By Nick Clark, Editor, World Education News & Reviews
After periods of mass inflation and political insurrection through the 1980s and 1990s, Peru has blossomed economically over the last few years and has become a major tourist destination. In the educational realm, this is reflected by an ever increasing number of overseas students coming to the country to study for short and long-term programs. Today in fact there are more U.S. students in Peru than there are Peruvian students in the United States. Nonetheless, the country still faces challenges in offering equal educational opportunities to all of its citizens.
In 1996, the government of Peru passed education reforms that extended free and compulsory school education to all students aged between 5 and 16, known as educación básica (general stream) y técnico productiva (technical). However, the secondary period of compulsory education is somewhat aspirational as approximately one quarter of the relevant age group does not currently enroll in upper secondary education (UNESCO, 2013). This is especially the case in remote parts of the Andean Highlands and across the sparsely populated Amazonian rainforest in the country’s interior.
While public education is free, private schools operate at all levels of the education system. Schools in both the public and private sectors follow the national curriculum, set federally and overseen by local education authorities, as mandated in a 2008 ministerial decree.
The academic school year is entirely contained with one calendar year, running from the beginning of March through to November/December. The reason for this is that Peru sits in the southern hemisphere, so autumn there begins in March and the summer holidays are taken from the end of December to February. There is also a winter holiday in July, although the exact timing varies by region.
The language of instruction is Spanish. However, in some regional primary schools, a local language such as Aymará or Quechua is the language of instruction with Spanish offered as a second language.
Education is offered at four main levels:
- Vocational and Technical
Education Governance and Administration
All education policy, legislation and curriculum guidelines are set by the Ministry of Education, which is the overarching authority from preschool through to higher education. The local education authorities in the 25 regiones (states) administer and implement ministry policy at the primary and secondary level.
In January 2015, a new higher education authority, the Superintendencia Nacional de Educación Superior Universitaria  (SUNEDU, National Superintendency of University Higher Education), replaced the Asamblea Nacional de los Rectores (ANR, National Assembly of Rectors) under a new higher education law that seeks to improve quality standards within the sector. The new body is charged with carrying out quality assurance procedures and also with approving university operating licenses. It also sets higher education policies under direction from the ministry, although precise roles for this new body are still somewhat unclear.
Educational Exchange with the United States
As the table above shows, the number of students from Peru attending U.S. institutions of higher education has been waning in recent years, from a high of 3,771 students a decade ago to 2,607 last year. Meanwhile, as a study destination for U.S. students, Peru has become increasingly popular. In academic year 2012/13 a record 2,956 U.S. students enjoyed a study period in Peru, making it the 20th most popular study destination for American students, and the sixth most popular country of study in Latin America after Costa Rica (8,497), Argentina (4,549), Brazil (4,223), Mexico (3,730), and Ecuador (3,438) .
By level of study, Peruvian students in the United States are fairly evenly split between the undergraduate and graduate levels, mirroring fairly closely overall level-of-study trends among international students in U.S. higher education.
The school system is 12 years in duration, split into the following four stages:
- 1 year of compulsory pre-school education (educación inicial), age 5
- 6 years of primary school (educación primaria), age 6-11
- 5 years of secondary school (educación secundaria), age 12-16
- 2 years of general secondary education, followed by:
- 3 years of academic secondary (arts or science) – OR – 3 years of technical secondary education
Primary schooling consists of up to six teaching hours per day and 30 hours a week (1,100 hours a year). Mandatory subjects include:
- Personal development
- Physical education
- Religious education
- Science and environment
For curricular purposes, the six years of primary education are divided into three two-year cycles.
The ministry of education sets a very broad and general national curriculum at the secondary level. It includes the following subjects which every student must take:
- Mathematics (3 hours per week minimum, but typically 4)
- Communication (3 hours minimum, but typically 4)
- Foreign language (English) / indigenous (2 hours)
- Art (2 hours)
- History, geography and economics (3 hours)
- Civics (2 hours)
- Social skills (2 hours)
- Physical education (2 hours)
- Religious education (2 hours)
- Science, technology and environmental studies (3 hours)
- Vocational training (2 hours)
- Elective hours and personal studies (9 hours)
Secondary education is made up of seven teaching hours per day, 35 hours a week and 40 weeks a year (1,400 instructional hours a year). For the first two years of the secondary cycle, all students follow a general education curriculum. For the final three years, students choose to follow either the technical stream or the academic stream. Both provide access to university study.
Students following the technical upper secondary stream attend colegios secundarios con variante técnica, which make up about one third of secondary schools. Students attending technical secondary schools account for approximately half of secondary-level enrollments in the technical and vocational sector. The program of study is known as Educación Secundaria Diversificada.
Students who graduate from secondary school receive the Certificado Oficial de Estudios de Educación Secundaria. Students holding the school leaving certificate are eligible to sit for university entrance examinations.
Technical and Vocational Training (educación tecnico-productiva)
Students follow a general curriculum for the first seven years of schooling through to the end of the primary level. Students who do not enter the upper secondary cycle can enroll in one of the nation’s 2,150 centros de educación tecnico-productiva (CETPRO) at the completion of the primary cycle, or even if they do not finish primary schooling. There is also an entry gateway to this level at the completion of the first two years of general upper secondary schooling.
Although most technical and vocational schools are private, they are all supervised and licensed by the Ministry of Education.
Students entering after primary school enroll at the basic level (ciclo básico) of the modular educación tecnico-productiva system. Those who have completed the first two years of the secondary curriculum enroll at the middle level (ciclo medio).
Certificates awarded by the Ministry of Education through CETPROs include:
- Título de Auxiliar Técnico (Assistant Technician) – awarded after completing a one-year course post primary school. There is no admission requirement.
- Titulo deTécnico (Technician) – awarded after completing 2,000 hours of training (typically two years) and achieving the competencies required of the trade being studied. Admission is based on completion of lower secondary school. Completion in some instances provides access to postsecondary vocational training. This qualification is considered equivalent to the completion of secondary school; however, it does not offer access to university study.
A listing of all accredited technical schools is available on the website  of the Dirección General de Educación Superior y Técnico Profesional (General Directorate of Higher and Technical and Vocational Education).
Post-secondary Technical and Vocational Training
Most technical and vocational training at the postsecondary level is offered at:
- Institutos y Escuelas de Educación Superior Technológicos – IEST (higher institutes of technology)
- Institutos de Educación Superior Pedagógicos – IESP (higher institutes of teaching)
- Institutos y Escuelas Superiores de Educación de Formación Artística – IESFA (higher institutes of arts).
According to data from the ministry of education, there are currently 864 IEST, 353 IESP, and 46 IESFA in operation across Peru.
Total enrollment in non-university higher education was just under 390,000 in 2014, with 361,400 studying at IESTs, 23,321 at IESPs and 5,024 at IESEAs.
These institutions offer three main qualifications:
- Two-year Formación Técnica (88 credits) leading to a Técnico.
- Three-year Formación Profesional Técnica (132 credits) leading to a Profesional Técnico a Nombre de la Nación.
- Four to five-year Formación Profesional (200 credits) leading to a Profesional a Nombre de la Nación. In addition to coursework and training, students must also complete and defend a feasibility project.
There are also options for further graduate-level training leading to Título de Experto – or – Título de Segunda y Ulterior Especialización Profesional in the specialist field in which the candidate has obtained prior qualifications. The expert qualification is open to holders of the Profesional title only and is based on a minimum of one year of additional study. The professional specialization qualification is open to holders of both the Profesional Técnico and Profesional qualifications and is based on one to two years of additional study.
Credits, courses or programs completed in the technical and vocational higher education sector cannot be transferred to university study.
The higher institutes of pedagogy (IESP) provide teacher-training programs of five years in duration, with a 200 credit requirement leading to the title of Profesor with mention of the educational level and specialization. They also offer the graduate-level programs outlined in the paragraph above. Teacher-training programs are also offered at universities.
Teachers in technical education are trained at the institutos uperiors tecnológicos for three years and for which they are awarded the Título de Profesional Técnico.
Secondary- and University-level Grading
There is just one grading scale in Peru, used both at the secondary and higher education levels. It is a 0-20 scale, with 11 being the lowest passing grade.
Higher education is offered mainly through the nation’s university system. There are currently 51 public (nacional) universities and 89 private (particulare) universities – both for-profit and non-profit – operating in Peru. University-level institutions also include many specialized art, music and religious institutions that are called conservatorio, instituto, and escuela superior.
Public universities are tuition free. Many of the best universities in Peru are private, not-for-profit universities. However, a mushrooming of private, for-profit universities across the country has led to significant concern over quality standards more broadly in the private sector. Under a newly passed university law (January, 2015), a majority of Peru’s private universities will be subject to quality control inspections to determine if they will be allowed to continue operating.
Total undergraduate enrollments numbered just over one million in 2013, with 331,593 students enrolled in private universities and 697,518 in public universities.
The academic year typically lasts 34-36 weeks and is divided into two semesters. Courses are credit (créditos) weighted and start in late March or early April. A credit hour is equivalent to one hour (45-50 minutes) of instruction per week, or two hours of practical work per semester.
Admission to Higher Education
Admission to higher education is based on completion of secondary school and having the requisite qualification, the Certificado Oficial de Estudios de Educación Secundaria. Admission is competitive and very selective, especially to prestigious public and not-for profit institutions, so most universities also require a separate set of entrance examinations.
Students that choose particular universities that they wish to attend must sit admission examinations set by those universities. Some universities have two tiers of examinations, a general and a major-specific examination. Entrance exams are usually held once or twice a year during the holidays.
Due to the difficulty of university entrance examinations (just 50 percent of test takers typically pass), many students spend one to two years at expensive privately-run university entrance exam schools, or academia to prepare.
Only universities (universidades) can confer the academic degrees of Bachiller, Maestro and Doctor. They can also confer vocationally oriented ‘a Nombre de la Nación’ (in the name of the country), Títulos Profesionales de Licenciado (professional qualifications) as well as a second specialist professional qualification (Segunda Especialidad Profesional).
A national registry of diplomas and degrees issued by the country’s public and private universities is available from the SUNEDU website: http://www.sunedu.gob.pe/grados-y-titulos/nacionales . Once a student registers his or her degree with SUNEDU, it can be verified through this database.
There is an embryonic system of accreditation in Peru known as the Sistema Nacional de Evaluación, Acreditación y Certificación de la Calidad Educativa  (SINEACE – National System of Evaluation, Accreditation and Certification of Higher Education). It was created under a 2006 law and is overseen by CONEAU at the university level and CONEACES at the tertiary non-university level; implementation began in 2008.
The law stipulates both institutional and program accreditation as well as certification in professional fields. However, the process is voluntary except for teacher training programs and 14 programs in health sciences. Currently the focus of accreditation efforts is on programs rather than institutions. The process involves self-study followed by external evaluations.
According to the CONEAU website , 1,306 programs are currently undertaking self-evaluation studies, while just 7 are undergoing external evaluation. A total of just 15 programs have received positive accreditation decisions. There is no indication on the CONEAU website that any institutions have failed the process.
The first two years of the university curriculum is devoted to general studies (estudios generals of at least 35 credits), followed by a period of specialization of three to five years (five to seven years total), leading to the title of Bachiller (minimum 200 credits). Students are typically required to complete a final project (trabajo de investigación) and show proficiency in a foreign language.
The Bachiller is an academic title. In order to earn the corresponding professional title (Licenciado / Titulo Profesional), a student must complete an additional requirement. This can be a thesis or six-month internship with a report or, in some cases, comprehensive examinations. In order to practice a licensed profession in Peru, a graduate is required to hold the professional title, such as Ingeniero, Médico, Abogado, Economista. In order to qualify for the Título Profesional de Abogado (lawyer) a one-year work placement must also be completed.
Ongoing professional development programs, known as Segunda and Ulterior Especialización, are also offered by universities. These are a minimum of 24 credits (one semester), but do not lead to a formal qualification.
Admission to the second stage of university study is based on a Bachiller or equivalent (professional title not required). Programs leading to the title of Grado de Maestro/Magister are typically two years in duration and require the defense of original research work. In law and medicine, the professional title is obtained three and five years respectively after the award of the Bachiller.
There is also a shorter one-year (24 credits) graduate certificate program that leads to the Titulo de Diplomado.
Admission to a doctoral program requires a master’s degree. The program lasts a minimum of three years and requires the completion and defense of a dissertation. Successful candidates are awarded the Grado de Doctor.
WES document requirements for credential evaluation
- Certificado Oficial de Estudios de Educación Secundaria sent directly by the school attended. This is rarely if ever an issue for Peruvian schools.
- Translations of all foreign language academic documents submitted by applicant.
- Clear and legible photocopies of all graduation certificates or diplomas
e.g.Título de Técnico Superior/ Tecnólogo, Profesional/ Licenciado, Maestro/ Magister, Doctor.
- Academic transcripts (certificado de estudios /calificaciones) that list all subjects taken and grades earned for each year of study.
- Translations of all foreign language academic documents. These should be submitted by the applicant.
This file  of Sample Documents (pdf) shows a set of annotated credentials from the Peruvian education system.
- Certificado Oficial de Estudios de Educación Básica Regular Nivel de Educación Secundaria (Official Certificate of Secondary Level Studies, Academic Program), with translation.
- This is a ministry-issued document, which is distributed to the secondary schools. This is the only official document that students will receive for completing secondary education. There is no official diploma.
- The school fills in the student’s marks. In this case, it is handwritten.
- The 11 mandated subject areas are pre-filled by the ministry, and marks assigned by the school for each of the five years of secondary study.
- In the column to the right, it is noted that the student attended a different school during the 2009 academic year from the one s/he graduated from.
- The subjects that have been written in under the mandatory subjects are the student’s chosen electives.
- Bachiller en Ciencias Sociales con mención en Antropologia (first level university degree in social sciences with a major in anthropology)
- Awarded by the Pontificia Universidad Católica, one of the best universities in Peru. Typically this would be received as a photocopy as most universities do not maintain student diplomas in their archives.
- Titulo de Licenciado de Antropologia (professional license in anthropology)
- This is a short addition to the academic Bachiller degree, which requires completion of a thesis, internship or in some instances comprehensive examinations. Students wishing to practice professionally in their chosen field of study require this additional qualification.
- Example of a WES transcript request form in Spanish.
- The top half is filled out by the student requesting documents, and the bottom half is filled out by the institution indicating that the documents have been sent directly by the institution attended.
- Certificado (transcript)
- Sometimes this is called certificado de notas.
- The first page of the transcript shows the first two years of courses, taken as the mandatory general studies component of the degree. By law, universities must offer at least one year of general education studies as part of the Bachiller. Pontificia Universidad Católica typically offers two years of general studies.
- The transcript shows: course code, course name, credit weighting, number of attempts to pass the course, grade, date the course was officially passed.
- At the bottom of the transcript there are notes on the credit system and the grading system.
- This document should be sent directly by the institution attended. They are typically transmitted in Spanish.
- The second and third pages of the transcript show subjects taken for the major (anthropology in this case).
- Título Profesional Técnico en Enfermeria Técnica (nursing diploma)
- In the professional sector, the ministry awards the qualifications as denoted at the top of the document.
- The student studied at an instituto superior technológico.
- The document bears the official stamp of the school attended (left) and a stamp from the regional office of the ministry of education (right).
- Certificado de estudios de educación superior (accompanying transcript for diploma above)
- This is a ministry formatted document that was distributed to the school, which then inserted the relevant course and grading information.
- This document should be sent directly by the institution attended.
- Technological transcripts do not generally indicate credits. This transcript shows: name of subject, grade awarded (numerical), grade spelled out, date of evaluation, course passed or not.
- This is a six-semester, three-year program. The semester number is indicated by the Roman numeral.