Is Ecuador's Educational Revolution Discriminatory?
Saavedra, Luis Angel, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs
The Ecuadoran government has begun the transformation of university entrance and academic processes, aimed at strengthening technology and science and selecting students who can qualify for university entrance based on their academic knowledge.
The government proposal, called the Educational Revolution, is being implemented in various phases, the first with the general support of the educational community. However, the consequences have been discriminatory for a wide group of prospective university students, especially those from the provinces or from campesino, indigenous, or Afro Ecuadoran families.
Free education, teacher evaluation, and university assessment
The government's initial measures to strengthen the educational system were centered on reducing the dropout rate in primary and secondary schools. They identified families' economic situation as the principal cause of student dropout, because the low-income families are unable to cover school costs, such as registration fees, school supplies, uniforms, and even contributions that schools demand under the formula of "co-management."
The government effort began by eliminating registration fees and prohibiting schools from demanding special contributions; then it designed a government-assistance program to provide books and uniforms in public schools. This increased the number of students in primary and secondary schools and reduced the dropout rate.
Immediately thereafter a process was begun to evaluate teaching personnel using examinations on general knowledge and especially in their subject areas. Psychological exams were also given to determine whether teachers had an aptitude for teaching. Teachers who did not pass the exams went to a training program after which they were again evaluated. Although the Union de Educadores del Ecuador (UNE) protested, the examination process was imposed and teachers had to participate.
At the same time, teachers' salaries were raised and investments were made in modernizing the physical structures of the educational campuses.
This reform process did not reach indigenous and campesino areas, nor did it include the education systems in Afro Ecuadoran communities, which must continue with teachers who have no more than a high school education and schools that have inadequate structures for teaching. For example, some sectors of bilingual/intercultural education, which is in charge of education in the indigenous communities, must function with teachers who are paid US$150 a month. Since this salary is not enough to live on, they end up quitting their jobs, leaving it to parents to take turns providing the children's education.
When the teacher evaluations were finished, the government began evaluating universities by analyzing the curriculum, the physical infrastructure, and the education of teaching personnel.
The university evaluations were well received, since in recent years the number of universities has proliferated, but most did not meet the standards to be a university, and they had become businesses and diploma mills where it was possible to obtain an academic degree for a determined price.
Universities that were not deemed qualified had a year to take into account the observations from the Secretaria Nacional de Educacion Superior, Ciencia y Tecnologia (SENESCYT). Some did not pass the second process and had to close.
Students in universities that were not qualified, which were mostly distance-learning or semi-campus-based institutions, were left in limbo; they could not transfer to campus-based universities because they work and cannot afford to study full time.
Entrance exams and professional placement
The government's most controversial decision came in late 2011, when it decided that the SENESCYT would be in charge of evaluating university applicants and assigning the number of places per university and major, according to applicants' scores. …