Since the early 1970s, education from ages 6 to 13 has been mandatory in Bolivia. However, nationwide education rates after primary school have decreased drastically, with less than a quarter of young adults attending. The infrastructure of Bolivia’s education system, particularly in rural areas, is very underdeveloped, making girls’ access to education bleaker. However, the country is making strides to improve the quality of its education system. Here are 10 facts about girls’ education in Bolivia and the implemented laws and programs in place to enhance it.
10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Bolivia
- Urban vs Rural: A big part in determining the quality and endurance of each child’s education depends a lot on their socioeconomic status, region and gender. According to a UNICEF report, a girl living in the Amazon may only receive two years of schooling, while the son of an affluent family in the city could receive up to a 14-year education. Even within the city, there is gender disparity among ethnicity. For example, a city girl of indigenous background is only half as likely to complete her education as an urban boy of non-indigenous background.
- Indigenous People: Ethnicity has played a role in the suffering Bolivian education system, particularly in terms of income and class. While there have been slow improvements, the gender and ethnicity gap still remains. Indigenous women are five times less likely to complete secondary school education in comparison to non-indigenous males, mostly due to a limitation of proper resources to succeed in school and a lack of easy access to schools. UNICEF Bolivia initiated a four-year-long program from 2018 that works to improve “gender trends across different socio-economic structures.”
- Avelino Siñani-Elizardo Pérez: Bolivia passed the Avelino Siñani-Elizardo Pérez law in 2010 with the goal of making education a plurinational system in Bolivia. Alternative and special education are on the rise as a result of the passing of this law. Alternative education offers schooling for those 15 years or older, also known as continuing education outside of the classroom and through a department in the Ministry of Education. Special education focuses on helping people with disabilities learn. A translation of Article 10 reads that the law will “complement and articulate humanistic education with…gender equity.”
- Sanitation and Hygiene: Research shows that most rural schools do not have the resources for sanitation products for juvenile girls which affects girls’ education in Bolivia. These young women do not receive the help and equipment they need to transition into this new stage of life. In fact, the report concluded that this lack of support stems from the stigma and misconceptions about menstruation. The government has reported that many girls feel embarrassed or confused due to a lack of skills to manage menstruation and their companions often tease them. This leads to distraction from schoolwork, which can cause them to fail their classes.
- Gender-based Approach: UNICEF is stepping in to help bridge the disparity among gender and ethnicity in the education system. In a report, it says it has taken a gender-based approach in order to reach the most impoverished areas of the country and provide girls there with a better education. It plans to do this through a three-part system of “multilingual education, right-age enrollment, and child-centered pedagogy.” With an emphasis on educating and providing girls with resources from adolescent ages, UNICEF hopes to address many roadblocks for children in Bolivia.
- Discrimination: Among the small population of girls who pursue secondary and tertiary levels of education, they find themselves facing other hurdles, such as discrimination. According to a report by the World Bank, 20 percent of these women, particularly those who are indigenous or Afro-descendants, face discrimination when they pursue higher education. Much of the discrimination they face is based on their skin color, language, economic circumstances, gender, clothing and age. Programs like UNICEF develop new strategies to help tackle the marginalized indigenous groups of Bolivia and ensure they receive equal educational opportunities throughout their whole life.
- Secondary School Statistics: As of 2018, statistics show that the gender gap among secondary school students increases as social class lowers. In high-income families, the gender gap is almost nonexistent with both genders at about 95 percent completion rate. In middle-class families, there is only a marginal difference of about 3 to 4 percent. However, low-income families have the biggest gap, with almost a 10 percent difference.
- Future Employment: In 2009, the authoritarian form of government in Bolivia fell and democracy took its place. Bolivia has provided more educational, political and economic opportunities for women to involve themselves in their country due to these changes in the political structure. The workforce has seen a 7 percent increase from women, female representation has increased by 37 percent since 2002 and 46 percent of women feel free to participate in their political system, in comparison to the male statistic of 50 percent.
- The Programme: The mass migration of families to urban areas has left a large amount of poverty and single mothers in its wake. In an effort to increase the employment rate of these rural women, an initiative called The Programme helps these impoverished families by teaching them about property ownership and sustainable practices. The Programme does not provide them with traditional education but instead takes on a two-part plan to teach women tools to be able to provide for their families. The first part of this plan is transferring a monetary portion for “seed capital, startup grants, joint venture and risk capital.” The second part involves training and services that teach women about civic education and “full use of citizenship.” The Programme has successfully helped over 4,000 women find employment.
- Child Labor: Reports have found some of the worst forms of child labor in Bolivia, such as agriculture and sexual exploitation. A practice known as padrinazgo sends rural children to urban areas for better educational opportunities but leads to forced child labor. People have launched many programs over the past decade to end child labor, such as the Safe Terminal Program, which increases awareness and provides training to transportation officials about forced labor. However, despite the quantity of implemented programs, inclusivity of all regions and funding remain two issues that keep them from effectively reducing child labor.
There are definitely ways to go in improving the quality of education for the marginalized population of Bolivia, particularly for its young girls. However, with Bolivia taking on different initiatives and its government prioritizing poverty reduction, there is a promise that Bolivia’s education system will develop a strong infrastructure and be inclusive of all ethnicities and genders.
– Shreya Chari