Sunday, January 3, 2010

Getting an Education in Chiclayo

Structurally the educational system in Peru differs somewhat from that of the States. How the end result – a quality education matches up I’m not sure. We’ll get into that a bit later. Right now our task is to identify and describe the differences.

Even though education including university in Peru is “free” (another issue we’ll discuss later), the vast majority of children in Chiclayo attend private schools. The cost can be considerable, but I can say without hesitation that education is a priority and if humanly possible parents will do whatever is necessary to get it. The perception is that public schools have inferior facilities, administration, teachers and educational materials.

From a chronology perspective there isn’t much difference between public and private schools. Mandatory education begins at age 3 when children enter ‘kinder.’ Uniforms are required from kinder through secondary – the equivalent of high school in the States. Kinder hours are 8:30am to 12:00, or 1:00pm to 4:30. Parents usually are given their choice of morning or afternoon. Classroom size will vary between 30 and 40. There may be as many as 5 classes. Teachers have university degrees, and there is an assistant for each teacher, normally a senior university student hired by parents. The primary focus is learning letters and numbers. Kinder is a 3 year program ending with graduation into primary school. During those 3 years the cost at an average private kinder school would have been $175 to enroll and $50 per month not including uniforms and other extras.

Let’s stop for a moment to talk about the difference between public and private schools. Most parents in Chiclayo seem to fear public schools. Beside the poor academic reputation is the belief that drugs, alcohol, knives and guns are present. I have no way of knowing how much if any of this is true. Regarding ‘free education’, what this means is that the government pays teachers’ salaries. What they don’t pay is building maintenance, utilities, text books and other educational requirements. Every operating expense excepting teachers’ salaries is the responsibility of parents, through a parents association. I don’t know what that cost would be at kinder through the secondary level but it is supposedly much less than private schools. It is necessary to apply for admittance to a public school because of limited space. It is also necessary to apply to a private school though as I understand it, if you can afford it you’re in.

There are separate primary and secondary schools but the vast majority include both levels. Primary begins at age 6 and is a 6 year program. Discipline becomes strict. Students without the proper uniform are sent home. Hair not conforming to school policy is cut at the school…something I do not agree with. Courses are the standards – reading, writing, arithmetic, geography and history. By the third year the higher mathematics have been added as well as civics, biology, chemistry, literature, physical education, computer science, psychology, philosophy and logic. You can probably identify the courses pictured on this secondary ‘report card’. Pre-military is really just another form of physical education. By the way, the grading system in Peru is from 1 to 20. A score of 10 or less is failing. In addition to standard primary/secondary schools there are also schools referred to as polytechnic schools that offer standard courses plus woodworking and mechanics.

At about 12 years of age a student graduates to secondary…a 5 year program. Generally the courses are the same but more advanced. The cost for a private primary and secondary education will range from about $150/mo down to $60/mo not including enrollment fee, uniforms, etc. The hours at these schools vary depending on school policy. Many are from 7:30am to 2:30pm. Others have those same hours plus a 4:00pm to 6:00pm session 3 times weekly. This last group assumes the students will not do homework so makes them do it at school. Toward the end of the secondary program aptitude, ability and pre-university readiness tests are administered. At the ripe old age of 16 or 17 a student graduates and chooses one of 6 options. They can:

- Go to work
- Apply to the police institute
- Apply to a nursing institute
- Apply to a teachers institute
- Apply to a trade institute
- Apply to a university

This post will go on forever (seems like it already has) if we explore each option, so let’s finish our education at a university. To my knowledge there is only one public university in the entire Lambayeque region, appropriately named the University of Lambayeque. The yearly enrollment cost is $110 with a $45 monthly fee. Most students graduate after 5 years. There are no living expenses to deal with. Only in Lima do the universities have student housing.

There are a ton of private universities in Chiclayo and the Lambayeque region. I am not in a position to discuss them in depth, other than to say that Maribel’s niece (pictured as a grape eater in the previous post) attends one of them and is majoring in international marketing. Again, I am impressed with the level of knowledge and professional demeanor she displays in discussions with me. Course offerings appear to be what I would expect to find anywhere in the world, and all of the universities seem to be bursting at the seams with students. You’ve probably guessed that graduation normally occurs after 5 years. Typical cost would be $450 annual enrollment with a $125 monthly fee.

The dream of any parent is to have their child attend the University of Lima in Lima. This school enjoys a prestigious national and international reputation. Many of its graduates go on to careers with major corporations or governmental agencies in Europe and the States. Not many applicants are accepted. The entrance requirements are strict, vacancies are few and the cost is far beyond most budgets.

Okay…. we’ve completed our education. It’s time to wrap this up with a couple closing observations. A commonly asked question by people considering moving to Peru with school age children is – “How do you find a good school?” All I can say is good luck with that one. In the States there are reams of data to slice and dice any way you want to compare schools. Here there is nada. If you go to a school to investigate, all you will get is slogans. Every school director will tell you “We are the best!” Ask them why and you’ll get more slogans but nothing with substance. To my knowledge statistics are non-existent. The highest priced school is not necessarily an indicator of the best school, nor is the lowest priced an indicator of the worst. My advice is to ask the opinion of as many professional people as possible. Narrow the list to a handful of schools and then tour them. Finally, go with your gut feel.

As to the quality of education, I have to say that I’m impressed. Students I’ve talked with of all ages display to me a surprising depth of knowledge on a wide range of subjects. Also, their knowledge and perspective seems to be more global than American students. I should point out that many Peruvians including those at professional levels believe the quality of education in Peru is poor, especially at the younger ages. They are critical of administration, curriculum and teachers as being inferior. Probably most Peruvians I am acquainted with would reluctantly agree. However I know of one instance where an American government worker was transferred to Lima with his wife and two teenage children. While enrolling the children in school, they were told that testing showed them to be two years behind their Peruvian counterparts. I was not surprised to hear that.

Tom & Maribel


  1. Hi, I'm an American also living in Chiclayo and I just found your blog, which I've enjoyed reading. Just a quick correction about universities -- the Universidad de Lambayeque in your photo is a new private university in the center of Chiclayo. The national university of the Lambayeque region is the Universidad Nacional Pedro Ruiz Gallo, in Lambayeque, which is also commonly known as the Universidad de Lambayeque.

    As to the quality of private universities here -- all are pretty awful, some are much better than others. None are comparable to universities in the States, as they have on average four buildings and under 10,000 books. It also bears mentioning that students generally have no or very few elective courses -- whichever major a student chooses upon entering has a set program of classes lasting five or six years.

    The national university has better resources and professors than do the private universities, but it's almost always on strike; at the moment they haven't had classes since September and noone has any idea when they'll open again.

  2. Could you fill me in on Universidad Cesar Vellejo and what age and level of study this one tends to.

  3. For a project at my school I am researching Chiclayo so your blog is absolutely PERFECT. Thnkyou so much!

    1. That's good to hear! I'm glad the blog is helping you. Thanks for the comment.