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The following OECD assessment and recommendations summarise chapter 4 of the Economic Survey of Chile published on 27 January 2010.
The quality of education in public schools should improve further
Chile’s PISA scores have improved recently, probably owing to considerable efforts since 1990 to improve results, especially in schools serving the poorest children. However, average scores still fall well short of OECD standards, even when accounting for Chile’s lower income level. In addition, they are more strongly dependent on students’ socio-economic background than in any OECD country, suggesting that until recently schools did not do enough to help disadvantaged pupils attain better results. Municipal and private subsidised schools, which serve more than 90% of all children, are financed by a system of vouchers, providing until recently an essentially flat subsidy per student. Private subsidised schools are allowed to ask for top-up fees from parents, up to a limit. Private subsidised, but not municipal schools had been largely free to select and expel students until 2009. This had created incentives to compete by attracting students that are easier to teach, limiting the beneficial effects of school competition on the quality of education. The government has now prohibited selection by ability or socio-economic background until sixth grade in publicly funded (municipal and private subsidised) primary schools. It should make sure that this is enforced, while considering extending the prohibition of selection to secondary school. The creation of an independent agency for quality evaluation and assurance, the Agencia de Calidad de la Educación, and an agency ensuring schools’ compliance with the law, the Superintendencia de Educación is welcome. It may provide information that fosters competition on quality and make sure that the government intervenes when results fall short of minimum standards.
Directing more resources at vulnerable pupils is appropriate
The education voucher was recently increased substantially for the poorest children (Subvención Escolar Preferencial, SEP) with some extra payments for schools where these children are concentrated. This is based on the well founded assumption that it is more difficult to educate vulnerable children, especially when they are concentrated. One good use for the extra resources would be to increase wage incentives for teachers of proven excellence to teach in schools with many poor children. Another good use for the extra funds could be to provide principals with sufficient staff to delegate administrative tasks and train principals continuously to develop their educational leadership skills. Chile has already launched promising programmes to train principals and it should develop them further. In general, the government should provide for independent evaluation of methods financed with the extra resources to promote learning outcomes of students with poor results. It should identify good practices and provide schools with the necessary assistance to help disseminate them through the system.
In principle, the increased subsidy for vulnerable children could be an incentive for more advantaged schools to accept vulnerable children and meet their educational needs. However, schools are not required to enter the SEP system. Accepting the SEP should become mandatory to promote socio-economic integration. The government’s plan to integrate the separate quality assurance system for SEP schools into the general national quality assurance system for all publicly funded schools, once it is fully developed, is welcome. This will reduce the risk that the special quality assurance system for SEP schools could be a disincentive to enter this system.
The quality of teachers and their preparation needs to be improved
Substantial increases of teachers’ wages over the past 15 20 years have attracted increasingly better prepared students to the profession, but a recent pilot exam for primary school teaching graduates has revealed remaining deficiencies. To attract more talented individuals the government could work towards defining teaching career paths for publicly funded schools, with promotions more closely linked to performance. Chile has already developed a well thought out teacher evaluation programme, which would be a good basis to implement such career paths. It currently applies only to municipal school teachers and should be extended to all publicly funded schools, as teacher quality is wanting across the entire system. Currently, private subsidised schools have much more flexibility over teacher employment and pay, creating unequal conditions to compete. All schools should have some flexibility to decide on teachers’ wages and on hiring or dismissing them.
Chile needs to build on its efforts to improve training for teachers at all levels of education. First, the quality control of initial teacher education programmes needs to become more effective. Parallel to university programmes, special programmes (Programas Especiales de Titulación) currently train a substantial percentage of candidates, although they have been found to suffer from serious deficiencies regarding entry requirements, the quality of their educators and their teaching programmes. The government should ensure that the accreditation process leads to closure of deficient programmes. Second, given the persistent weaknesses of basic and secondary education, many students arrive at university with insufficient literacy and numeracy skills. As long as learning outcomes at school have not improved sufficiently, universities should systematically offer remedial classes to make up for this. Third, primary school teachers are trained as generalists and their training does not include sufficient subject content knowledge even for lower grades. This problem becomes especially acute in the upper grades of primary school which currently lasts eight years. The government plans to reduce primary school to six years and this is welcome, because secondary school teachers have more specialised training. However, this will require a rapid expansion of the available programme that offers a post-graduate degree in specific school subjects for practicing teachers (Postítulos de Mención) so that their subject content knowledge is upgraded quickly. Initial teacher programmes should upgrade the teaching of subject content knowledge as well. Aspirant and practising teachers alike need more specialised training in how to identify students at risk of falling behind and provide them with the support they need to catch up. One way to ensure that initial teacher education helps candidates attain appropriate standards of knowledge and abilities would be to develop centralised external exit exams to certify teachers. OECD experience suggests that this is useful in a system like Chile’s where teacher education programmes are of very variable quality.
How to obtain this publication
The complete edition of the Economic Survey of Chile is available from:
The Policy Brief (pdf format) can be downloaded in English. It contains the OECD assessment and recommendations.
For further information please contact the Chile Desk at the OECD Economics Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The OECD Secretariat's report was prepared by Nicola Brandt, Cyrille Schwellnus and Rodrigo Paillacar under the supervision of Patrick Lenain. Research assistance was provided by Roselyne Jamin, Jehan Sauvage and Valéry Dugain.