Education has been a part of Chilean culture since the colonial period, when town councils and the Catholic Church established a limited number of elementary schools. Subsequently, the higher education system was introduced in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Universidad de Chile was established in 1842 and based on the previous University of San Felipe. In 1883, following independence, the Instituto Nacional was created for secondary and higher education. During the second half of the nineteenth century, French methodologies strongly influenced growing educational programs, leading to a highly centralized system.
The 1925 constitution established the separation of church and state, upheld the principle of freedom of education and put education under state control. During the late 1920s, public education was reorganized under the newly created Ministry of Education, and the tendencies toward the centralization of education administration and teaching methodologies continued. From the 1920s to the 1970s, primarily in basic education, a tendency toward a scientifically-based methodology that emphasized active teaching centered on student development led to the creation of experimental schools and curricular reforms.
Primary and Secondary Education
Secondary education, on the other hand, began to change in the 1940s from a strictly classically oriented system to one more oriented to the economic development of the country. Vocational-technical education was introduced during this period, and the second public university, Universidad Técnica del Estado, was created. In 1967 the requirement for primary education was increased to grades one through eight, and secondary education (required beginning in 2003) was set at four years, for a total of 12 years of primary and secondary. In the late 1960s normal schools were converted from secondary schools to post-secondary schools. These institutions were subsequently closed by the military government in 1973, and preschool and primary school teacher education was assigned to the universities.
In addition to the Universidad de Chile and the Universidad Técnica del Estado, 4 private universities had been created by 1950. Although private and autonomous, they received funding from the state and were under the supervision of the Universidad de Chile. As a result, the 14,917 students enrolled in higher education in 1950 paid virtually no tuition. By 1960, two additional universities were created, and this total of 8 universities began opening branch campuses throughout the country. This was the situation until 1980, when the military government implemented a policy of privatization and expansion. As a result, the system of higher education was drastically changed, and the 14 branch campuses of the existing universities were granted university status, making a total of 22 accredited universities. At the same time, legal means were established to create additional universities, as well as 2- to 3-year centros de formación técnica (technical training centers) and 4-year institutos profesionales (professional institutes).
In 1990 the Consejo Superior de Educación was created to work in conjunction with the Ministry of Education to accredit new institutions of higher education. By the turn of the century, approximately 390,000 students were enrolled in higher education.