Educational challenges in Paraguay: socioeconomic inequality as key to educational progress

Written by Agnes Amaral


Paraguay is a South American country that contains a diverse amount of ethnical and racial population. In number, more than half of the country is mestizo, 30% of white people, and almost 3% indigenous. These numbers are important in a way to create policies that embrace all people[1]. Another important factor about Paraguay is the role religion plays in this society. According to Latinobarometro data[2], almost 90% of the Paraguayan population is Catholic. This means religion plays a very strong role in people’s decisions and ethical behavior. Cultural decisions based on religion tend to define distinct roles between genders and races. The population is also divided between urban and rural, with almost 40% of the rural and farm population. This generates a diversity of actions that accentuate gender inequality and prejudice linked to the fate of certain groups in that society.

Marked by a sequence of authoritarian governments and complex development processes, Paraguay has immense social inequalities that mirror education. These factors are relevant for analyzing the educational situation and the challenges faced in the country. When asked about fairness in access to education, 47.5% state an “unfair” access while 32% mention a “very unfair” access[3]. This leads us to ask: why is the access to education in Paraguay considered very unfair by the majority of the population?

Digital education efforts in Paraguay – UNICEF

Social Inequality and Covid-19 Pandemic

The first big problem that impacts education is inequality. Data from 2020 reveals that the discussion about the problems in the country is related to poverty, financial problems, and educational challenges[4]. This is something that affects not only Paraguay, but all of Latin America and the Caribbean. For instance, during the Covid-19 pandemic, there is what they call an “educational blackout”[5].

Due to the closing of the schools, education took place online. The problem in this situation is that access to the Internet is limited by equipment, good network quality, and digital skills. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) data report that, among students under 18 years old, about 60% had no Internet access in Paraguay. This became a challenge to education during the two years of remote education. However, considering the connected reality in which we live, this can still be considered a palpable problem for the country and the region.

Unequal access to education affects education rates long before the pandemic. In 2019, for example, when checking the performance of elementary school students, the result is that Paraguayan students had lower levels of performance in mathematics. About the low progress, the Director of the Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALAC) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Claudia Uribe mentions the need to take urgent governmental measures to achieve the 2030 Agenda[6].  This school exclusion affects some groups more sharply. Students from indigenous peoples, afro-descendants, and migrants encounter disadvantages.

Indigenous Girls & Women

The creation of the country was based on the exclusion of indigenous peoples. For this reason, it is possible to note the social impacts suffered by these groups to this day. It is a large ethnic diversity. The right to be involved, political participation, and access to education are essential to mitigate these inequalities. There are constitutional advances in this sense, such as the 1992 Constitution, which recognizes and guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples in Paraguay:


The State shall respect the cultural peculiarities of the indigenous peoples, especially with regard to formal education. Attention shall also be paid to their defense against demographic regression, depredation of their habitat, environmental pollution, economic exploitation, and cultural alienation.  (Artículos de la Constitución Nacional)[7]

However, the reality is indigenous people dealing with exclusion and poverty. This affects the educational indicators of the indigenous population, which worsen when we consider the reality of the indigenous female population. In Paraguay, free and mandatory schooling lasts nine years (basic education)[8]. Considering this, Indigenous men stay in education for a little less than five years, while Indigenous women about 3.5 years. A big difference in the amount of education guaranteed. Data from the Permanent Continuous Household Survey (EPHC)[9] shows three main reasons for these school leavings.

The first is for family reasons. About 20% of indigenous women dropped out of their studies because they had too many domestic activities to do. The second reason involves economic aspects. In this case, more than 25% of the indigenous men dropped out of school because they needed to get a job. And the third reason is the lack of sufficient educational institutions. Especially an education in which their culture and their views are considered, as mentioned in Constitutional Article[10]. The way of life of many indigenous communities is still based on hunting and gathering customs. A school that adapts to this reality is necessary and, for this, the government needs to invest in this type of proposal beyond a constitutional vision[11].

This is a reality of racial-ethnic inequalities, but also of gender inequalities. A reality that has been propagated since colonial times, in which indigenous women and girls were kidnapped by colonizers to occupy positions of domestic maintenance and procreation. The colonizing process impacted the economic system of these traditional peoples, which is not seen as productive enough. The role of indigenous women, then, shifts within this reality. This is why their socio-economic status has such an impact on the achievement of education. Almost 70% of indigenous women are in poverty. Many of them are considered “economically inactive” because they only perform domestic activities[12]. Some authors mention that “being an indigenous woman” in this society implies triple discrimination: ethnic, gender, and class.

The guarantee of the right to education for this part of the Paraguayan population is urgent. Although progress has been made, a better institutionalization of these rights is needed. This must be done while respecting and strengthening the specific culture of each indigenous group.


The lines of hope for improving the educational challenges faced by Paraguay need to be directed at mitigating socioeconomic inequality.  A more inclusive, equitable, and safe school structure is needed. Above all, universalization of access to secondary education. The use of digital transformation in favor of educational progress is also urgent since it is useful and essential learning for the contemporary reality we live in. Investing in education is one of the keys to sustainable development.

These impacts of inequality are also directly linked to the reality of indigenous women. However, more than policies to improve and actions to combat this inequality, it is necessary to give these women the power to make decisions. The issues of poverty and education are just some of the problems faced by this group. Violence is high, and several indigenous women are organizing themselves in the form of activism to combat violence[13]. In this sense, the activism and organization of these peoples are continuously advancing to fight for the guarantee of indigenous peoples’ rights. However, increasing opportunities for political positions and placing them as creators of specific public policies seems to be the most appropriate action.

Although the constitutional right to education exists for every citizen of Paraguay, it is important to point out the distinction that exists between the prerogative of a right and the reality of a quality education. For all.



[1] Soto, C., & Soto, L. (2020). POLÍTICAS ANTIGÉNERO EN AMÉRICA LATINA: PARAGUAY (S. Correa, Ed.; Género & Politica em América Latina, Trans.) [Review of POLÍTICAS ANTIGÉNERO EN AMÉRICA LATINA: PARAGUAY]. Observatorio de Sexualidad y Política (SPW).

[2] Latinobarómetro Database. (2020).

[3] Latinobarómetro Database. (2020).

[4] Latinobarómetro Database. (2020).

[5] Caribe, C. E. para a A. L. e o. (2022, November 29). Seminario web “La transformación de la educación como base para el desarrollo sostenible.”

[6] (2021, November 30). Resultados de logros de aprendizaje y factores asociados del Estudio Regional Comparativo y Explicativo (ERCE 2019). UNESCO.

[7] Artículos de la Constitución Nacional. Secretaría Nacional de Cultura. (2011, August 17). Retrieved April 7, 2023, from,econ%C3%B3mica%20y%20la%20alienaci%C3%B3n%20cultural.

[8] SOUZA, K. R., & BUENO, M. L. M. C. (2018). O direito à educação básica no Paraguai. Revista Ibero-Americana de Estudos Em Educação, 13(4), 1536–1551.

[9] Principales Resultados Anuales de la Encuesta Permanente de Hogares Continua (EPHC) 2017 y 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2023, from

[10] INE::Instituto Nacional de Estadística. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2023, from

[11] Situación educativa de las niñas y mujeres indígenas en Paraguay. (n.d.).

[12]  Situación educativa de las niñas y mujeres indígenas en Paraguay. (n.d.).

[13] Por nuestros derechos y contra toda violencia, una reflexión contra la violencia de género con las mujeres indígenas en Paraguay – FIIAPP. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2023, from

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