As the country gears up to celebrate its 200th year of independence from Spain in 2021, Peru finds itself in a position to focus more of its resources on education. This is a welcome opportunity as the country has yet to exceed its regional peers in terms of educational access and outcomes. There are encouraging signs that the necessary changes are under way to improve these metrics, including more public spending, licensing for universities, revised regulations and curricula, and investment in technology. Nevertheless, the country faces a number of challenges to the long-term sustainability of the sector. These include a divide between rural and urban education provision, opposition to some reforms and a significant infrastructure gap.

In January 2019 the Bicentennial National Pact in Education was signed by the national and regional governments to reaffirm their continued investment in achieving higher-quality education. The pact renews focus on training citizens with the necessary skills to match the labour market, providing safe and dignified schools, boosting teacher salaries, teaching respect for cultural and social differences, and fixing the infrastructure gap, among others. While the pact is part of a strong push to improve education in Peru, how the various efforts will translate into a cohesive and consolidated front from all stakeholders remains unclear.


Although steady increases in learning outcomes have been observed over the past decade, Peru has yet to gain a notable lead over its regional peers. According to “The Global Competitiveness Report 2018” published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Peru’s ranking improved from 72nd in 2017 to 63rd out of 140 countries evaluated in the global competitiveness index, which analyses countries based on a series of macro- and microeconomic markers. Within the index, Peru ranked 83rd in the skills pillar, which includes education-related indicators, such as the mean years of schooling (73rd), extent of staff training (124th), critical thinking in teaching (80th) and the skill set of graduates (95th). In terms of the skills pillar, Peru was ahead of regional neighbours Bolivia (93rd) and Brazil (94th), but behind Chile (42nd), Argentina (51st), Ecuador (75th) and Colombia (80th).

Meanwhile, according to the World Bank’s “The Human Capital Project 2018” report, which analyses years of education and the results of standardised tests of 157 countries, Peruvian students receive an average of 12.7 years of schooling before the age of 18, but only 65% of classroom time was allocated to learning. This means that the adjusted equivalent is closer to 8.3 years of schooling, which placed Peru ahead of Brazil (7.6 years), but behind Colombia (8.5 years), Ecuador (8.9 years) and Chile (9.6 years). Concerned about the 4.4-year learning gap, the Foreign Trade Society ( Sociedad de Comercio Exterior, COMEX) told local press in October 2018 that the World Bank study should serve as a basis for the creation of effective public policies. COMEX attributed the gap to a lack of political incentives and long-term returns to education, as well as inefficient public policies and resource allocation.

Development Project

Under the leadership of the National Education Council (Consejo Nacional de Educación, CNE), Peru is currently developing its National Education Project (Proyecto Educativo Nacional, PEN) 2021-36, which will set guidelines for the education sector and help address overall concerns. The CNE began stocktaking and conducting roundtables in 2017, which informed the creation of 30 recommendations for the PEN 2021-36. “There are various themes being discussed,” César Guadalupe, the president of the CNE, told OBG. “They involve paying greater attention to teacher training, rectifying social segregation and inequality in education outcomes, and improving management and governance in the education system. These three themes align with the evaluations and recommendations of the CNE report for the upcoming PEN. With the current PEN 2007-21 soon coming to an end, many see the new project outline as an important opportunity to advance the education reforms that have already been set in motion. “The PEN 2021-36 and the bicentennial agreement can provide more direction on certain topics,” Daniel Contreras, education specialist at UNICEF Perú, told OBG. “This occurred in a number of countries in the region; not only was there an interest to celebrate the bicentennial, but there was also a renewed impetus to discuss and address local social and economic challenges.”

Revised Curriculum

The country has had an integrated curriculum at the primary and secondary levels since 2005. In 2009 the syllabus was revised to focus less on memorisation and more on a competency-based approach. The passing of Ministerial Resolution No. 281 of 2016 saw the implementation of the National Curriculum for Basic Education ( Currículo Nacional de Educación Básica, CNEB) across all public and private schools in the country beginning in the 2019 academic year. The curriculum provides the framework for basic education policy in agreement with the current PEN, and is focused on strengthening civic education by: promoting art, physical, English and ICT education; reinforcing the formative approach to both evaluation and feedback in the classroom; incorporating national learning standards; and addressing discriminatory practices that create barriers to equal opportunities for all. The CNEB was rolled out in phases, beginning with a number of urban primary schools in 2017-18; however, as of the first quarter of 2019 it was unclear whether the government had achieved its goal of universal application. “We have not observed that the rollout of the CNEB was accompanied by the necessary measures to ensure successful implementation in all schools,” Contreras told OBG, noting there existed some practical aspects of the CNEB that had not been made entirely clear.

There has also been some pushback to the gender equality initiatives written into the national curriculum, with local community group Padres en Acción, or Parents in Action, filing a motion in January 2017 to dispute the CNEB’s definition of gender. This led to the temporary suspension of certain parts of the CNEB. The Supreme Court approved the inclusion of this component 4 April 2019. “Parents’ rights to participate in the existing education process should be exercised, and there are existing mechanisms for them to do so. However, it cannot supersede students’ rights to receive a good education,” Guadalupe told OBG.

Budget Breakdown

In the last 10 years investment in education has more than doubled, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática, INEI). Since President Martín Vizcarra Cornejo’s inauguration on March 23, 2018 his administration has set about building on the commitments made by former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who had pledged to invest approximately 6% of GDP in education by 2021. For comparison, the average expenditure of OECD countries is around 5.5% of GDP. According to the latest data released by the Statistics Unit at the Ministry of Education (Ministerio de Educación, MINEDU), spending per capita on education rose by an average of 70% between 2007 and 2018, from PEN900 ($272) for pre-primary students, PEN1051 ($318) for primary students and PEN1287 ($390) for secondary students in 2007, to PEN3064 ($927), PEN3027 ($916) and PEN4284 ($1297), respectively. “Public education was chronically underfunded for at least 30 years between 1975 and 2005,” Guadalupe told OBG. “This shortage of resources made it extremely difficult for educators to do their jobs, consequently resulting in a less productive economy. However, a renewed focus on human resources development over the past decade has seen sector funding increase.”

The 2018 budget allocated $8.5bn to the sector, or roughly 4.4% of GDP, a significant increase from a low of 2.7% in 2011 and up from 3.7% in 2017. The education budget continued its upward trajectory, rising by 11% in 2019 to reach PEN30.6bn ($9.3bn).

Sector Indicators

According to INEI’s 2017 census results, there were 8.3m students aged between three and 24 years enrolled in public or private education in 2017. Of the 21.6m people aged 15 and over, 5% have no level of education; 0.2% have attained only pre-primary level; 19.3% have a primary education; 41.3% received a secondary education; 14.3% have some degree of non-university higher education; and 19.7% have a university degree. Some 87% of primary and 72.9% of secondary students completed these levels of education on time. According to MINEDU, the rate of illiteracy fell from 6.2% in 2013 to 5.6% in 2018.

Considerable disparity between urban and rural populations still exists. To take an example, illiteracy rates in some regional areas are two or three times the national average of around 5%, with the Apurímac (14%), Huancavelica (12.4%) and Huánuco (12.9%) regions recording the highest figures. In addition to this, on-time primary and secondary education completion rates registered 78.6% and 51.9% in rural areas, respectively, compared to totals of around 90.6% and 80% in urban areas.


Since 2007 Peru has conducted the Student Census Evaluation (Evaluación Censal de Estudiantes, ECE) in the second semester of every academic year – with the exception of 2017 – to evaluate skills in reading and mathematics for all students, as well as history and social sciences for secondary students. The results of the ECE carried out in October and November 2018 showed that of children at the pre-primary level, 94.2% reached a satisfactory or somewhat satisfactory level of reading skill and 45% reached the same level in mathematics. At the primary level, these figures were 65.5% and 71.4%, respectively, while at the secondary level, they were 43.9% and 30%, while 47.9% of students reached the same level in social sciences and 46.5% in science and technology. The academic year of 2018 marked the first time the ECE evaluated students in science-related subjects.

In 2019 UNESCO will support the assessment of some 12,000 students at 300 institutions in Peru as part of the fourth Latin American Laboratory for the Evaluation of Education Quality (Laboratorio Latinoamericano de Evaluación de la Calidad de la Educación, LLECE) to evaluate education outcomes across the region. The LLECE, which is scheduled to take place in the second semester of the 2019 academic year, will evaluate students in reading, mathematics and science in order to provide comparative regional data. In addition to the tests, questionnaires will be given to students, parents, teachers and school administrators as part of the Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study to identify factors correlated to better learning outcomes.

Public Education

According to MINEDU, the public education sector has 26 regional departments, 220 local management units, 82,010 schools, 138 universities and 1059 institutes. The start of the 2019 Peruvian academic year in March saw 8.67m students begin school. However, out of the public schools in operation, 63% needed some type of infrastructure investment, with some schools not receiving any support during the 2018-19 December school holiday break due to a lack of funding. As of the start of the 2019 school year, only 20,000 of the 54,368 schools nationwide had successfully received funds to carry out maintenance works as part of the 2019 Maintenance Programme, according to the MINEDU. The remaining funds will continue to be dispersed as the year progresses, with over PEN363m ($109.9m) of the total 2019 education budget earmarked for the refurbishment of schools.

The insufficient budget and growing infrastructure gap were among the main challenges identified at the CADE Educación 2018 summit held in Lima in September 2018. The focus of the event, which brings together members of the public and private sectors and academics, was to discuss inefficiencies in the current system. Speakers at the summit concluded that the structure remains too centralised, leaving schools with little autonomy to tailor education to local needs. To rectify this, the forum suggested changing the organisational structure of public education institutions, and placing teachers and local schools at the centre of the decision-making process.

Private Education

Driven by a competitive market for private education, more than one in every three primary and secondary school students attend private schools. The demand for private education has been driven by a number of factors, namely a growing middle class, years of underfunding in the public system and the sudden boom in cost-effective private institutions targeted at low-income earners as a result of market deregulation. Many informal and low-cost private institutions have proliferated since a law aimed at promoting investment was enacted in 1996, with 60% of all low-cost private institutions and 49% of all high-cost private institutions built after that year. To compare, only 4% of all public institutions have been built since the law came into effect.

Despite their popularity, with nearly 40% of students from the most underprivileged districts in Lima enrolled in private schools in 2018, attending such an institution does not necessarily result in a quality education. For example, in 2016 the number of second-grade students across the country with satisfactory reading comprehension skills dropped by 3.4 percentage points year-on-year; within this figure, the number of students at public schools dipped by 1 percentage point while the figure for private school students fell by 10 percentage points.

While there are high-quality private schools, according to a study conducted by local organisation Group for the Analysis of Development, business performance varies to a great extent, with around 28% of low-cost private education institutions labelling their business as currently or once profitable, compared to about 45.7% of high-cost private schools.

Management priorities also differ between the two, with low-income schools emphasising their location in low-income areas, and high-priced schools prioritising good infrastructure and extracurricular workshops.

Salary Raises

In line with the government’s goal of adequately compensating teachers, the passing of Supreme Decree No.74 of 2019 in March saw the government allocate almost PEN389m ($117.8m) in transfers to regional governments in order to boost teacher salaries by 5% to PEN2100 ($636) per month. According to Daniel Alfaro, the former education minister, this is significantly higher than the monthly salary of PEN1400 ($424) in 2016, and there are plans to raise salaries further to at least PEN2200 ($666) for the 2020 academic year. Salary raises are just one aspect of broader efforts to improve the quality of education and working conditions for teachers. “There has been sustained systematic progress since 2001 due to increased public spending and a number of extracurricular factors. While it is difficult to quantify how much of this is due to teacher participation, it is important to note that a low salary does have the effect of demotivating staff,” Guadalupe told OBG.

While plans to increase teacher salaries were broadly met with celebration, some industry experts were sceptical of the financial sustainability of raising salaries. “If you add the salary raises to the cost of the emergency infrastructure required to improve educational institutions, there is little money leftover in the education budget,” Contreras told OBG. “It must also be recognised that the correlation between teacher salary and performance is not necessarily linear.”

Higher Education 

The rise in university attendance has been supported by a concurrent increase in the number of tertiary institutions. The figure has grown substantially over the past two decades, rising from 72 universities in 2000 to 138 as of May 2019. This process began in 1996 when the series of legislative reforms aimed at promoting investment in the education sector was passed, offering tax incentives to private tertiary institutions. Yet, as with primary and secondary schools, the quality of education at universities remains a topic of national concern. Three of Peru’s universities appeared in the QS World University Rankings 2019, with only one – Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú – ranking in the top 500.

In an effort to improve their performance, MINEDU has been working to reform the segment since 2014 by improving registration and regulation. Notable among these moves has been the promulgation of Law No. 30220 of 2014, also known as the University Law. Among other things, the law created the National Superintendency of University Education ( Superintendencia Nacional de Educación Superior Universitaria, SUNEDU), a new supervisory authority under the purview of MINEDU that assumed a regulatory role over both public and private universities. To ensure universities adhere to a certain set of requirements, SUNEDU launched a licensing programme that gives institutions until the end of 2019 to comply with national standards. As of the beginning of 2019, 70 universities have been accredited through the system.

In addition, MINEDU has set in place a series of programmes and policies. These include Supreme Decree No. 3 of 2018 to establish a PEN3504 ($1060) research grant for professors at higher education institutions promoting innovative research, as well as the continuation of the university professor revaluation reform, where public university professors may earn incremental payments. Universities have received financial incentives as well, valued at a total of PEN542m ($164.1m), for meeting higher education policies, such as sexual harassment prevention, implementation of mental health services, budgetary goals and investment budgets. In late January 2019 the Ministry of Economy and Finance promulgated the National Competitiveness and Productivity Policy to emphasise the importance of increasing national productivity and labour market competitiveness, and the development of human capital through higher education.

Vocational & Technical Training

Another notable challenge in higher education is the mismatch between graduates and private sector demands. For every three students enrolled in university, there is one student attending a technical or vocational school; however, employers in the country’s most dynamic sectors require that approximately 80% of new hires have a technical education. According to the WEF, Peru scored 111th out of 140 countries in digital skills and 106th in the ease of finding skilled employees in the “Global Competitiveness Report 2018”.

The push towards professional and technical higher education constitutes, therefore, a sensible investment, and growth in technical training is strong. For students, the government-funded Beca 18 scholarship programme aims to bridge the education gap and support students who are studying fields attractive to the labour market. In 2019, 4524 recipients will have the complete cost of tuition, supplies, local transport, food and accommodation covered by the scholarship. Potential beneficiaries have access to vocational guidance that will help them in choosing a career that corresponds to the skill-set they possess. The government is also aiming to develop at least one technical public education centre per region as part of its Institutes of Excellence project to train top-level technicians.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment Promotion (Ministerio de Trabajo y Promoción del Empleo, MTPE) has continued to connect the working-age population with the labour market through a number of initiatives. Among these, two of the larger ones include the Jóvenes Productivos, or Productive Youth, programme, which was founded in 2011 to facilitate young people’s access to jobs via training, technical assistance for entrepreneurship and labour intermediation; and the Trabaja Perú, or Peru Works, programme, which generates sustained opportunities in underdeveloped urban and rural areas, and locations affected by emergencies or natural disasters. In 2019 the MTPE will train 600 individuals in skills-building programmes aimed at increasing employability through certifications as part of its Impulsa Perú, or Drive Peru, programme.

The private sector has also played a valuable role in boosting technical training. In October 2018 local institution SENATI, which was founded in December 1961 by the National Society of Industries to provide professional training, organised the 21st Meeting of Educators conference in Lima. Speakers at the meeting focused on how to best provide access to technology in education and influence national policy. In an interview with local media, Carlos Hernández, development manager of SENATI, said that the objective of the day was to share advances in learning and information on how new technologies are transforming business models.

Technology in Education

Recognising the significant benefits to promoting technology in education, regional public and private funded efforts are looking to boost internet access in schools. Access to cheap and reliable internet connections is a basic pillar of any future-oriented education system, according to the WEF, and the UN has recognised access to the internet as a basic human right since 2016.

However, primarily due to budget constraints, Peru has lagged behind the developing world in terms of internet access. There is one computer for every eight children in primary institutions, while at the secondary level there are an average of six for every eight pupils. Although there are some public schools that provide a technology-based curriculum for high-performing students – such as 5143 Talent School in the Lima suburb of Callao – internet access in schools, especially those in rural areas, is generally limited. According to INEI, only 13.5% of primary schools and 44.1% of secondary schools in rural areas had access to the internet in 2017.

A number of private companies have begun investing in promoting the use of technology in the classroom. Spanish multinational telecommunications company Fundación Telefónica runs the Digital Classroom programme, which provides training for both teachers and students in internet use. The initiative will benefit over 133,000 schoolchildren from 480 schools in Ancash, Ayacucho, Cusco and Huancavelica, among others. Meanwhile, South Korea’s Samsung has implemented intelligent classrooms in schools in South America as part of its Smart School programme. In Peru 12 classrooms in nine regions have been established, benefitting more than 12,000 students.


The medium-term future of Peru’s education will be decided by the development and successful implementation of goals outlined in the upcoming PEN 2021-36. However, the plan’s conception and execution will likely depend on budget constraints, immediate infrastructure needs, and materials development and distribution. In the shorter term the recent appointment of Flor Pablo as the minister of education in March 2019 may also lead to strategic changes moving forward. Efforts to reform the regulatory framework, boost teacher salaries, provide qualitative assessment and coordinate national education policy are necessary.

Meanwhile, the skills mismatch that exists between graduates and the private sector, the urban-rural gap, and underperforming private primary and secondary schools highlight further areas that require attention. However, local authorities and international organisations have already taken steps towards overcoming these challenges, and the government appears to be on track to achieve its bold education objectives.