Education is a fundamental right, and a vital aspect of guaranteeing access to a higher quality of life. Peru has entered the second decade of this new century convinced that in addition to improving the universal coverage of primary education, it must also ensure a quality education for all children and create the conditions necessary to improve the learning process.
As of June 30, 2011, there were estimated to be approximately 3.5 million children in Peru between the ages of 6 and 11, ages at which they should start and finish their primary education, respectively. The majority of these children speak Spanish as a first language, but there are slightly over 400,000 with another mother tongue. Despite steady advances in the country, there are still around 66,000 children between the ages of 6 and 11 (2%) who remain outside the formal education system.
According to the State of Children in Peru 2011, 94% of primary school-age children attend an institution at this level. This percentage is equal to the regional average for South America, and slightly lower than that in countries such as Argentina, Ecuador, and Uruguay.
Nationwide, there are no significant differences in access to primary education by gender, area of residence (urban/rural), or condition of poverty among children between the ages of 6 and 11: in each one of these cases, the net coverage of primary education is around 94%. However, the net coverage rate is lower among children whose first language is an Amazonian language, compared to those who speak Spanish, Quechua, or Aymara.
Lack of Comprehension
While Peru comes ever closer to achieving the universalization of primary education, there is a consensus that attending school is not necessarily translating into a successful scholastic experience for children, wherein they gain the knowledge and skills to which they are rightfully entitled.
The most serious educational problem affecting children in Peru is the low level of reading comprehension and mathematical reasoning. These are two basic skills of the learning process, without which Peruvian children will face limits to their comprehensive development and opportunities of reaching adulthood as productive members of society. According to the Student Census Evaluation (ECE), in 2007, just 15.9% of children attending second grade of primary school exhibited sufficient performance in the comprehension of texts, while this figure was only 7.2% in mathematics. For 2011, these numbers were 29.8% in reading comprehension and 13.2% in mathematics.
A similar evaluation performed in 2009 showed that with regard to both reading comprehension and mathematics, four out of the six departments where students exhibit the highest levels of learning deficiencies for second grade are located in the jungle: Loreto (96% and 99%); Ucayali (94% and 98%); San Martín (89% and 94%); and Madre de Dios (87% and 95%).
Poor Academic Performance
Peru also exhibits a considerable percentage of children who attend primary school, but in a grade lower than that corresponding to their age.
Nationwide, out of all children between the ages of 6 and 11 who are enrolled in primary education, 1 out of every 5 (20%) attends a grade lower than that corresponding to their age. While there are no differences by students’ gender, there are gaps by area of residence, first language, and conditions of poverty. The incidence of poor academic performance in rural zones (30%) is more than double that registered in urban areas (13%); levels among children living in extreme poverty (35%) is triple that of non-poor children.
Completion of Primary Education
The percentage of children who complete primary education between the ages of 12 and 13 years of age rose between 2003 and 2009. During this period, the percentage increased from 67.7% to 74.5%, i.e., an increase of 6.8 percentage points.
Nevertheless, there is still a wide gap between urban and rural areas. In urban areas, 84.7% of children complete primary school between ages 12 and 13, while in rural areas, only 60.4% do so. It is important to note that there are no significant differences between males and females.
With regard to school dropout rates, there are notable differences between urban areas (1.4%) and rural areas (2.3%) and levels of poverty: non-poor (1.3%), poor (1.8%), and extremely poor (3.2%). The department with the highest school dropout rate during primary education is La Libertad, with 4.4%, while those with the lowest dropout rate are Tumbes and Moquegua.
Sources: National Action Plan for Childhood and Adolescence 2012; and State of Children in Peru.