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Setting the ground rules for the new generations of Peru

Interview - June 19, 2015

Peru’s University Law, introduced in 2014 to increase the quality of its higher education and monitor the use of universities’ resources, is creating a supervisory and regulatory body for academic standards. Despite having faced great opposition, the new law will result in greater enrollment growth at private universities, and bring quality institutions to the fore while tackling corruption at others. Minister of Education Jaime Saavedra discusses this changing sector with United World. 

JAIME SAAVEDRA, MINISTER OF EDUCATION
JAIME SAAVEDRA | MINISTER OF EDUCATION

Peru leads the economic growth of the region with a growth forecast of 3.8% in 2015 and around 5% by 2020. However, there is still a long way to go to reduce a poverty rate that according to the World Bank was 23.9% in 2013. As a former president of the Board of Poverty Reduction at the World Bank, you know better than anyone that education is the heart of a country’s development, and that economic growth should be reflected in an educational system, which is the engine of social inclusion and equal opportunities for the different regions of Peru and their citizens. How has the economic growth in Peru been reflected in its educational system and what are the educational reforms necessary for 21st century Peru?

We are far from where we should be in terms of educational standards, achievements and learning. Peru is already a middle-income country; it has been growing over the past decade but its education system is not high enough to ensure that growth is sustained in the coming years.

So if we do not make an unprecedented investment in education, the lack of human capital will be a binding constraint in the continuation of this development project. If we do not make that bet on the future, they will close the doors on us, as in the case of the OECD. Sustained growth is achieved only if at the same time there is growth in investment in education.

Since 2002, despite an existing agreement, the expenditure on this area has always been 3% of GDP and, while investment grew as a result of increased domestic product, the rate has not changed since then. So, last year we increased this figure half a point, so it currently amounts to $1.5 billion, but it is still not enough because the education budget is far below that of other countries in the region.

The annual expenditure per student is $1,000, lower than the average in Latin America. And we can see, for example, with the PISA tests that there is a correlation between the results and the investment, as $ 5,000 per student per year is the base required to achieve good performance.

The Peruvian education system has many basic needs, as public schools have been neglected for decades. If teachers’ salaries today are compared with those of the 60s, it can be seen how the real income of teachers has been deteriorating, and how together with the question of prestige, teaching has ceased to be a middle-class job. The other major problem is the lack of educational infrastructure, which we estimate at 10% of GDP.

All these issues are gradually changing. Teacher salaries have increased sharply since we took office until this year with the latest update; we have increased teachers’ salaries by 40%. These increases, however, are different because they are going to be given to the teachers according to their merit, according to the evaluation of teacher performance.

One of the most ambitious projects that we are beginning to implement is the increasing hours of high school. We have already done it in a thousand schools, but for this infrastructure is key because more buildings are needed to accommodate students all day; today this is different because every school can take twice as students, as they have two reduced shifts.

Moreover, teachers involved in this project got a 25% increase in their salaries.

We also began to implement a plan called "Works by taxes" in which any company can offer to build or improve a school, and in return the government gives it a certificate that it can accrue from their tax burdens.

This means a crucial advantage, which is that while the State is paying for the works ultimately, the private company does not need to go through the same process of government contracting; instead it can contract directly and that makes everything much faster – always with the observation that the one to build these schools must be responsible for their quality and safety. In short, it becomes public work at the speed of private work.

Another alternative that we have are the PPPs – public-private partnerships – through which we grant concessions for construction and maintenance of schools.

And although many critics may say this is to privatize education, that is not true, because these players do not make decisions and they work with infrastructure development. We know that still we need to grow a lot in both areas, both in infrastructure and in the salary issue, and that requires great commitment, sustained over time and aiming at several fronts.

This way, by 2021 we will be able to reach the right level of teacher payment, to develop a homogeneous educational infrastructure across the country, and to have teachers who are motivated and really want to do their job.

In all these years, since Fujimori’s Law on Promotion of Investment in Education was passed, when private capital entered the education sector, has private education been the one that has advanced and boosted the Peruvian education system?

There are two worlds, basic education and higher education. As regards basic education, I think there has been some growth in the private offer, but of a lower quality and the state has not regulated it. The elite private schools have also grown, and those students can be incorporated into the public school later.

This is why some schools need more state regulation than others, especially those of poor quality, because for many years the Ministry considered that it should not intervene in the private sphere and obviously it was wrong. In high school, there yes, 90% of the enrollment since 1996 has been private.

And unfortunately that enrollment growth has been very heterogeneous, with very good universities and others that are scams. We already have a legal framework to begin to change this, but it will take a long time. Last year we passed a new University Law, for which there was much debate and there was great opposition from several universities to the main change we proposed, which is creating a regulatory and supervisory body for basic academic standards.

Another problem we have had is that there are far too many students who are inclined to continue their studies at universities and very few choose institutes and technical studies. Paradoxically, technical education was over-regulated and poorly regulated by this Ministry, so this year we are sending a bill to Congress in this regard, to allow us to compare and standardize higher education in Peru.

The United States is one of the major trading partners of Peru and also the second preferred destination for Peruvian students wishing to study abroad. Also big U.S. companies are established in Peru and there are university agreements to promote exchanges of teachers and students. In what areas would you like to deepen the synergies in education between the two countries?

We now have a scholarship program with the United States. It is one of the most important in terms of social inclusion, as it is aimed at low-income students, many even below the poverty line.

Besides, there are scholarships for teachers, post-graduate studies, and for professionals in the Armed Forces, where many students also choose American universities, all prestigious universities such as Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, UPenn, among others.

We also hope to further strengthen our ties with the United States in relation to the English language. For this purpose we are designing a policy of use and teaching of the language with the aim that eventually all high school graduates will have a B1 level in the European framework.

This requires increasing the number of English teachers and from the Ministry we are giving them training programs abroad to improve their level. Currently these two are the main links in education with the United States, but we are evaluating developing ICT issues to strengthen technical education and employability.

Peru is getting ready for the Pan American Games in 2019. How important are sports as a means of social inclusion for your administration and what does the celebration of these Pan American Games mean for Peru?

We created a special project, led by José Arista, whereby resources are going to be allocated to the construction of the sports infrastructure needed for the Games. At the moment there is a heated debate going on about this within the Organizing Committee, about what extras are needed to host the Games. The planning must be resolved this year, to have the remaining three projects directly included in the budget and to start building. 

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