Ecuador’s educational system has undergone a series of significant reforms and investments that have improved the access to and quality of education. However, there are prevailing obstacles for Ecuador to overcome. This article will touch upon some of Ecuador’s educational challenges today.
Quality of education
Despite the significant improvements regarding access to primary and secondary education in Ecuador, education results show substantial gaps in the context of geography, location, socio-economic status, and ethnicity. For instance, among black and indigenous populations, completed years of education are 3 and 4 years lower than the national average – 7.3 years. The drop-out rates for higher education remains high, despite the significant improvements in its gross enrollment rates. This could be attributed to some students’ low levels of academic preparation or to the lengthy higher education (HR) programs, which run for over five years, and can thus tire students, resulting in higher drop-out rates. In addition, schools are often over-crowded and teachers overwhelmed with the number of students per classroom.
Illiteracy rates are showing improvement, but the numbers are still high among the Indigenous population as well as people of African descent in comparison to the illiteracy rates of the mestizo population. The OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies undertook the Survey of Adult Skills, which showed that less than 1 in 10 adults are proficient at Literacy Level 3 or higher in Ecuador. The survey also highlighted that Ecuador is among the countries/economies with one of the largest proportions of adults (71.2%) who scored at Literacy Level 1 or lower, meaning that these adults have no more than the basic reading skills. The expansion of educational provision currently unequal since, in rural areas, indigenous populations and the black community are often left behind.
Teacher absenteeism and frequent teacher strikes affect the retention rates and the quality of education. Teacher strikes mainly affect primary and secondary schools. In 2003, an article stated that, in poorer areas, an average of nine school days per month are wasted due to strikes and teacher absenteeism. At the end of 2003, public schools were closed for two months due to a teacher strike over a salary increase. Although there are no current evaluations to verify the impact of these strikes, this is a major issue that Ecuador must tackle.
Schools of the Millennium (SOM) is one of the most critical governmental projects to improve public education. Each classroom has a digital whiteboard, kitchens, recreational areas, eating areas, science labs, virtual libraries, and computer labs with broadband internet. While this is an excellent achievement by the government in bettering public education, teachers feel that these resources are not utilized effectively due to the lack of teacher training and, in some cases, lack of teachers.
Poverty and discrimination in education
Poverty is hugely detrimental to students’ learning access and opportunities. It affects factors such as the student’s health and well-being, literacy and language development, access to physical and material resources, and level of mobility. There are currently regions in Ecuador, particularly in rural areas, where 50% of children and adolescents live in poor households without access to drinking water, sanitation, or healthcare facilities. 35% of Ecuadorians residing in rural areas live in overcrowded housing.
School dropout rates are still a problem, with the two most vulnerable groups being pregnant teenagers and indigenous populations, which have the lowest completion rates in their secondary studies. In regard to bullying and violence at school, almost a third of children and teenagers suffer violent treatment or disciplinary punishments. This rises alarmingly among mixed-race and indigenous children, of whom 42% suffer this form of violence. Afro-Ecuadorian children are often subject to discrimination in access to education, and, in some cases, parents are illegally required to pay a sum of money to enrol their child at a ‘free-of-charge’ public school. Children from lower-income families, predominately Afro-Ecuadorian and Indigenous, drop out of school to provide financial support to their families.
Public schools in urban zones often present conditions that hinder learning, such as large class sizes and teaching staff shortages. There is only one teacher for each level – composed of 50 to 60 students. Occasionally there are not enough classrooms for each grade level, so children from different grades are taught in the same classroom.
Sexual violence in education
Between 2015 and 2017, there were 4.584 reports of sexual abuse in Ecuadorian schools, with teachers registered as the main aggressors. Three out of ten adolescents in Latin America have suffered from sexual harassment in schools, and 1.1 million girls within the region have suffered some form of sexual violence.
Although Ecuador has taken important steps to handle the issue and expedite justice since 2017, the policies and protocols are not adequately enforced in many schools. Huma Rights Watch found that teachers, school staff, janitors, and school bus drivers are amongst those committing acts of sexual violence against children of all ages, including children with disabilities, in both public and private schools.
Ecuador declared a zero-tolerance policy, requiring teachers, school counsellors, and other staff to report allegations of sexual violence within 24 hours. Human Rights Watch found severe gaps in the carrying out of this policy and ensuring adherence to its binding protocol.
Written by Alejandra Latinez
Edited by Olga Ruiz Pilato
 Angel-Urdinola & Vera Jibaj. (2018). Achievements and challenges of Ecuador’s education sector in the 21st Century.
 Un.org. (2004) – Education.
 Children International. Education in Children International communities – Ecuador.
 Castellano, J. M., Stefos, E., & Goodrich, L. G. W. (2017). The educational and social profile of the indigenous People of Ecuador: A Multidimensional Analysis.
Skills Matter: Additional Results From The Survey Of Adult Skills
Ecuador – OECD (2018, April).
 Torres, Rosa María (2005). Real options for policy and practice in Ecuador
 Fajardo-Dack M Tammy. (2016). Teacher Disempowerment in the Education System of Ecuador.
 Budge, Kathleen & Parrett William. (2016). How Does Poverty Influence Learning?
 Humanium. Children of Ecuador – Realizing children’s rights in Ecuador
 Universal Periodic Review 13th session. (2012). Situation on the Rights of the Child in Ecuador
 Coral, Martinez Catalina & Martinez, Cecilia Carmen. (2021). Sexual Violence against girls in schools as a public health issue
 Human Rights Watch. (2020). Ecuador: High Levels of Sexual Violence in Schools