Peru's Education Reform
Part II: "Escape from Poverty"

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 40 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 per cent) 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.

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The light of the stars shined on the town. It reflected, not on the garbage in the streets, but instead on the spent doorways of eroded white Stone, the discolored tiles of sagging roofs, the sad yellow grasses beside the sewage ditches that ran through the middle of the streets. There was a little light on the white flagstone of the sidewalks; black spaces separated the stones where some had been torn away. In the great silence the profile of the mountains was raised to where the peaks swam in the rivers of stars. The song of the crickets echoed the syncopation of heaven and earth. The voice of the great river reached the town. It seemed to move with deep tenderness the cluster of dying trees languishing in the plaza that was so broad and so dry.

From José Maria Arguedas, "Todas Las Sangres" (1964).

Despite the student demonstrations of the previous day, the night of June 20, 1969 in the town of Huanta was quiet as usual, with anemic yellow lightbulbs faintly illuminating the plaza and the principal streets until 10 o’clock. After that hour, the mud streets and the adobe houses swam in deep, shifting shadows for the rest of the night, disturbed by the curses and quarrels of occasional clusters of drunkards and by the whispering movements of Indians from the puna who slept in doorways during the night.

Throughout that night and the early hours of Saturday, June 21, the Subprefect of Huanta Province, Octavia Cabrera, was playing cards with Dr. Lazon, the dentist, and the Italian who ran the town’s electrical generator. Subprefect Cabrera is a tall man in his early sixties with a leonine head who would appear truly distinguished were it not for his bloodshot eyes and a deeply-wrinkled face racked by alcohol. Related by marriage to a former army chief of staff, Subprefect Cabrera’s political connections have made him a 35-year veteran of small-town government offices in the coastal, sierra, and jungle regions of Peru, in places like Huarochiri, Canta, Rioja,Tarapoto, Lucanas, San Miguel, Cangallo and Ayacucho itself. He had been subprefect of Huanta once before in the 1960s. His kidnapping the following day would be the most spectacular event in his long and illustrious career.

The June 1969 uprising in the neighboring towns of Huanta and Ayacucho was the most important popular revolt in Peruvian history associated with the issue of free public education. Coming a few days before the proclamation of a sweeping land reform law by Peru’s "Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces" that seized power in October 1968, the Huanta-Ayacucho events showed the new military regime how resistant the Peruvian people could be to decrees and new political morphologies imposed from above. Not only did this uprising set the tone of the military rulers’ frustrating relations with peasants and urban squatters—the social classes whose political loyalties the military hoped to win by decreeing major social reforms—but it also showed the desperation with which any measure would be opposed that threatened access to free public education, the only means of escape from the dead-end poverty and subjection in the sierra that had existed for centuries. It was the new military regime’s Decree 006, announced a few months after its seizure of power in October 1968, that threatened to place secondary education beyond the economic reach of many poor students by charging a monthly tuition of 100 soles ($2.50) for those who failed a course. By appearing to block this means of escape from poverty, the new decree provoked an explosive reaction from the emergent social classes who only recently had gained access to secondary education, and it led to a series of strikes and uprisings in the small towns of the sierra that culminated in the bloody events of Ayacucho and Huanta on June 21-22, 1969.


The town of Huanta was once a tambo, or resting place, on the Camino Real (Royal Road) of the Incas that follows the course of the Montaro River on the way from Jauja to Cuzco. The sixteenth-century Spanish chronicler, Pedro Cieza de León, wrote that "all these roads are full of caves where men and beasts can take shelter from rain and snow. The natives of this region have their settlements in great sierras,---whose summits are covered with snow nearly all the time. They plant their crops in sheltered spots, such as the mountain valleys. In many of the mountains are great lodes of silver." The caves around Huanta are in a remarkable ecological zone where "within a radius of 15 miles the varied highland environment includes areas of subtropical desert, thorn-forest grassland, dry thorn forest, humid scrub forest and subarctic tundra." The dryness of the region has permitted the preservation in its caves of recently discovered traces of human life going back 22,000 years, the earliest known remains of men in the New World, chronicling "man’s progression from an early hunter to an incipient agriculturalist to a village farmer and finally to the role of a subject of imperial rule." The "Huanta complex" of scrapers, blades, and projectile points goes back 10,000 years to the last glacial advance in the Andes.

While there are no written records left by the preliterate Huari and Inca empires, and only the sketchiest statistical indications have been provided by Spanish crown officials, all evidence points to unrelieved demographic stagnation ever since 1791 when a population of 27,337 for the Province (partido) of Huanta was given by the Guia Politica, Eclesiástica y Militar del Perú (1793). Although the name of the province and town of Huanta is the Quechua word for syphilis, the dryness of the land and its inhospitability to agriculture are reasons enough for the population growth rate of the province over the next two centuries to have been a mere 0.5 per cent per year: from 27,337 in 1791 to 33,165 in 1862 to 50,983 in 1940 to 67.590 in 1972.

While a sharp drop in mortality has led in recent decades to a rise in Peru’s population growth rate to more than 3 per cent annually, in backward mountain areas like Huanta this slow increase has been nullified by migration to Lima and to nearby jungle areas. The town of Huanta, the second most important urban center in the Department of Ayacucho. grew only slightly in population (from 4.439 to 7,729) between the censuses of 1940 and 1972. responding but weakly to the national trend of urbanization.

The stagnation of the surrounding countryside is expressed by some comparative indices of social and economic backwardness relating the Department of Ayacucho to the 23 other departments of Peru. According to these indices, Ayacucho had the highest proportion of houses without electricity (96.7%); the second-highest proportion of adult illiteracy (79%) and persons unable to speak Spanish (66%); the second-lowest departmental per capita income; third-highest in houses without radios (96.3%) and in nonvoters in the last national election (92% in 1963); fourth-highest in the proportion of the labor force engaged in agriculture (77%); and sixth-highest (89%) in people living outside towns of at least 2,500 population. Arable land is so scarce that only 8 per cent of the farm families in the Department of Ayacucho are scheduled to benefit from the sweeping land reform being carried out by the present military government. "Conflict levels in Ayacucho are very high, as land lawsuit(s) and peasant community boundary dispute(s). . . suggest," David Scott Palmer found in a statistical comparison of land court cases throughout Peru. "The presence of high levels of conflict within the peasant ‘class’ in Ayacucho suggests that sharp cleavages exist here, and that internal unity is consequently low." The average income of Huanta’s 12,020 farmers has been estimated at $65 per year.6 According to Antonio Diaz Martinez, an Ayacucho agronomist who participated in the peasant uprisings of the 1960s:

Around Huanta and Luricocha, the peasant economy is based on a precarious subsistence agriculture, complemented by small income yielded by artisanship and migrations. Most peasants have one hectare of so called irrigated land, but there is great insecurity because of the scarcity of water. In the dry months (May to September) each peasant’s turn for irrigation comes every 45 or 60 days. ... Many of these peasants are migrants who travel to the jungle of the Apurimac River (Acón and Choimacota) for six months each year cultivating small plots of land as squatters. There they plant one hectare of food staples (yuca, plantains, pituca. corn) and one hectare of commercial crops (coca, coffee, barbasco) that are sold on the highland punas or in the market at Huanta.

The dry hills around Huanta have become almost legendary in Peruvian history as the scene of a series of Indian rebellions that have continued sporadically through the Republican period. The Indians had supported the Spaniards in the Wars of Independence, and did not recognize the new republic until a separate treaty was signed with them in 1839, 15 years after the army of the Venezuelan General José Antonio de Sucre defeated the Spaniards in the decisive Battle of Ayacucho on the nearby Plain of Quinua. However, in 1857 the people of Huanta joined in a major insurrection against the central government, and in 1882 the Bishop of Ayacucho was shot to death while crossing the Plaza de Armas to mediate between a furious mob and the army detachment in the town. In 1887 and 1892 Huanta rebelled against a new head tax decreed by the central government, while in 1896-97 the cause for revolt was a new salt tax levied by Lima in a desperate effort to find funds for a bankrupt treasury in an economy left in shambles by Peru’s disastrous loss to Chile in the War of the Pacific. According to the historian Jorge Basadre: "When the salt tax edict was published in September 1896, the guerrilla commanders went to the subprefect’s office to say that they would not pay taxes on such a basic food staple. They also asked for circulation of Bolivian money in the region. The Indians rebelled on September 27 with 2,000 men against 25 and killed the subprefect." When an expeditionary force of 800 men came from Lima to put down the rebellion, "the province of Huanta was devastated." The head of the expeditionary force wrote later: "These are very valiant people who fought from hilltop to hilltop without surrendering. I say frankly that without our modern rifles they would have given us a very bitter experience.... The women are as ferocious as their husbands and cheer them on with shouts and applause." Writing a few years later, Manuel Gonzalez Prada, a leader of the indigenista movement of Peruvian intellectuals who were among the principal ideologues of social reform in the twentieth century, asked: "Does the Indian suffer less under the Republic than under Spanish domination? If neither corregimientos nor encomiendas no longer exist, forced labor and recruitment remain.... We maintain him in ignorance and servitude; we vilify him in army barracks; we stupify him with alcohol; we launch him into disastrous civil wars and, from time to time, we destroy him in manhunts and slaughters like Amantani, Ilave and Huanta."

It was in the dry dust of this backwardness and poverty that the explosive growth in public education has taken place in recent years. According to the 1940 census, only about 16 per cent of the school-age population of the Department of Ayacucho had ever been in a classroom, compared with 31 per cent of all Peruvians in the 6-14 age group. The proportion of those 15 years and older who had ever been to school (14.2%) was only about one-third of the national rate (43%). Since 1940 primary enrollments in the Department of Ayacucho have tripled while they have multiplied fivefold throughout Peru. However, despite this overall lag, the most spectacular increases of the 1958-1968 decade took place precisely within these forgotten provinces of the sierra, reaching their climax in the 1961-1966 period when the number of primary pupils in the Department of Ayacucho grew at an average annual rate of 13.6 per cent, compared with 5.3 per cent for Peru as a whole.

The social and political impact of this growth is most easily seen in the city of Ayacucho, which has grown from a sleepy and isolated departmental capital (population 16,642 in 1940 and 24,836 in 1961) into one of the leading educational centers in the Andes. Ayacucho’s sudden growth in the 1960s is due almost entirely to the infusion of people and government funds into the new educational institutions that have proliferated over the past decade. The National University of Huamanga, reopened in 1959 after being closed for more than 70 years, mushroomed in size from 551 students in 1963 to nearly 4,000 in 1973, while a private Catholic university opened in 1968 had attracted 1,230 by 1973. Only two Colegios Nacionales (public secondary schools) functioned in the city in 1940; there were 13 of them and five other post-primary educational institutions by the time of the uprisings and riots against Decree 006 in 1969. As a result of this sudden educational expansion, secondary and university students were estimated to represent more than one-fourth of Ayacucho’s population (43,304) in 1972. Many of them came to the city from remote villages and Indian communities; they moved into hillside shack settlements such as San Juan Bautista and Carmen Alto, which increased in population by 250 per cent between 1961 and 1972. A 1970 census of the Pueblos Jóvenes of Peru’s principal cities showed that 38 per cent of Ayacucho’s population lived in these marginal squatter settlements, with a significantly higher concentration of inhabitants under age 25 than the rest of Peru, and with as high a proportion of Spanish-speakers (86%) and persons 15 years or older with some secondary education (30%). According to one of the leaders of the 1969 student uprising, "many of the students from the countryside bring their own food, mainly potatoes and corn, from their homes. They live together in small rooms that rent for S/50-100 ($1.25 to $2.50) per month, cooking for themselves, studying by candle or kerosene lamps and sleeping on sheepskins spread over the floor. They study more and get better grades than the boys from town because they don’t have money for the movies and the poolroom."

In Huanta Province the number of primary pupils nearly doubled between 1956 and 1970, while in Peru as a whole they have tripled. However, the most dramatic development of this period has been the quadrupling of the number of secondary students and their concentration in the town of Huanta itself, accounting for half the town’s population growth between the censuses of 1961 and 1972. While in 1956 there were only 317 secondary students in town attending the Gran Unidad Escolar (GUE) Gonzales Vigil for boys and a nuns’ school for girls, there were 1,358 by 1970, along with four new post-primary institutions: a night secondary school, an industrial school each for boys and girls and the normal school founded in 1963.

The stakes for these young people in secondary education were enormous as, in the words of ECLA, "the primary school does not guarantee, or is increasingly less able to guarantee, an escape from manual labor. Only a very few people have access to the university and in any event they must first pass through secondary school. Hence, secondary education is the keystone of the whole situation. It is the secondary school that provides the necessary passport to employment in the tertiary sector. It is not surprising, therefore, that whereas people everywhere have been forced to recognize the need to make primary education universal—although this is a long way from being achieved—many social groups seek to maintain secondary education as their own preserve."

During the late 1960s the convergence of scores of leftist university professors and thousands of impoverished students on Ayacucho coalesced into a kind of "counter-establishment" dominated by the Maoists who controlled the university administrative machinery and student federation. In the course of popular mobilization against university budget cuts, the land taxes that the Belaunde government tried unsuccessfully to impose in 1967, and against the military regime’s Decree 006 in 1969, a broadly based Frente de Defensa del Pueblo (FDP) was formed from a wide range of groups: secondary and university students, school teachers, barriada dwellers, market women, hospital employees, construction workers, truck and taxi drivers, butchers, bakers, barbers, and the departmental peasant federation. All of these groups were vitally interested in the gratuity of public education, enabling the FDP to stage a five-hour mass meeting of 10,000 persons in the Plaza de Armas of Ayacucho on Tuesday. June 17, 1969 to protest against Decree 006, attended by "students, workers, teachers, and fraternal delegations from the provinces of Huanta, La Mar and Cangallo" under the noses of "tripod machine guns and police reinforcements posted on the towers of the colonial churches of San Francisco, Santo Domingo, and the Cathedral." For the rest of that week sporadic skirmishes continued between students and police, as the sub-director of the Third Educational Region in Huancayo arrived to warn the students that he would close the Ayacucho schools for the year if they refused to end the strike that began the previous Friday. Throughout the Department of Ayacucho student demonstrations were staged in towns and villages like Cangallo, Vilcashuamán, Tambo, Huancapi, Huancasancos and Chincheros. On Friday, June 20, students and police clashed on a bridge in the outlying settlement of Capillapata and just outside the city’s central marketplace. The students then took refuge inside the market, and the police sealed off the entrances and threw tear gas bombs inside, causing panic among shoppers and market women and giving rise to another round of skirmishing throughout the city that continued far into the night. These incidents were prelude to the bloody events of the next two days.


Subprefect Cabrera told me later that the card game with the dentist and the Italian broke up at 5 A.M. on the morning of June 21, 1969. "I went to drink coffee on the plaza," he said. "About an hour later a truck driver informed me that the lawyer Cavalcante had been arrested in his house. It was not until 7:30 that I tried to phone Ayacucho from the post office. I learned that some 35 extremists had been arrested in Ayacucho and there was fighting in the streets. At 8:30 A.M. I was still talking on the phone to Ayacucho when a large mob of peasants surrounded the post office. At 9 they took me hostage and shoved me into the street. After a while they took me to Calvario, one of the hills overlooking the town, from which we all watched the fighting in the streets on Sunday morning. ‘Go to town and find out what has happened,’ I told the Indians. ‘Nothing would have happened here if you hadn’t taken me hostage to exchange for Cavalcante. The police are coming to find me whole or in pieces. Then you will pay for this. The Civil Guard will visit each of you, house by house. Not only you will pay, but also your wives and children and sheep and chickens.’ The Indians talked among themselves for awhile and finally said they would let me go. I went down to the side of the road and was picked up by a public works truck carrying four armed policemen."

Aurora Alvarado de Avila is a small woman with narrow eyes and a high-pitched voice who, as a market vendor, had extensive dealings with the peasants of the surrounding countryside and with the other market women who played a key role in the protests against Decree 006. A veteran of some of the peasant rebellions of the 1960s and an orator at the mass meetings in Huanta and Ayacucho during the week before the uprising, Sra. Avila explained later that the lawyer Cavalcante, the Lima-educated son of a local farmer, had become an important man to the peasants for his help in legal matters ever since he returned to Huanta to lead the fight against the 1967 municipal land tax (predios rústicos) decreed by the Belaunde regime. The military regime accused him of helping to organize the protests against Decree 006. However, Sra. Avila said, in a series of taped interviews, that "the only thing Mario Cavalcante did was to provide some legal writs requested by the peasants. He had been doing this ever since 1967, when a commission of our peasants had gone to Lima to protest the predios rústicos tax to President Belaunde, and Cavalcante returned to Huanta and spoke at a big rally, when the peasants named him legal advisor to the antitax committees. Not only did he provide legal services free of charge, but he also advised them on strategy because their leaders were in jail and they had nowhere to turn. On June 13 the market women called a 48-hour strike, and the people from the valley refused to bring tomatoes, greens, milk, firewood and other things to town, but the people from the highland puna brought meat, potatoes and chuño (dehydrated potatoes) to the market under police protection. There was no violence until Cavalcante’s arrest, although the police went into the rural areas to try to force peasants to bring their products to market. When they heard of Cavalcante’s arrest, the peasants went to the Civil Guard post and to the PIP (Policia de Investigaciones del Perú), but nobody would tell them where the lawyer had been taken. It so happened that the pagos (rural settlements) of Caballococha, Alameda, Chancaray, Palomayo, Pucarajay and San Miguel had sent representatives to town that Saturday to press a claim in a dispute over irrigation waters. They urged the subprefect to send a telegram to inquire about Cavalcante. They didn’t know the lawyer had already been flown to Lima at dawn with the other prisoners. The subprefect said he would try to talk with Cavalcante by telephone, and the peasants insisted on hearing his voice over the phone. After waiting without getting an answer, a group of women took the subprefect hostage and brought him to Calvario, just to find out more about Cavalcante. A Civil Guard sergeant named Espinosa sent an urgent telegram to Ayacucho, warning that if the Civil Guard in Huanta were not reinforced the whole town would disappear because the Indians had taken over the place. After the Civil Guard post already had been reinforced, the peasants cut the telegraph wires and the bridge leading to the town and went back to their homes for the night."

Early the next morning crowds of peasants began to gather at the outskirts of town. By 10A.M. about 10,000 of them had congregated in the park beside the hospital and began to march with sticks, stones, and slingshots along the Girón Santillana toward the center of town. They held a small rally in the Alameda Park and continued on toward the Plaza de Armas to hold a larger mass meeting, but a cordon of Civil Guards, with other policemen and PIP detectives posted on the rooftops, blocked their way with machine guns. In the forefront of the peasants marched the "chutos," from the highland punas, carrying banners. Then came the women and students and after them the men. "As we approached the post office we women and students gradually overtook the chutos because those butchers would knock over those poor wretches at once but would think twice before shooting women," one of the market vendors said. "We locked together, arm-in-arm, those wearing town dresses and those with polleras (peasant skirts). The students advanced from behind and warned us against causing any disorders. My three sons were behaving like men. Suddenly the police launched teargas bombs and we were frightened. Amid the smoke we began to cough and our eyes burned terribly. Then the men began to curse and got ready to fight, but we women stopped them. ‘Wait,’ we said. ‘The police think we’re going to attack them. We women will go to them to make clear we only want to hold a meeting."’ It is hard to tell how the real fighting started, whether from the stones launched from the peasants’ slingshots or from the police balines (rubber bullets meant only to graze the skin). "The mob started shouting at the police, but the students urged the people to take another street toward the plaza," one student told me later. "After the balines and the stones started flying, the police started firing their machine guns to kill. The students then threw molotov cocktails and dynamited the police station. The police retreated to the Plaza de Armas across the rooftops and through the streets and started to fire wildly at the crowd. The police were very frightened; they were greatly outnumbered and were short of teargas masks and had no cars."

By 11 A.M. there were scores of casualties. The 44-bed municipal hospital had no operating room, x-ray equipment, or blood bank. When the shooting began, mattresses were spread out along the corridors to accommodate the wounded. An American Baptist missionary used his short-wave radio to call Lima and Ayacucho for first-aid help, and a helicopter arrived later in the day with doctors and nurses and some medicines. Meanwhile, the crowd turned on the PIP headquarters. According to Juan Saavedra López, a local store keeper, "the peasants went looking for the head of the PIP in Huanta, a man named Uribe, whom they saw kill two students. The PIP detectives climbed on the roofs, threw teargas and fired their machine guns from the middle of the street. My 22-year-old daughter Irene, who was studying her fifth year of night secondary school, was shot in the head and died instantly. She left two children, fathered by a guitarist who never married her because of my stubbornness. The boy next to her was shot in the portal of the plaza when he shouted at Uribe: ‘This is how they massacre helpless people."’

Set afire by the students’ molotov cocktails, the PIP headquarters began to burn rapidly and in the streets bonfires were lighted with police files and documents. A frightened merchant locked himself in his store and threw money into the street to pacify the peasants, who then broke down the door and sacked the premises. Meanwhile, the police barricaded themselves strategically around the plaza: in the church tower, in the city hall, in the upstairs rooms of the corner pharmacy, behind the cement walls inside the plaza. People commented later that the mob kept on advancing as if it wanted to force the police to exhaust all their ammunition before the final assault. Around 4 P.M. word began to spread that about 200 shock troops, known as sinchis, were entering the town on foot. They had been flown to Ayacucho from Lima on the same plane that carried the 38 arrested "extremists" to Lima the morning before. Their entry into the town had been delayed by the destruction of the bridge the night before, but their belated arrival was with guns blazing and they completely dominated the situation by nightfall. The .sinchis declared a state of siege in Huanta, forbidding all pedestrian and vehicular traffic on the streets, while the government in Lima announced a death toll of 14 persons. As is usual after such uprisings, local sources claimed that the number of dead was much higher. According to an account published two years later, "at 7 P.M. on Sunday night, the police collected the dead and wounded in the dark, using ponchos and improvised stretchers. On one corner, a garbage truck picked up the dead."


Two days after the uprising in Huanta, on June 24, 1969, known as the Day of the Indian, the "Revolutionary Government" repealed Decree 006 and proclaimed the most sweeping land reform program of the past decade in Latin America. A month later, in his first annual message to the Peruvian people, the new military President, General Juan Velasco Alvarado, announced that "the Ministry of Education is laying the groundwork for a complete restructuring of the educational system. An overall and realistic approach to the problem of illiteracy deserves special attention through the development of an authentic rural school intimately linked to the actions of the agrarian reform." An Education Reform Commission was formally appointed in November 1969 and produced a widely discussed General Report ten months later and a draft law in March 1971. After intense internal and public debate a revised draft law was finally published in December 1971 and the new General Education Law formally decreed on March 21, 1972.

The design of the new education reform has met with a generally favorable response. A World Bank staff report, which prepared the way for a $40 million loan to finance construction and equipment of 49 new secondary schools, called it "comprehensive and innovative. It covers all levels and programs of education and provides a framework for a reformed education system which will go far in meeting the needs of the country’s socioeconomic structure over the next two decades or so." While the new law proclaims the intention of bringing children under five years old into the school system and of providing different forms of "non-school education" (educación no escolarizada) such as literacy, televised courses and job-training for adults, the basic thrust of the reform is to reduce drastically the enormous wastage of the rapidly expanding apparatus of formal schooling by cutting down the dropout rate and making education more relevant to economic productivity and the need to earn a living. The 1970 report of the Education Reform Commission attacked "the absence of significant content at all branches and levels of education and the excessive memorization in teaching methods.... Students do not acquire basic skills, such as intelligent reading and reflective thought, nor are they trained for any useful and productive activity." To reduce the dropout rate in primary schools, the reform is attempting to end frustration and humilitation inside the classroom by endorsing instruction in vernacular languages in Indian areas and by allowing virtually all pupils to be promoted from grade to grade, whatever their performance. While Peruvian students until now have been attending six years of primary school and five years of secondary, the educational sequence will be gradually restructured over the next two decades to embrace nine years of "general basic education" followed by three years of professionally oriented secondary education in a new type of school called ESEP (Escuela Superior de Educación Profesional). At all levels the curriculum, texts and teaching methods are to be gradually but drastically revised to make them more relevant to the student’s life, environment and his future vocational needs. As of the 1974 school year, the new curriculum and texts have been introduced in the first three primary grades, and the reform is scheduled to reach one new grade each year.

While in Latin America the rural school has traditionally been "an exotic and sickly import from the cities," Peru’s Education Reform has adopted as its basic unit of school administration the nucleo escolar (Nucleo Escolar Campesino) that has been operating in flawed and limited fashion for the past three decades in many rural areas. Financed with United States aid in the 1940s and 1950s, these were described by the Reform Commission as a "valuable organizational creation" representing the "most successful, most extensive and oldest" educational experiment in the country that would replace "the present obsolete, onerous and inefficient school organization." In recent decades the nucleos have operated in the form of a central schoolhouse offering all five years of primary education and several satellite schools in the surrounding countryside that provide instruction through the second or third grade. Under the new Education Reform, the concept of the nucleo has been greatly enlarged (Nucleo Escolar Comunal) to embrace a school district governed by a director chosen by the Ministry from a list of three candidates presented by a Community Education Council, and composed of elected representatives of teachers and parents as well as of local public officials. In the words of a key member of the Reform Commission:

In the context of the Peruvian Revolution many things are changing. Even the instruments of formulation of educational policy have been adjusted to correspond with the other structural reforms, with the transfer of power from the oligarchy to the people. The institutionalization of participation in the educational field is shown in one of the most original and daring concepts of the educational reform: nuclearization. Nuclearization of the educational community mobilizes the participation of the citizens of the district in the dual process of criticism and creation which will permit the definition of authentic educational models, rooted in the culture and needs of an organized community.

"Participation" has become the most widely used catchword in the official propaganda and the most deeply ambivalent political strategy of Peru’s military regime. This ambivalence has charmed political scientists throughout the world into a lusty scholastic debate over the "corporativist" (i.e., not quite fascist) nature of the new political system. The reformed educational system has been designed as a key element of the new political morphology in which, theoretically, the central government would assume the role of a guide and guardian of national security and public order while much of the country’s social and economic life would be in the hands of "local participation units" of various types, including the nucleos escolares. According to Palmer’s analysis of this new morphology: "These local participation units are organized by functional sector: agricultural cooperatives and peasant communities; manufacturing communities and neighborhood associations. They are created at the initiative of the central government, and the members are organized and provided with orientation by cadres of government ‘contact points’ representing the bureaucracies at the local level. The central government has created, in addition, a national organization [SINAMOS] with offices at the department and province levels with the explicit function of stimulating and channeling citizen participation into these local units. These units are, in turn, directed toward the output structures [line agencies] of government." On the other hand, he adds: "The rhetoric of revolution of this government, with its emphasis on the transferral of effective power to the people, is... combined with the practice of strong central control. Virtually every initiative of the government to date regarding participation has been tempered by a number of direct or indirect controls. Opportunities to participate in the workplace and residence are being created, indeed, but within very carefully circumscribed limits which almost invariably insure retention of control over the important questions by either the government bureaucracy or the present owners of the means of production. This is to insure that development goals are not disrupted, that citizens learn to participate in the larger questions by participating in the smaller ones, and that military concerns with internal security are not compromised. The potential for participation as expressed in the ideology is very great; the practice, so far, is quite limited."


The character of Peru’s education reform cannot be understood without a careful reading both of these official designs and of the evolving ideology and mystique of the school in Latin America in the twentieth century. According to ECLA, "every revolutionary regime, without neglecting other socializing agencies, tends to attach tremendous importance to the schools as a means of transmitting the new value system it is trying to impose. From this standpoint, there is no difference between the French Revolution of 1789, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Cuban Revolution of 1959."

In the Mexican Revolution, which provided the cultural model for the expansion of schooling in Latin America, the spread of education to the peasant population became a quasi-religious movement in which the school was seen as an ecumenical and revolutionary instrument of social redemption. "Educar es redimir" became the slogan. José Vasconcelos, Mexico’s first Secretary of Education in 1921, was "strongly influenced by Tolstoy... a pacifist and equalitarian." Writing in the early 1930s, Frank Tannenbaum observed: "No outcome of the Mexican Revolution is more significant than the educational movement that has grown from it. The educational undertaking is... broader in scope and more deeply touched with a sense of emergence of a new spirit than either the agrarian or labor movements.. . . Education in Mexico tends to become education for the community rather than for the individual." In 1923 Vasconcelos sent the first "Cultural Mission" into the countryside for the evangelical work of training rural teachers and community development; the staff of these missions as they multiplied and spread throughout Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s usually included a "rural organizer" trained in agricultural extension, a social worker, a nurse-midwife, a music teacher, a plastic arts teacher and a mechanic who ran the motion-picture machine and taught and performed other mechanical operations. Tannenbaum saw that "the community must build the school building; it must provide the basic essentials (the furniture and equipment of the school), insofar as they are provided at all, by making them; it must furnish a piece of land for the school, from the resources of which the basic school needs can be slowly satisfied; it must provide keep and maintenance for the teacher through the tilling of the plot set aside for the teacher’s income. The rural community must support the school in the future the way it supported the Church in the past." The manifold functions assumed by the school in this mystique is described in an inspector’s report at the time from a village in Oaxaca:

The school building has been whitewashed, a donation of five hectares of land for the agriculture of the school has been secured, we have secured school furniture, the house for the teacher has been constructed, we succeeded in getting the community to purchase a gasoline lamp for the night school, a school seal was purchased, a chicken coop, a dove house, an athletic field and a garden have been constructed, a flag has been secured for the school. We are asking from the National Telegraph the installation of the telegraph-telephone apparatus, we secured through the cooperation of the community the fixing of the road, a new educational committee has been named, the open-air theater is under construction, a committee on health has been installed, all of the children and most of the adults have been vaccinated, an anti-alcoholic committee has been named.... The school has 10 hectares in coffee and three in coconuts.

The Mexican Revolution tried "to create a system of values which incorporated the Indian not only as a useful member of the nation, but as part of the definition of national excellence." This greatly strengthened Peru’s indigenista movement in the 1920s and 1930s, which itself was the product of a long and rich intellectual genealogy. It was in Mexico that APRA, Peru’s most important political party for the next half-century, was founded by Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre in 1924, the same year that Hildebrando Castro Pozo published his influential Nuestra Comunidad Indigena after serving briefly as Director of Indian Affairs under President Augusto Leguia (1919-1930). (After his break with Leguia’s civilian dictatorship, Castro Pozo taught sociology at the Colegio San Miguel in the northern coastal city of Piura, where one of his students was the future President Velasco Alvarado.). The French historian François Chevalier stresses the influence of Gorki and the Russian agrarianist writers on the Peruvian indigenistas, as well as the provisions of the Mexican Constitution of 1917, based on Emiliano Zapata’s 1911 Plan de Ayala, which had recognized the rights of Indian communities to hold property and to re-establish the lost ejidos. As in other revolutionary movements of the time, questions of education were discussed by Peru’s indigenistas almost as much as questions of land. In his classic Seven Essays on Peruvian Reality (1928) José Carlos Mariátegui, who wrote profusely on educational matters and who later became the household idol of Peruvian Marxism, offered a widely held view of the role of the school in Peruvian society:

The first century of republican life closes with an enormous deficit in public education. The problem of illiteracy is almost intact. The State so far has been unable to establish schools throughout the national territory. The difference between the size of the job and the resources at hand is enormous. Teachers are lacking for the modest program of popular education authorized by the budget. Less than 20 per cent of all teachers are normal school graduates.... The career of primary school teacher, still subject to the taunting and contamination of landlords and local political chiefs, is one of misery, without any stability. The complaint of any Congressman, used to finding the teachers of his district in his submissive train of courtiers, weighs more in official thinking than the service record of any conscientious teacher. The problem of illiteracy of Indians goes beyond any pedagogical plan. Each day proves that literacy is not education. The elementary school does not redeem the Indian socially and morally. The first real step toward his redemption must be the abolition of his servitude.

Leguía’s autocratic methods soon led to a break with the indigenistas, and the departure of many of them into exile, after they opposed his re-election in 1923. However, indigenismo remained official doctrine, though weakly implemented, and primary school enrollments doubled during the 1919-1930 oncenio in one of the strongest surges of growth in this century, generated by a major economic expansion. Indian normal schools were founded in three regions of the sierra in 1930 and Indian Education Commissions were formed in Ayacucho, Huanta, Huancavelica, Huancayo, Jauja, and Tarma.

After the Depression truncated this expansion and precipitated Leguía’s overthrow, a new fusion of the educational ideals of the Mexican Revolution and Andean indigenismo occurred in the Bolivian village of Warisata, across Lake Titicaca from Puno, where the first nucleo escolar campesino was founded in 1931. Initiated as an effort to train rural teachers in a rural setting, Warisata became by the mid-1930s a network of 33 village schools spread over a radius of 60 miles on the Bolivian altiplano, all controlled from the central school of Warisata near the lakeside town of Achacachi each with its own land and workshops, and governed by Amautas, or wise men. According to Elizardo Pérez, the founder of Warisata,...[this system] would integrate a nucleus of vital activities, in agriculture and other work, in constant relation to the central school. The satellite elementary schools provided the central school with products of the different regions and received in exchange the products of the central school’s artisan workshops, especially construction materials such as tiles for roofing...Among the teachers were many who responded with great human quality, as well as others who failed and more than one who was expelled by the Indians themselves for incompetence. Not just everyone could do this job, which required maximum honesty and permanent effort. We could not allow repetition of the case of the rural teacher eager to live at the Indian’s expense with nobody to control his cheating. Now the eyes of the community and the Parliament of Amautas watched over him, and above them was the severe control exercised from the central school.

Warisata became such a model in the field of Indian education that, in 1944 and 1945, representatives of the Education Ministries of Peru and Bolivia met in Arequipa and then in Warisata itself with United States educational advisers to lay the groundwork for the creation of the first nucleos escolares campesinos in Peru, and for others in Bolivia, under these general principles:

+ The Indian problem is a problem of the State, embracing socioeconomic, health, communications, educational, agrarian, and juridical aspects....

+ Education provided by rural schools should be basically agricultural, without obstructing the more gifted pupils from going on to higher studies.

+ The influence of the rural school should reach into the peasant home to improve all aspects of life.

The establishment of the first 16 nucleos escolares campesinos in southern Peru in 1947, around Lake Titicaca and in the Vilcanota Urubamba Valley of Cuzco Department, institutionalized the convergence of indigenismo with the separate but related phenomenon of United States influence on Peruvian education in this century. The story of this influence is a wedding of the noble and the ludicrous. Under the first administration of President Leguía (1908-1912), the European (mainly French) educational models and advisers of the nineteenth century were brusquely replaced by a troop of Americans in key positions: adviser to the Minister of Education; director of the Normal School in Lima; inspector of schools in the Departments of Lima and Puno; rector of the University of Cuzco; supervisor of commercial education and secretary to an educational reform commission. When Leguía returned to power in 1919 the scope of the United States mission was expanded to where one of its members could boast in print that Peru had become the first Latin American nation to "take the radical step of turning over its entire system of public education to an American mission on the ground." According to Paulston, who belonged to a later United States mission, efforts were made "to recruit American teachers and administrators who had worked under the United States colonial governments in the Philippines or in Puerto Rico. Evidence seems to indicate that the 24 advisers hired by 1921 were in general mediocre and unsuited for service in Peru. Only a few could speak Spanish." Manuel Vicente Villarán, Leguía’s first Minister of Education and architect of the reforms of 1913 and 1920, advocated the switch from the French to the U.S. system because, "with all its admirable intellectuality, [France] still has not been able to modernize, democratize and unify sufficiently her educational system and methods." On the other hand, "the great European peoples today reform their plans of instruction to follow the Yankee model, because they understand that the needs of the time demand men of enterprise and not literary nor erudite types."

The most fruitful cross-fertilization of American and indigenista influences came not in government offices but in the distant altiplano Department of Puno in the early decades of the century. These were the years of maximum expansion of the hacienda system in Peru, of vast enclosure movements under various legal ruses and pretexts that wrested ancestral lands from the Indian communities, and of several Indian rebellions in response to these pressures. In 1911 the "First Regional Congress of Normal School Graduates" was held in Arequipa to discuss two related problems, Indian education and the usurpation of Indian lands under the economic incentive of rising world prices for sheep and alpaca wool, leading to peasant uprisings throughout the altiplano. One of those normal school graduates was Jose Antonio Encinas, who with the collaboration of the American school inspector, Joseph A. MacKnight, conducted educational experiments in Puno that led to charges by a local Congressman of "teaching doctrines contrary to the Constitution of the State." These experiments and rebellions coincided with an evangelizing campaign of the Seventh Day Adventists in the provinces bordering Lake Titicaca. In the Province of Chucuito, where major Indian uprisings occurred in 1903, 1905, and 1912, the Adventist missionary Ferdinand Stahl went from hut to hut "carrying a bit of relief for the ailments of typhoid, typhus, and smallpox that decimated the aboriginal population." Visiting the Adventist center of La Platería two decades later as a Congressman, Enemas observed that they "possessed primary schools, normal schools, and hospitals and had reached about 5,000 converts...The basic thing is that they are transforming the spirit of the Indian, bring him into civic life, making him aware of his rights and obligations, separating him from the vices of coca and alcohol, removing superstition, curing illnesses, showing the best way toward human dignity."

While the Bolivian nucleo escolar campesino of Warisata may have served as the official model for the establishment of the first nucleos in Peru in the 1940s, the Adventist schools in the Puno region may have been even more influential in making possible this new departure in rural education. Writing in the 1960s, the Peruvian anthropologist Gabriel Escobar provided this description of the Adventist schools:

The Adventists began their work in 1906... and by 1940 claimed some 20,000 faithful, which today might more accurately be 10,000. The Adventists are in almost all rural districts, grouped around their own primary schools that also serve as places of worship. The school director is also a missionary who alternates between teaching children, preaching and reading from the Bible. It is interesting to note that the Adventist orientation is toward greater social mobility [of the Indian] toward becoming a cholo or mestizo, and toward urban life with a strongly nationalist tendency... The teachers are almost always rural Indian converts to Adventism who work with religious zeal and who are paid just enough to live on by the community. The school buildings are constructed by the faithful themselves or with their monetary contributions. The school calendar is different from that of public schools, absorbing less time and better adjusted to the annual cycle of the community’s economic activity; it begins just after the harvest in March or April and ends just before planting time. During vacations, the teachers attend training courses in Puno or Juliaca and devote themselves to missionary work. Apparently, without being able to confirm this, under this system these schools have a higher regular attendance than public schools and more of their pupils finish their primary education, going on to Chullunquiani, the secondary school of the Adventists in Juliaca.

At its apogee the U.S. advisory mission, SECPANE (Servicio Cooperativo Peruano-Norte americano de Educación), occupied the entire tenth floor of the Education Ministry’s skyscraper, which until recently was the tallest building in Lima. The Education Ministry was besieged every summer by swarms of teachers from the provinces who crowded the entrances and corridors in search of transfers, promotions, appointments, pensions, etc., while on the sidewalks outside swarms of tinterillos with portable typewriters and collapsible tables would fill out documents for them on special paper with official seals. Using the model of Warisata and the Adventist schools of Puno, SECPANE provided capital funds and supervision for what was, in effect, its own Indian school system that by 1960 embraced 73 nucleos throughout the sierra containing 2,416 central and satellite schools and an enrollment of 226,000 pupils. They were much more luxuriously furnished than the rest of Peru’s rural schools; some combined "large classrooms, sanitary facilities, barber shops, pens for raising domestic animals, desks and furniture, living quarters for teachers, offices, shops, agricultural tools, electric generators, film projectors and with everything else that within natural limitations could be used to contribute to a good basic education for the child and the adult community."

However, when SECPANE was eliminated on orders from Washington in 1962 and replaced by a more modest advisory mission from Columbia University Teachers College, this was a near death-blow for the nucleos. The Cuzco warehouse, containing school equipment and supplies, was looted straightway. The ministry continued to pay supervisors’ and teachers’ salaries but little else.... Supervisors in literacy, agriculture, and health lacked transport and expenses and could no longer travel from the central nucleo to the isolated sectional schools." The nucleos seemed to be dependent on the status symbols and economic incentives provided by United States aid. When, for example, SECPANE began withdrawing its financial aid to the Quiquijana nucleo near Cuzco in 1955 after its initial capital investment, a rapid turnover of supervisors and directors began to impede the functioning of the satellite schools, the farming cooperatives and adult education. Together with these problems, "the lack of efficient and stable administrative personnel, as well as supervisors and teachers who could teach in the workshop (full of equipment never used) made the Quiquijana nucleo appear to be at the edge of failure. While roughly 27 per cent of Quiquijana’s pupils failed the year’s work between 1946 and 1961, a lower failure rate than in most rural schools, success in school has meant "constant and recent migrations of the community’s youth to larger cities as soon as they finish their primary schooling in the nucleo." another major problem, which has plagued the schools of the sierra throughout their expansion, is the use of Spanish rather than Quechua as the initial language of instruction:

The decision to teach in Spanish as the national language was taken by SECPANE before forming the Quiquijana nucleo. The problem was establishing a period of transition from Quechua to Spanish. The general opinion has been that, if the teacher forbids the pupils to speak Quechua, they would learn Spanish in from six months to a year, impelled by necessity. However, since the children speak Quechua anyway at play and in their houses, the problem turned out to be more serious and complex than it previously appeared to be. The language barrier was one of the most notorious impediments to teaching in the Quiquijana nucleo, making necessary a review of the methods and materials used in teaching.

In response to this need, the Education Reform Commission in 1970 urged the adoption of an official Quechua alphabet as a first step toward using Quechua and other Indian vernaculars of the sierra and jungle as languages of primary instruction in the public schools of these regions. Its report added that the practice of teaching in Spanish to children unable to understand the language was "greatly responsible for school dropouts, the psychic fraumatization of monolingual children and their failure to learn reading and writing." At the same time, the five departments of the southern sierra known as the manchu indigena —Puno, Cuzco, Apurímac, Ayacucho, and Huancavelica— was declared a "priority zone" for the application of the Education Reform for reasons of social justice, "to support the agrarian reform within the scheme of ongoing structural changes."


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