schoolyard recreation and military formations. (An hour-by-hour account by Vazquez of a school day at Vicos is reproduced as Appendix I).

Despite such deficiencies education’s share of Peru’s GNP doubled between 1960 and 1966, with teachers’ salaries absorbing 95 per cent of the education budget. This dramatic rechanneling of Peru’s economic surplus into the school system reflected the growing political power of teachers in a narrowly based electoral democracy (only literates can vote) to the degree that "expanding educational expenditure was more a response to demands of teachers than of the families of school children." According to Hunt,

Most of this increase originated in the now-famous Law 15215, which decreed a 100 per cent increase in all teachers’ salaries, to be provided in four annual steps of 25 per cent each, a great expansion of teacher training facilities, and the guarantee of a job with the government for every newly-graduating teacher. This extraordinary law provoked hardly any opposition when it was introduced in Congress in 1964, so eager were all political parties to look good before so large and influential a block of voters, despite the fact that the fiscal planning required for implementing the law was, to say the least, inadequate. Within two years this fiscal commitment, among others, provoked an economic crisis from which Peru has not yet fully recovered. The last two of the four 25 per cent increments were cancelled as was the commitment to hire all teachers college graduates.... By 1968, the government needed fewer than 2,000 new teachers, but the teachers colleges were graduating 9,000. It hardly needs saying that in previous decades, particularly before World War II, it was never necessary to make such fiscal commitments in order to secure the support of public school teachers.

With the large and increasingly militant teachers’ organizations under the control of the opposition APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance) party at the time Law 15215 was passed, the Belaunde regime skillfully maneuvered to divide the teachers’ movement into anti-APRA and pro-APRA unions, thus reducing the political impact of the cancellation of the two 25 per cent pay raises scheduled for 1967 and 1968. According to an APRA union leader, "the Educational Command of Acción Popular (Belaunde’s party)... had already given orders to destroy our union, forming parallel sindicatos in all the provinces of Peru" with the help of Education Ministry officials). The teachers struck unsuccessfully in April and May 1967 to have their pay raises restored. However, the fiscal burden and inflationary pressures generated by the raises already granted combined with a mounting public debt and trade deficit to force a 40 per cent devaluation of the Peruvian sol later that year. Meanwhile, with the parliamentary power of censuring cabinet ministers relentlessly wielded by the opposition majority, the Ministry of Education had become such a political battlefield that the tottering Belaunde regime went through eight Ministers of Education before being ousted itself by a military coup in October 1968.


The educational expansion and the political battles it generated were profoundly part of some extraordinary transformations in Peruvian society that reached their climax in the 1960s. A wave of peasant rebellions and land invasions in the southern and central sierra, beginning with the 1957-58 uprisings at Lauramarca and the La Convención Valley in Cuzco Department, hastened major land reform initiatives in 1964 and 1969, as well as a series of failed Castroite guerrilla movements in the mid-1960s. In the course of these uprisings and reforms traditional Indian serfdom was abolished by law in the Andes. However, the intensified political activity in the country side generated debilitating controversies and divisions within the Left, beginning with the split of the Peruvian Communist Party in 1965 into Maoist and Muscovite factions. The Maoists, while dividing themselves into what are today four different pro-Chinese parties, were quick to win control over the student organizations and administrative machinery of Peru’s principal universities. This was especially true in the teacher-training programs; the Maoists also took over the disillusioned teachers’ union movement in the wake of the 1968 coup (when the military froze the pay of all public employees but raised their own salaries.)

Accompanying the expansion and political radicalization of the educational establishment was the acceleration of the urbanization process in the 1960s. While 35.4 per cent of Peru’s population (2.2 million of 6.2 million) lived in "urban areas" in 1940—with 14.3 per cent (888,433) in cities of at least 20,000 inhabitants—this proportion had increased markedly by the 1961 census, which showed an annual geometric increase of 3.7 per cent in the general urban population to 4.7 million, or 47.4 per cent of a total of 9.9 million, (while the population in cities over 20,000 rose by 4.8 per cent annually to nearly 2.4 million, or 24 per cent of the total). After 1961 this process of urban concentration speeded up considerably. By 1972 the population in major towns and cities had more than doubled to nearly 5.5 million, reflecting an annual increase of 6.7 per cent, while the general urban population grew by 5.1 per cent per year to more than eight million, or nearly 60 per cent of the 13.5 million Peruvians counted. Curiously, the Law 15215, which both raised teachers’ salaries and reduced the wage differentials between those teaching in urban and rural areas, played its role in the rush toward the towns and cities as it "greatly worsened the flight of teachers from rural areas." According to Rolland Paulston, a member of the Columbia University Teachers College advisory mission to the Education Ministry in the 1960s:

Before 15215, rural teachers in nuclear and one-teacher schools were not eligible to teach in the urban public schools. After 1964, when all teachers were placed on the same pay schedule, teachers of rural schools became eligible to teach wherever they could find a job, and the small salary differential for rural service provided by 15215 has often proved to be too little to attract and hold trained teachers in rural areas of the highlands and jungle.

The flight of qualified teachers to the cities heightened the incentive for peasants to follow them to urban areas in search of educational advantages.

While Peru’s educational expansion may be viewed as both costly and unproductive by many "experts" and outsiders, progress through schooling has been the focus of so much hope among the overwhelming majority of Peruvians that any attempt at retrenchment has proven both difficult and politically dangerous. After the APRA-controlled Congress passed law after law in the late 1950s and 1960s ordering creation of normal schools in designated towns to meet the requests of specific political constituencies, any attempt to close them later met with fierce local resistance. "So many normal schools were created in small towns for political reasons that many of them lack teachers, equipment, and their own building," a former director of the normal school in the town of Huanta in the Andean Department of Ayacucho told me in 1970. "Many of the staff are appointed because they are relatives and friends of Congressmen, and the Department of Ayacucho now has 2,000 normal school graduates without jobs. In the Huanta normal school there are only 134 students this year, but when we tried to close it there were tremendous pressures on the Ministry through memorandums to Lima, a town meeting, speeches, and proclamations. The head of the parents’ association, an APRA leader, refused to turn over the furniture and equipment to Ministry officials when they tried to close the school, which was operating in rented space. The normal school is still functioning." According to a United Nations study, this is a general educational problem in Latin America:

Reforms that seem to threaten the interests of any specialized group of teachers or administrators are resisted, usually through political channels. At the same time, efforts to rationalize the expansion of the educational systems are countered by continual pressure for special programs and new local institutions, often well-meant and desirable in themselves but unrelated to priorities and in practice contributing mainly to the creation of new jobs and the complication of the administrative apparatus. The present proliferation of new universities and specialized schools in response to local or sectoral initiatives, without consideration of the objectives of training or the availability of qualified staff, material resources and students, is one important facet of the problem.

The town of Huanta provided another example of the political dangers of educational retrenchment in the first months of the present "Revolutionary Government" of generals and colonels, when the new military regime in its now-famous Decree 006 announced on the eve of the opening of the 1969 school year that any secondary school student failing one course or more would have to pay a monthly tuition of 100 sols ($2.50). Because most students fail at least one course (they are allowed three failures before losing the year), the new law, in effect, meant the abolition of the gratuity of public secondary education, in which enrollments have been expanding astronomically in the 15 years since 1957 at an annual average rate of 14.5 per cent. Because most students and their families live precariously close to the subsistence level, the proclamation of Decree-Law 006 was followed by a series of student uprisings, backed by parents’ and peasants’ organizations, in most of the important towns of the sierra: Tarma, Jauja, Huancayo, Huanta, Ayacucho, Andahuaylas, Abancay, and Cuzco. In many of these towns, the local leadership, or "notables," were members of the opposition APRA that was blocked in its bid for the presidency by the military coup a few months before; the student and peasant movements were under leftist influence. The most violent of these 1969 uprisings occurred in Huanta and Ayacucho, the two main towns of the Department of Ayacucho, one of the poorest regions of the Andes where the expansion of public education has altered the face of poverty dramatically.


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