Chile on the west coast of South America is largely regarded as having one of the continent’s best-structured education systems, because eight years of quality education for children is mandatory and free. The first four years of this are spent in primary education – in the second four years students may choose between secondary and vocational school
Everything in this world requires careful planning and a good beginning in order to succeed, and that is why Chilean educators were recently so thrilled to hear that President Sebastián Piñera’s priorities for 2011 would include greater emphasis on nursery school education for Chilean children in addition to his traditional themes of elementary, middle and high schools. This announcement came fast on the heels of a finding by the Education Ministry that there are four critical flaws in the South American nation’s approach to pre-school.
1. According to the survey 34% of pre-school teachers have below average vocabularies, 45% are prone to emotional instability and 66% have below average numeracy skills. This is hardly surprising given that less than 1% of them scored over 80% in their qualifying examinations. An expert on the Ministry’s Research Council has interpreted this as meaning that Chilean pre-school teachers are in need of improved technical support.
2. The survey further established that 62% of Chilean children are not receiving nursery school education at all. According to the Ministry this is a consequence of conflicting family priorities and a lack of recognition of the value that early education brings.
3. A related problem is a lack of a coordinated approach to finance – in this regard it seems that diverse sources of financial support may be resulting in varying educational and teacher selection norms. Most nursery schools are independent though, and over-regulation could be a two-edged sword.
4. Violation of children’s rights in a largely under-regulated environment is the fourth concern of the Chilean Education Ministry. One of the most chilling aspects of their report is that in an estimated 37.5% of violations against children, the Education Authorities failed to intervene.
President Barack Obama has come out in support of head start nursery school education in America, and has stated that he will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance. Those of who were fortunate enough to have been given it, and who know what it meant for us applaud Chilean President Sebastián Piñera’s efforts to do more for Chilean children in this regard as well.