The Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia (Plurinational State of Bolivia) is one of only two landlocked countries in South America. Located in western South America, its terrain presents dramatic contrasts. Surrounded on the west by Chile and Perú, on the north and northeast by Brazil, on the southeast by Paraguay, and on the south by Argentina, the country's topography ranges from snow capped mountains to lush rain forests and from semiarid plains of the Gran Chaco to the windswept high plateau of the Altiplano. Sucre is the constitutional and judiciary capital, and La Paz, the largest city, is the administrative capital and the seat of government. Other major cities include Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, El Alto, Oruro, and Potosí. The ethnicity of the population of some 9 million is more than one half Amerindian (Quechua and Aymara) with mestizos and persons of white European ancestry making up about 45%. The official languages of Bolivia are Spanish as well as 36 indigenous languages including Quechua and Aymara. The majority of the population is of the Roman Catholic faith even though many of indigenous descent maintain some elements of their pre-Christian beliefs, with a small number of Protestants (Evangelical Methodists) and others which total about 5%.
The Altiplano was the home of the great Tihuanaco Empire even before the time of the Incas. The Aymara was absorbed into the Inca Empire centuries before the Spanish Conquest of the Incas which began in 1532 with Gonzalo and Hernando Pizarro. The indigenous inhabitants were defeated by 1538, and the discovery of rich veins of silver soon thereafter quickly attracted Spanish explorers and exploiters. Despite local uprisings against the Spaniards during more than two centuries, Bolivia remained under Spanish control until the campaigns of South American heroes José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar-for whom the country of Bolivia was eventually named. Independence was formally declared in 1825, and Bolívar drew up the constitution for the new Republic.
From the time of independence, Bolivia struggled with political corruption and economic underdevelopment and sustained devastating losses of land and resources. (Bolivia possessed access to the Pacific at the time of independence.) Political unrest and economic insecurity have given rise to more than 190 coups and revolutions since 1825. Some presidents attempted to achieve reform, but for the most part, bitter strife over such issues as mining rights and territorial disputes and internal corruption continued to plague Bolivia into the 20th century. By 1956, the Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario (MNR) party supported by a militia made up of the national police, miners, and peasants, came into power, expropriating and nationalizing large tin holdings and instituting austere economic measures and an agrarian reform program as well as educational reform, health programs, and construction projects. But, again, there followed periods of military rule.
During the 1980's, democratic elections and civil rule were restored, but government austerity policies fomented renewed labor unrest, inflation, and civil disturbances. Some progress, though, was seen in the age-old problem of coca production. In 1993, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, an entrepreneur, became president and continued and expanded economic policies of Victor Paz Estenssoro and his successor, Jaime Paz Zamora, pursuing policies of privatization, government incentives, and free-market reforms. Sánchez also began a social security program and supported efforts to provide funding and assistance for growing alternative crops in the on-going coca-eradication effort. The anti-drug program led to economic difficulties which, in turn, led to more civil unrest. A state of emergency was declared in 2000. Bolivia's economic difficulties, anti-privatization sentiment, the campaign against the growing of coca, proposed tax increases, disagreement over autonomy for Santa Cruz Province, and increases in fuel prices were some of issues contributing to increasingly violent protests and led to increasing political assertiveness by the indigenous population. In the election of December 2005, candidate and indigenous activist Evo Morales of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) (Movement Toward Socialism) won the presidency. His major goals include nationalization of the Bolivian natural gas industry, formation of an assembly to rewrite the Bolivian constitution-with a focus on ensuring greater rights to Bolivia's indigenous population, and legalization of the growing of coca.
The development of education has been impeded by the chronic political instability in Bolivia. During the colonial period, education was mostly provided only to the sons of the wealthy European families. After independence, a number of government decrees called for universal education, but the native population and other poor were still largely neglected. By 1900, only about 17% of the adult population was literate. A teaching mission from Belgium made some progress in the structure and development of rural schools, and in 1947, a law calling for universal literacy marked the beginning of the government's first widespread effort to educate the population. A more comprehensive law was passed in 1956, called for compulsory education for all children between the ages of seven and fourteen. Legislation in the 1980s focused for the first time on the unique problems of education in the Quechua- and Aymara-speaking populations, and by the beginning of the 21st century, the literacy rate had increased to more than 87%.
Currently, the Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deportes serves as Bolivia's ministry of education.
Primary and Secondary Education
Compulsory education currently consists of the cycle of Educación Primaria (Primary Education) which covers grades 1 through 8. Secondary education, usually a 4-year cycle, provides both academic studies required for admission to higher education and technical/vocational/career training options.
Higher education in Bolivia includes short undergraduate programs leading to titles such as técnico superior, professional first degrees of licenciado(a) or títulos profesionales, and graduate programs leading to the titles such as of Experto, Maestría, and Doctorado.