Education in Uruguay

Despite being one of the smaller nations of South America, the Oriental Republic of Uruguay boasts some of the most successful education statistics in the continent. In fact, Education in Uruguay boasts statistics among the best in the world.

According to the U.N. Development Program’s Education Index in 2013, Uruguay is “slightly better educated than the average country at 0.71 out of one” while the world’s median is 0.65. The Republic also boasts a 98.36 percent adult literacy rate, making them rank first out of 12th for South America and 33rd in the world’s ranking.

Education is compulsory in Uruguay for students between the ages of six and 11, and free at all levels. Its capital of Montevideo is also the major center for education and the home of the main and only public university: University of the Republic. Across the board, classrooms have a great student per teacher ratio, at 13.8 students per teacher. This assuring statistic has resulted in a greater amount of attention given to pupils in addition to higher grade averages.

The commitment to compulsory education in Uruguay dates back to the 1800s when President José Pedro Varela convinced the government to pass the 1877 Law of Common Education. This key statute instituted a model for public school systems and was made in the image of the French academic system. It created three separate branches – primary, secondary, and university levels. Although president for only one year, Varela’s impact remains influential to the country’s education system.

Uruguay’s commitment to education even goes so far as to become the first country to give free laptops and Wi-Fi connection to every student across the country. In 2009, President Tabaré Vázquez finalized the inaugural project “Plan Ceibal” which gave laptops to all grade school students and their teachers. The project worked in alliance with non-profit One Laptop Per Child, an organization with a mission to distribute low-cost laptops to poor children all over the world.

Education in Uruguay only continues to improve classroom conditions and technologies with each succeeding year. Minister of Education and Culture María Julia Muñoz and American Ambassador to Uruguay Kelly Keiderling recently renewed a Fulbright partnership between the two countries, which will allow teachers to learn modern education methods from their Fulbright scholars.

Muñoz stated that the Ministry of Education and Culture has even increased their contribution to the partnership program from 60,000 dollars to 100,000 dollars, to maintain their marked dedication to the lives of Uruguayan students and teachers.

The continued efforts of Uruguayan leaders will undoubtedly secure the significance of academia as an apex of the Oriental Republic and its culture. Further movements concerning the Education of Uruguay are, therefore, not to be discredited.

Ashley Morefield

Photo: Flickr

Ethical Vacation Destinations
Recently becoming the world’s largest industry, travel is one of the hottest commodities on the market. With a trillion-dollar annual footprint, the travel business has major economic and political power. However, not all destinations are created equal. Where you, as a traveler, choose to journey can either encourage best practice behavior from mindful countries, or support the harmful tourist industries of their irresponsible counterparts.

Ethical Traveler is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that seeks to use tourism to protect human rights and the environment. Every year, Ethical Traveler compiles a list of 10 developing countries with vibrant tourism industries that will put your traveling expenses to good use.

The countries that made the list are those that scored best in the categories of support of human rights, preservation of the environment, social welfare and animal welfare. According to Ethical Traveler, “Each country selected as a Best Ethical Destination also offers the opportunity to experience unspoiled natural beauty, and to interact with local people and cultures in a meaningful, mutually enriching way.”

This year’s winners may surprise you; the majority of these unusual destinations are off the beaten path, but promise an outstanding vacation with values you can feel good about. Here are the 10 most ethical vacation destinations.

The Bahamas

These islands prioritize conservation and sustainability, as shown by the efforts to establish new Marine Protected Areas and the expansion of a number of protected acres in a major National Park. The Bahamas made great strides to combat human trafficking this year, with the first prosecution under human trafficking law.


Cited by Ethical Traveler as a “best practice model for the Caribbean,” Barbados promotes sustainable tourism while protecting its coastline. The child mortality rate in Barbados is particularly low, and this nation received the highest possible score in the categories of Political Rights and Civil Liberties –higher even than some developed countries.

Cape Verde

This country has the goal of making energy 100 percent renewable over the next two decades. Cape Verde is also an outstanding example of an African country with stellar attention to political and civil rights, with laws that prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and holding its first Gay Pride Week this year — the second to take place in all of Africa.


This island boasts unspoiled forests and native species. An emphasis on protecting wildlife includes the preservation of native frog and iguana populations, along with a valiant effort to save endemic mountain chickens, which only inhabit two islands in the world. Dominica has expanded solar power across the island, and has the goal of being energy-independent and carbon negative by 2020.


Of the winning destinations, Latvia scored the highest in environmental protection. This nation has been acknowledged as one of the top performers in the world in both environmental public health and ecosystem vitality. Not only does this country have a pristine environmental record, it is the highest ranked of the 10 countries in gender equality.


Like Latvia, Lithuania is a leader in environmental and animal protection. Lithuania made strides in social welfare this year by reaching it’s Millennium Development Goal for under 5 mortality rate, which has dropped by a whopping 52 percent since 2000.


This year Mauritius announced an impressive renewable energy goal, aiming for 35 percent renewable use over the next two decades. The U.N. praised Mauritius for having made ‘substantial progress’ in social welfare this year, due to their improvements in property rights and labor freedom.


In Palau, 28.2 percent of precious marine and terrestrial area is protected – the highest percentage out of all the countries on this list. Press freedom in Palau is impressive; this country prides itself on exemplary freedom of press for a developing country.


Uruguay is in the process of building 21 wind farms, and is working toward the goal of 90 percent renewable electricity by 2015. Uruguay dominates the category of human rights, with laws passed this year allowing marriage equality and the legalization of steps toward ending unsafe abortions. This country’s equality ranking was second only to Chile.

By visiting the destinations on this list, travelers can reward developing countries for their promotion of sustainable tourism and ethical laws. The additional economic support from tourism will allow these nations to continue improving their countries, and protect the valuable natural resources that make them such appealing places to explore.

Grace Flaherty 

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, Ethical Traveler
Photo: BBC

uruguay’s “poor” president
The Economist recently named Uruguay the 2013 country of the year, noting that the country, which is described as “modest yet bold, liberal and fun-loving,” also has a leader who fits that description as well.

President Jose “Pepe” Mujica, also known as the world’s poorest President, has drawn attention not only because of his policies and bold leadership, but also because of his leadership philosophy and modest lifestyle.

At a time when world leaders often have hoards of staffers at their beck and call, it is a rare phenomenon to see a President who looks on convention and decides against it. Uruguay’s “poor” president lives in a small, one-bedroom farmhouse with his wife and donates 90 percent of his salary to charity. He drives a Volkswagen Beetle and he rarely wears a suit.

Uruguay, which has seen its fair share of conflict, has been able to make tremendous strides in poverty reduction over the past few years, falling from 22.4 percent of the population in 2008 to 12.4 percent in 2012. With a President who leads by example, it’s clear that he is just what the country needs during times of austerity and difficult decisions.

Here are 5 famous quotes from Uruguay’s Presidnet Mujica on his thoughts about revolution, leadership, and global consumption

1. “I’ve seen some springs that ended up being terrible winters. We human beings are gregarious. We can’t live alone. For our lives to be possible, we depend on society. It’s one thing to overturn a government or block the streets. But it’s a different matter altogether to create and build a better society, one that needs organization, discipline and long-term work. Let’s not confuse the two of them. I want to make it clear: I feel sympathetic with that youthful energy, but I think it’s not going anywhere if it doesn’t become more mature.”

2. “It seems that we have been born only to consume and to consume, and when we can no longer consume, we have a feeling of frustration, and we suffer from poverty, and we are auto-marginalized.”

3. “We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means, by being prudent, the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction. But we think as people and countries, not as a species.”

4. “Businesses just want to increase their profits; it’s up to the government to make sure they distribute enough of those profits so workers have the money to buy the goods they produce… It’s no mystery — the less poverty, the more commerce. The most important investment we can make is in human resources.”

5. “My goal is to achieve a little less injustice in Uruguay, to help the most vulnerable and to leave behind a political way of thinking, a way of looking at the future that will be passed on and used to move forward. There’s nothing short-term, no victory around the corner… What I want is to fight for the common good to progress.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: 1, 2, The Economist, Vice News, Al Jazeera, World Bank

Since the Syrian civil war began to flare in 2011, more than 2 million Syrians have fled the country in order to seek refuge and safety. Most of the refugees — about 1,130,000 of them — have relocated to Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon. Other countries are granting immigration visas, humanitarian visas or loosening up their asylum grants in order to aid the cause.

José Mujica, president of Uruguay, has taken the cause into his own hands. He has decided to not only open up his country, but also his very home to 100 Syrian orphans, all put in their current position by the conflict. Although this appears to be an unusual and bold move, Mujica is the right man to execute it.

José Alberto Mujica Cordano spent the 60’s and 70’s as a member of the Uruguayan guerrilla Tupamaros, where he was shot six times and spent 14 years in jail, only being released when Uruguay returned to a democracy in 1985. He believes his background and time spent in jail has helped form his outlook on life.

Mujica has been President of Uruguay since 2010. He has gained worldwide popularity as “The World’s Poorest President” because of his choice to donate 90 percent of his salary to charities and small entrepreneurs throughout the country, leaving his salary at about $775 a month. He drives a Volkswagon Beetle and lives in a farmhouse right outside of Montevideo with his wife, where they work the land themselves. He says this about his lifestyle:

“I’m called the poorest president, but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more,” and “I may appear to be an eccentric old man… But this is a free choice.”

He also stated at the Rio+20 summit in June that if all countries consumed at the same rate as the rich ones, then we would be adding further harm to our planet. Thus, envying their status and wealth does nothing for them.

The plan is for the children to begin arriving around September from refugee camps in the Middle East. The exact number of people is still to be decided, since the Uruguayan government has to work out the expenses, and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) protocol calls for orphans to be relocated with at least one relative.

Mujica is facing a bit of backlash from the Uruguayan people because he deviated from the original plan to consult his constituents about the issue, but he made the decision without doing so. He is also getting bad reviews for doing this international aid move when there are orphans in Uruguay that need assistance as well.

Lucia Topolansky, Mujica’s wife, says their decision to take in the Syrian orphans is one to “motivate all the countries of the world to take responsibility for this catastrophe.”

The UN is hoping to relocate another 30,000 refugees this year, and if other countries follow José Mucija’s example, they may have success in the relocation process.

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: BBC, SHOAH, Elite Daily
Photo: The Guardian

Legalize Cannabis
After recent moves to legalize cannabis around the world have begun to gain ground internationally, particularly in Uruguay and the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington, the United Nations has announced its opposition to the legalization movement.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of the U.N. has warned that legalizing cannabis poses “a very grave danger to public health” and that the movement has taken place based on “misguided incentives.”

In fact, a report released by the INCB has indicated that following the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, there has been an increase in car crashes due to driving while under the influence of marijuana.

The INCB supports the more traditional stance against drugs. The president of the INCB, Raymond Yans, said, “Drug-traffickers will choose the path of least resistance, so it is essential that global efforts to tackle the drug problem are unified…when governments consider their future policies on this, the primary consideration should be the long-term health and welfare of the population.”

Uruguay became the first country to legalize marijuana after its legislature passed a bill in December 2013. The law allows the country to regulate all aspects of the drug, including the sale and the production. The law permits Uruguayans older than 18 years old to register for marijuana at their local pharmacies before being able to buy up to 1.4 ounces of the drug.

The president of Uruguay, José Mujica, has stated that with the new law he hopes to fight the drug trafficking cartels in the region and to reduce incentives for beginning harder drugs. This viewpoint has been criticized in the INCB report, which states that legalization would not reduce the blackmarkets for the marijuana and that widespread use of the drug after legalization would only cause increasing addiction and greater use of other, more illicit drugs.

In Colorado, the sale of marijuana for recreational use became legal in January, after 55% of Coloradans voted in approval of legalizing it. People over the age of 21 may buy up to one ounce of marijuana. The retail marijuana has a tax of 25% state tax plus 2.9% of the normal state sales tax. Out of the expected $67 million in revenue, roughly $27.5 million is to be used to build schools and help with other educational expenses.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: The Guardian, BBC, The Guardian
Photo: Thunderbirdrising

One Laptop Per Child
Uruguay was the first country in the world to provide a laptop to every primary school student. Plan Ceibal, Uruguay’s national One Laptop Per Child project, provided an XO laptop to each of the 395,000 children in first through sixth grades. The acronym Ceibal stands for Basic Informatic Educative Connectivity for Online Learning (Conectividad Educativa de Informática Básica para el Aprendizaje en Línea).

One Laptop Per Child, a non-profit based in Massachusetts, strives to provide each child in developing nations with a low-cost, low-power laptop. Through this technology, children become more engaged in their education and more connected to one another. The laptops are designed to be highly power efficient, with the ability to use solar power, generators, wind power or water power.

“This is not simply the handing out of laptops or an education program. It is a program which seeks to reduce the gap between the digital world and the world of knowledge,” Miguel Brechner explained, director of the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay and in charge of Plan Ceibal.

In Uruguay, the Plan Ceibal program has a cost of $260 per child, including maintenance costs, equipment repairs, teacher training and internet connection. The total figure represents less than 5 % of the country’s education budget.

The XO laptops, with Linux operating software, can connect directly to one another, meaning that a single point of access can be shared among a community of XO users.

Education in Uruguay is among the best of the Latin American countries. Uruguay has one of the highest adult literacy rates of all of Latin America. Elementary education is mandatory and free; secondary and technical education are also free. As the first country to implement a One Laptop Per Child program, Uruguay is setting the model for other countries, such as Rwanda, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru, which have all adapted a One Laptop Per Child program.

Haley Sklut

Sources: One Laptop Per Child, Sources: BBC
Photo: Kit Guru

Protests against mining Uruguay’s large reserves of ore mount, as civil society groups like Uruguay Libre Campaign propose a referendum that will create an amendment banning large scale open-pit mining in the Latin American country. Headed by the mining company Minera Aratiri of the British Zamin Ferrous company, the Valentine Project (named for its location in the Valentine region) will create a mining site 155 miles south of Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital.

A 130 mile-long underground pipeline will be created to transfer the slurry from the mines to a mining port off the Uruguayan coast, Rio de la Plata.The project promises 18 million tons of ore per year from the 2,500 million tons of ore the country houses. Iron ore is used in construction as steel and for developing infrastructure. Presently, Uruguay exports beef and grains but hopes to add iron ore to the list.

The Valentines Project is an investment that can total up to $3 billion.

Previous protests against mining in Uruguay were in 2008 when global mining company Rio Tinto aimed to develop a mining port in Nueva Palmira and Colonia Agraciada.

The project was set to cost around $205 million but was eventually terminated due to the financial crisis in 2009.

Apart from imposing upon localities, the mining in Uruguay project would have destroyed the environment as well as polluting the waters and air of the region.

Similar ecological consequences threaten the environment with the Valentine Project, including land erosion, pollution and poison gas emissions.

Currently, the referendum for a constitutional amendment is pending, an act that is meant to overturn a law that legalizes large-scale mining in Uruguay, which was passed in September 2013.

The September law passed legislature with a 52-30 vote, effectively imposing taxes and setting environmental regulations. Company profits from mining will be taxed 25 percent while all mining projects will be taxed 38 percent.

Whether the referendum will pass or not, large scale mining in Uruguay is here to stay.

 – Miles Abadilla

Sources: Earth is Land Journal,, Upside Down WorldMines and Communities,
Photo: Lemur Project

The number of Uruguayan citizens living below the poverty line of less than $1.25 a day has halved since 1990. This drastic reduction in poverty in Uruguay means the South American country has successfully achieved the first of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

In 2012, the rate of poverty in Uruguay, defined as those earning less than $1.25 a day, decreased to 12.4 percent of the overall population. Uruguay’s Minister of Social Development, Daniel Olesker, points to labor and health reforms to explain these achievements.

Ever since the 2002 economic collapse of its neighbor, Argentina, Uruguay has slowly struggled its way out of indigence. In 2004, the poverty rate hit a high of 39.9 percent and has steadily decreased since due to efforts on behalf of the government to provide more funds for social inclusion programs.

In early 2005, the then-President of Uruguay, Dr. Tabaré Vasquez, revealed a two-year Emergency Social Program to aid the most vulnerable members of Uruguayan society. The program addressed pressing issues such as food, shelter, health, work and education for the most destitute in Uruguay.

Other programs aimed at reducing poverty in Uruguay include a family allowance program wherein “vulnerable” families are given a subsidy of around 700 pesos per month, a sum equal to about $31. Families in more extreme conditions may receive up to double that amount.

As a result of these reforms, the number of homeless people living in Uruguay fell to .5 percent of the population. Despite the success of these public policies, it continues to elude the segment of the population in the lowest rung of the income distribution.

The current President of Uruguay, José Mujica, is known as a champion of the poor and sets an example for citizens of Uruguay by living modestly. He donates 90 percent of his income as president to charities working on housing for the poor and lives on a small farm outside Montevideo instead of the presidential palace.

Jeff Meyer

Sources: Presidencia, The Guardian, El Mundo, Xinhuanet, La Republica
Photo: IPS

18.6 % of the population is below the poverty line in Uruguay. Although the majority of this poverty in Uruguay is not extreme, it is still problematic. Like many of other South American countries, Uruguay struggles with alleviating extreme poverty for the poorest sections of its population. The country is also trying to prevent those who are only slightly below the poverty line from plummeting further into the category of the extreme poor.

The small South American nation experienced an economic boom in the early 1990’s followed by a damaging recession in 1995. This recession left a lasting impression on the economy, which to this day continues to suffer. The recession caused a widespread loss of jobs across the country and an increasingly wide income gap. The poverty is not debilitating, but it is significant enough to render notice from the international community. According to the World Bank’s 2001 report on Uruguay, “reduction in poverty is highly dependent on growth, and pockets of poverty and unemployment still exist and in recent years have shown some increase.”

Uruguay also struggles with the high number of children who are born into poverty. The World Bank reports that “children have become a significant portion of the poor with about 40% of Uruguay’s children born into poor families, pointing to a potentially serious problem of inter-generational poverty.” This threat of continuing, irreversible poverty is very concerning. The longer poverty continues to ravage Uruguay, the more entrenched it will become as it roots itself in disenfranchised communities.

The poverty problem in Uruguay is not the most dire in the world, but it requires confrontation. In order for the poverty problem in Uruguay to be eradicated, the economy must be fundamentally changed and social welfare programs must be instituted.

– Josh Forgét

Sources: The CIA World Factbook, The World Bank
Photo: Tico Times