La República de Argentina (The Argentine Republic) is a federal constitutional republic located in southern South America, rising from the South Atlantic Ocean to the highest point in the Andes, Mount Aconcagua, on the northwest border with Chile which forms its entire western border. Bolivia and Paraguay form the northern border, and Uruguay and Brazil lie to the east. Argentina covers the second largest area in South America; only Brazil is larger. The capital and largest city is Buenos Aires; other major cities include Córdoba, Mendoza, Rosario, and Mar del Plata. With a population of some 40 million persons, mostly of white European ancestry (largely Italian and Spanish) with a small percentage (about 3%) of mestizos and native Amerindians. The official language of Argentina is Spanish (Castellano), and the religion of the majority of the population is Roman Catholic with a small number of Protestants, Jews, and others which total less than 10%.
Argentina's political history has been interesting and complicated, military governments having been a dominant force. After its exploration by Juan Díaz de Solís in 1516, the country developed slowly under Spanish colonial rule, partly due to the decline of the Spanish empire. After British occupation during the early 19th century, and Napoleon's defeat of Spain in 1808, Argentina declared its independence on July 9, 1816. After World War II, Colonel Juan Perón was elected president, and his popularity grew due to his wife Evita's charitable works. His political fortunes declined due to opposition to increasing authoritarianism, and in 1955, after Evita's death, a military coup sent him into exile. After a period of rule by military dictatorships, Perón was returned to power in 1973, and his third wife, Isabel de Perón, was elected as his vice president and became president upon his death in 1974. Political unrest and economic insecurity gave rise to a lengthy period of civil turmoil with mostly military rule until elections in 1989 returned the Peronistas to power. President Carlos Menem initiated strict deregulation and privatization measures designed to address the serious recession in Argentina, which in large part did not work. Soon, his political and economic policies lost him the support of the poor and working class, the same people who had supported his election, and in 1999, Fernando de la Rúa became president, continuing and increasing the austere economic measures, but without positive results. Argentina was on the brink of economic collapse and widespread protest against the government's policies forced the president to resign, leading Congress to name a new president in 2002. In 2003, Néstor Kirchner, former governor of Santa Cruz and a Peronista, was elected president. His agenda focused on aggressive economic and political reform, and since he took office, Argentina's debt has been restructured, and the growth rate was reported at about 8% in 2005.
Education and cultural development have been influenced by political trends. President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1868-1874), was the first president to address the need for education in the context of development. His legacy included the building of schools and libraries throughout the country and bringing in European educators. During his presidency, enrollment in public schools more than doubled. The first formal legislation to promote universal education came in 1884 when the Law of Common Education was passed. This provided for free, compulsory, and secular education; however, the secular nature of the educational system created problems with the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Religious education was reestablished in the 1940s. The development of education has also been influenced by the use of censorship and propaganda to attempt to achieve political goals and by serious economic crises. Argentina has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America, estimated at about 97%.
The Argentine educational structure was introduced by European educators, especially from Spain. A strong emphasis has been placed on career training, and military education has also played an important role in the development of the educational system. Academic education includes both free, public institutions and private schools from preschool through university. Currently, the Ministerio de Educación, Ciencia y Tecnología serves as the country's ministry of education.
Primary and Secondary Education
Compulsory education is made up of the cycle of Educación General Básica (EGB) (Basic General Education), grades 1 through 9. Secondary education, now known as Polimodal, provides the option to study academic or specialized career training tracks, and completion of a 3- (sometimes 4-) year course is the requirement for admission to higher education.
Higher education in Argentina includes carreras cortas (short undergraduate programs), licenciatura or título profesional (professional first cycle degrees), and graduate programs through studies leading to the degrees of especialista, maestría, and doctorado.