ChileLabor slider — 26 July 2014

(thumbnail photo by Shannon Suetos)

The World Bank has weighed in on the topic of elementary education in Chile.  Their report Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin American and Caribbean looks at public grade school education (meaning ages 5 to 18) in Latin America, singling out Chile for some things it has done well and pointing out areas where Chile, like the rest of Latin American, falls far behind the rest of the world. Student math achievement in Chile is 2 to 5 years behind OECD and Asian countries, respectively. Their is no certification required to be a teacher in Chile, only a voluntary program.  Of the 40% of the teachers who take that test, 70% do not pass.

Background and Current Education Reform in Chile

President Bachelet came to office in 2014 promising to make education free, by changing schools from profit-making businesses into non-profit institutions. Her government also promised to return public schools to the federal level for their administration.  Currently school are run by the towns.  She also vowed to end tuition payments that parents are required to pay to state-subsidized public schools.  In Chile, there are three types of schools:  public, subsidized public, and private.

Political Contradiction

The desire to do away with tuition payments for subsidized schools has created a contradictory situation with no easy solution in sight.  If the subsidized schools are forbidden to make profits then should the government buy all those schools operating as for-profit private businesses (i.e., the subsidized public schools)?  Or should they pay the parental portion of the tuition?  The second option would put the government in the awkward position of funding the profit they want to want to eliminate.

Too Much College

This report does not address university education, but the minister of education recently came under fire for saying what is obvious to everyone else.  The time to obtain a university degree in Chile is far too long.  The minister suggested that the government fund only 4 years of college, which is the standard in the rest of the world for a bachelor’s degree.  In Chile, students go to school for up to 7 years to earn a degree in business administration, engineering, and other disciplines that take 4 years everywhere else.  The average time in Chile required to obtain a university degree is 6.3 years; for the OEDC is it 4 years. To work for the government in Chile, the employee must have attended 5 years of college.  The minister was forced to back down and politicians called for him to be fired.  The private and profit-making public universities would not support any plan that would cut their revenue by 40%.  Another goal for the government is to make all university tuition free as in other nations, like Argentina.

World Bank Report

The World Bank report paints a dismal picture of the situation in public education in Chile and across all of Latin American.  It says the vast majority (82%) of teachers are women, from the lower social classes, who are often the first in their family to attend college.  Students who go into teaching do not score well on the PSU (university entrance exam). They enter the profession for job security rather than career advancement.  New teachers are set loose on the classroom with almost no training and supervision by experienced teachers, except in Cuba, where the schools are excellent.

The teachers are poorly paid, the classrooms are out-of-control, students are not engaged, and the teachers have not mastered the subject material. The teachers do not use modern devices like computers to keep students interested.  There is no certification program and no evaluation system with which to remove the worst teachers. Part of the reason for this is teacher unions have outsized power in Latin America and have resisted such efforts for reform.

One of the report’s recommendations is that schools include students who have studied other academic disciplines than education, who could do a better job, as has been done in the USA.  The report recommends paying teachers more to attract better students.

Below are some highlights from the report.  Most of everything printed below are direct quotes from the document.  These are printed in italics.  Items not in italics are summaries of that section of the document.

Poor Quality Teachers

The low average quality of LAC’s [Latin America] teachers is the binding constraint on the region’s education progress…

 No teaching force in the region today (except possibly Cuba’s) can be considered of high quality against global comparators, but several countries have made progress over the past decade in raising teacher quality and student learning results, most notably Chile.

Need to Make Teacher Certification Exams Compulsory

Unlike the rest of Latin America, excluding Cuba, Chile has an exam to certify teachers, but it is voluntary.  Only 40% of candidates who take the test, 70% fail.

Latin American Students lag other Nations in Mathematics by 2 to 5 years

The nearly 100-­‐point difference between the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average math score (494) and the average for participating LAC countries (397) represents a disparity in skills equivalent to over two full years of math education. The gap with Shanghai, whose students averaged 613, is more than five years’ difference in math skills.

Teacher Quality is Key for Student Success

…no single factor is as critical as the quality of teachers.

All Female Labor Force

About 75 percent of Latin America’s teachers are female, but this ranges from a low 62 percent in Mexico to 82 percent in Uruguay, Brazil, and Chile. Teachers are also poorer than the overall pool of university students. University entrance data show that students majoring in education are of lower socioeconomic status and are more likely to be first-­generation university students than entrants in other fields; the data point to a pool of students whose lives may have afforded them limited experience with other professions and, consequently, more limited academic aspirations.

The Worst Students Study to be Teachers

Students applying to teacher education programs average 505 on the Chilean university entrance exam (PSU); the average for law is 660; engineering, 700; and medicine, 745.

Teachers do not Understand Math

On the one international study that directly compares teachers’ mastery of math, Chile was the sole LAC country to participate. The study tested the math skills of teacher education students. Chile’s future secondary school math teachers scored the lowest of the participating countries, and its future primary school teachers were second lowest (figure O.5). Most of the countries in the study were high-­‐income, high-­‐achieving countries. Yet Chile’s future secondary school teachers had weaker math skills than teachers from Botswana and the Philippines. Among future primary school teachers, only those from Georgia performed worse. Given that Chile is the LAC region’s highest performer on international tests, these data point to deep issues for other countries in the region in raising the expertise of their teachers.



Students Do not Understand Math Either


Need to boost Salaries to Attract Better Quality Students into Teaching
Teacher salaries in Chile are 15% less that similar professions. Given that teachers across Latin America work 30 to 40 hours per week compared to the 50 to 60 hours in other professions, on an hourly basis Chilean teachers pay is equal to similar professions.

Teachers Attracted by Job Security

Perhaps the most powerful attraction is high job security. Labor market data show that for women in particular, teaching offers stable employment; women who have graduated from teacher education over the past 40 years are significantly more likely to have been employed and stayed employed than women with other degrees.

Raising Hiring Standards

  • No country in Latin America and the Caribbean today has a compulsory certification process for the teaching profession as stringent as those used in medicine, law, or accounting
  • The low quality of teacher education programs makes it important that public education systems screen effectively at the point of hiring.
  • The exception is Chile, which adopted national teacher standards (Marco para la Buena Enseñanza) in 2003, after three years of joint work by a national commission and the teachers’ union. Chile’s framework remains a best-­‐practice example for the region

New York City implemented a mandatory certification program.  There was a 5 year transition period.  Most teacher candidates could not pass.  So the city allowed people without teaching degrees to teach.  Temporary teachers took 63% percent of the spots.

When Washington DC implemented tougher teacher standards, 33% of the teacher were fired, because they could not pass the exams.

A series of great or bad teachers over several years compounds these effects and can lead to unbridgeable gaps in student learning levels. No other attribute of schools comes close to this impact on student achievement.

Fire the Worst Teachers

Research suggests that systematically targeting the lowest 5 percent of teachers annually for “de-­‐selection” can produce large gains in student learning over time.

The goals are to generate actionable, formative feedback to teachers across the system and to weed out the lowest performers on a continuous basis so the average quality of the teaching force keeps rising over time.

Bad Teacher-Student Ratio

…efficient class size is a critical policy choice.

 The contrast with East Asian countries is sharp. Singapore, Korea, China, and Japan consciously maintain relatively high pupil-­‐teacher ratios to free up resources for higher teacher salaries, a longer school day, and cost-­‐effective nonsalary investments. Teacher salaries in these countries are relatively high on average and are differentiated by competency and performance, which attracts more talented individuals.

Classrooms out of Control

Observers in every country saw classrooms that were badly out of control, even with the teacher present and aware of being observed.

Need to Spend more time Teaching

Spend more time in the classroom.  The average is 65% of the school day.

Curtail Union Power

The deepest challenge in raising teacher quality is not fiscal or technical, but political, because teachers’ unions in every country in Latin America are large and politically active stakeholders

Understand the Subject Matter

Teacher quality in the region is compromised by weak mastery of academic content as well as ineffective classroom practice: teachers in the countries studied spend 65 percent or less of class time on instruction (compared with the a good practice benchmark of 85 percent), which implies the loss of one full day of instruction per week; they make limited use of available learning materials, especially information and communications technology (ICT); and do a poor job of keeping students engaged.

Adopt Teaching Standards

Chile is one of the few countries in the region with a define set of teaching stands.  These are called Marco para la Buena Enseñanza.


Teacher Need to Embrace Technology

But teacher practice continues to rely heavily on a single, very traditional, learning aid: the blackboard.


New Teachers need Training and Supervision by more Experienced teachers



Pick Teachers from Other Professions

A third strategy for raising the quality of new teachers is to bypass low-­‐quality education schools entirely and recruit teachers trained in other disciplines, a practice known as alternative certification.

The USA uses Teach for America to do this.  Chile has a pilot program called Enseña Chile.

Some other Recommendations

  • Induction: support for teachers’ development during their critical first five years of teaching
  • Evaluation: systems for regular assessment of individual teachers’ strengths and weaknesses
  • Professional development: effective training to remedy teachers’ identified weaknesses and leverage the skills of top performers
  • Management: matching teacher assignments to schools’ and students’ needs, and building effective schools through shared practice and professional interaction


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(1) Reader Comment

  1. Thanks for this very interesting article about the reality of education here in Chile. Being an expat in Chile and having a daughter in the education system here in Chile – to be honest – Im a bit worried about her University education prospects and will be looking to send her to a University outside of Chile.

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