This morning, together with 95% of Ecuadoreans between the ages of 6 and 12, and 65% between the ages of 12 and 18, I headed to school. I had a full day of language and culture lessons ahead of me, in an attempt to convert my Italian into Spanish. The Ecuadorean children would be at school from early in the morning until lunch time and have a broad range of subjects on their curriculum. My day would be rather shorter, starting at 9 and ending at 3, and focussing purely on getting my Spanish up to scratch.
The left wing government in Ecuador has invested a lot in education at all levels. Following a period of political instability and 7 changes in president in 10 years, the Correa government and its Constitution and Buen Vivir development plan have brought some sustainability and allowed focus on education. The government has increased spending on education from 1.2% GDP in 2000 to 4.2% today. The government have enacted a lot of reforms. At the tertiary level, for instance, to make education more accessible, they have ended fees at public universities and increased the budget for tertiary education from USD335m in 2008 to near USD1bn in 2014. Enrolment is growing twice as fast as the population and now 25% of university students come from poor backgrounds (11% before the programme started).
The dramatic expenditure of recent years stands against a more challenging backdrop. The previous regular political changes meant education policy was fragmented and quality suffered as a result. Back in 2006, 42% of the population had not completed 10 years of basic education. Those from indigenous or Afro-Ecuadorean backgrounds were substantially less likely to have progressed with their studies. Although the education system might now be improving, challenges certainly remain for those who have not benefited from these improvements.
Meanwhile I am facing a rather different challenge as I battle my way through the grammar of the Spanish imperative…