Interview: José Dextre Chacón
With PEN2.8bn ($1bn) in underspending, what can be done to ensure that the Ministry of Education spends its full annual budget?
JOSÉ DEXTRE CHACÓN: The investment needed to close the gap in education is close to 20 times the unspent amount. This means that, even when spending the full budget allocation, it would take 20 years to catch up. The government’s strategy has to look at strengthening the link with the private sector. Historically, the Ministry of Education has not been very willing to do this, but this has been changing in recent years. However, there remains much to be done. Public-private partnerships have been the most efficient tool for this and have proven more effective than public investment.
What can be done to motivate teachers and improve teaching quality?
DEXTRE: Talent management has been an issue in the country and this has led to low teaching standards. Processes to evaluate performance levels and grant financial rewards according to results will work towards creating a meritocracy to help improve overall education standards. This method has yet to be applied mainly due to opposition from unions, which hold too much power. Thus far, the evaluation process has been too focused on analysing the knowledge of the teachers rather than the efficiency of their teaching. The other issue is that school directors do not currently have the authority to either sanction staff or properly utilise their budgets. All this leads to bureaucracy and poor levels of education.
Around 32% of Peruvian students attend university, well below Chile’s 45%. Why is this?
DEXTRE: First of all, we need to persist with encouraging private investment in education as promoted by Legislative Decree 882. Peru has come a long way since the 1990s, when educational institutions, both public and private, were almost bankrupt. This led to a talent drain from which the country is still working to recover. Although the education sector has reached a certain level of national coverage, to be able to reach the level of Chile it would need to expand by 30%. In the past 20 years there has been a rush to fill the gap in education and this has led to low quality. The best way to improve standards is to outsource university accreditation to private companies. Promoting transparency will also help the sector to auto-regulate, thus allowing potential students to make informed decisions about where to be educated.
Can the model of Moquegua University, which proves that there can be quality education outside of Lima, be applied elsewhere?
DEXTRE: The quality of Moquegua may be due to the earthquake in 2001, which forced the authorities to rebuild the entire infrastructure. Three main factors coincided to allow the region to become an educational hub. First, there was interest from the private sector, which invested in education and provided the tools. Second, the government understood the value of high-quality education. And third, the faculty and the population as a whole firmly believed in the education process. This allowed Moquegua, one of the smaller regions in the country, to have the best average educative level in Peru. For other regions to achieve this, they have to aim to achieve these three factors.
How much risk does poor education pose to long-term economic growth?
DEXTRE: Peru, of course, cannot afford the luxury of a poor education system if it wants to continue the economic growth it has achieved in the past 20 years.
The leadership to improve the standard needs to come from the central government, setting aside political party disputes to ensure a long-term education sector plan that will be effective in improving the system.
The ideal formula for revamping Peru’s education sector is a combination of adding more qualified teachers and paving the way for private sector investment.
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