Chile was part of the Spanish colonial empire until 1818 when it became independent. Under colonialism, education was limited to local elites and was provided by Catholic priests. After independence, thanks to the works of Andrés Bello, Chile sought to introduce public, universal education. Gradually, as urbanization increased, Chile created and expanded public education.
In the 1980s the Pinochet dictatorship attempted to reduce state dominance and public education. The rationale was that schools would compete for quality and the sector would attract private investments, reducing the need for central government funding. However, the private, subsidized schools did not perform significantly better than the public ones, while inequality increased. Successive governments have significantly increased public investment in education and introduced policies to reduce inequities in access, improve teacher training, and reform the school curriculum. In recent years, Chile has undertaken significant reforms to strengthen public schools, improve teachers’ careers, and ensure the quality of education provision.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) PISA data shows that Chile was the only South American country that consistently improved students´ learning, which is now the best in the region. Chile went from 410 (2000) to 449 points (2009) in reading and from 438 (2006) to 447 points in science (2015). However, this is still below OECD standards, compared with the standardized scores of around 500.
The stages of the Chilean education system are:
Preschool: For children up to 5 years old.
Primary school: Comprising 6 grades, for children aged 6 to 11 years old.
Secondary school: Comprising 6 grades for teenagers aged 12 to 17 years. The curriculum offers science subjects (chemistry, biology, math, physics) as well as humanities (history, literature, philosophy). Technical-professional subjects are also offered in areas such as electrics, mechanics, and metalwork.
Higher education: Offered by universities, which are the professional institutes that offer professional degrees, and technical schooling centers, which only offer technical degrees.
Fabián Barrera-Pedemonte, has a PhD in Education from the Institute of Education, University College London, and has developed research and consultancy projects in education in Chile, the United Kingdom, Germany, and El Salvador. He has been recently awarded with the prestigious Thomas J. Alexander fellowship by the OECD, as well as the post-doctoral research fellowship granted by the College for Interdisciplinary Educational Research (CIDER), Germany. His interests include cross-national comparisons, impact evaluations, and policies for teachers and school leaders. Fabián is also a lecturer in quality education and research methods in different master’s programs in Chile.
 The majority of text in this page is sourced from , Education in South America (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).
PISA 2015 (n.d.), “Chile,”
(accessed December 28, 2018)
, for further information.