Educational challenges in Perú: Battling against intersectional discrimination

Written by Joan Vilalta Flo

Education is a fundamental human right. As dictated by the ICESCR and CESCR, everyone is entitled to non-discriminatory, quality, culturally sensitive, affordable, and accessible education. According to the Human Rights Measurement Initiative, in 2019 Perú showed fairly good results when it came to using its income to ensure the fulfillment of people’s right to education. From a low-and-middle-income assessment standard, it achieved 89.3% of the benchmark set for the global ranking, and 90.5% of its income-adjusted benchmark[i]. Indeed, there have been considerable improvements in the Peruvian education system throughout the years, such as an increase in the education budget (a 50% between 2012 and 2017) and overall greater accessibility and provision of education to the bulk of society[ii].

Nevertheless, numerous recent sources indicate, through a more nuanced view, that several obstacles still hamper accessible and quality education in Perú, especially for certain vulnerable populations, which in some cases are discriminated simultaneously at multiple levels. The following paragraphs will outline some of the current challenges that Perú faces when ensuring human rights in education.


According to a recent in-depth study that uses data from the Peruvian Ministry of Education, the uneven distribution of students in Peruvian schools depending on socioeconomic level, but also residence location or performance is a great challenge that is barely attended. Having extremely homogenous populations in educational centers, with certain centers accumulating those with similar socioeconomic advantages, negatively affects social cohesion, the quality of education, the exchange of social capital and the access to equal opportunities.

An example of this can be found in the expansion of private education centers. Originating in the widespread prestige of private education among Peruvians since the 90’s, the popularity and demand for private centers has increased steeply. Registration to basic education centers went from 14% in 1997 to 28.4% in 2020[iii]. While the Peruvian state pushed for universal education by providing public centers, it allowed the expansion of privatization, placing little regulation upon the sector. This has coincided with an increase of segregation in education, there currently is an uneven distribution of the student population among educational centers.

Peruvian private school youths. Photo by Sepres.

Rural public schools hold a disproportionately great number of low-income students, followed by urban public centers, then low-cost private centers and finally high-cost private centers, which are mainly composed by high-income students and barely contain socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Within the private circuit, the performance of students also increases with the cost of the school, pointing to the idea that individuals get only the education they can pay for.[iv] It should be noted that student performance in the increasingly popular low-cost private centers is sometimes similar or even lower than in standardized public schools, while they sometimes lack appropriate material and teacher capacitation. This indicates that the prestige of private education is sometimes uncalled for.[v]

Another example of segregation in education is displayed by the COAR or High-Performance Centers, secondary education centers that “reward talent”. Such public institutions accumulate students with outstanding results and are sometimes framed as inclusive, since they provide the opportunity to obtain “better quality” education those who cannot afford private schools. But it is precisely in the fact that the state guarantees a better quality of education in those centers that they become problematic, since the state fails its own responsibility to ensure the same educational quality to all its citizens. The 25 existing COAR only contain around 6.700 students in total and their student investment is 12.5 times higher compared to the rest of public schools, undermining the principles of equity and equal access to opportunities.[vi] Separating high-performance students from their original schools also curtails the possibility of peer-to-peer learning and improvement for the rest of students.

Moreover, while the access to a COAR seems to be solely determined by an individual’s “merit”, it must be considered that minority and vulnerable populations (such as individuals from rural and indigenous areas, whose mother tongue is not Spanish and whose parents have a low educational level) are significantly less likely to be enrolled or accepted in a COAR. It can be argued that “talent” is, in the end, only easily recognized and displayed in contexts of advantage; it is necessary to promote inclusive educational systems that provide equal opportunities for all.

COAR students in a meeting. Photo by ANDINA.

Legal Matters

Since May 2022 there has been a controversial law in place that can deeply affect education in human and civil rights, curtailing the quality of education: the Law No. 31498. This law essentially allocates greater power to parent’s associations to overwatch the curriculum of primary and secondary school levels, including veto power. The law contemplates that a moral criterion can be applied when overwatching (or vetoing) the curriculum’s content.

Parent’s association meeting. Photo by ANDINA.

While supporters of this law claim that it can enhance the quality of the educational material, organizations such as Human Rights Watch claim that this law puts quality and independent education to risk by subjugating the expertise of teachers and the Ministry of Education to parent’s views and opinions. They acknowledge that it is important to involve the parents in the educational process, but they note that this law has, in practice, translated into the reduction or veto of education in gender and sexuality matters.[vii] Such education is crucial to promote equality, social justice, and human rights, especially considering the high teen pregnancy rates and increased sexual violence rates in Perú.[viii] In fact, one of the recommendations by the 2018 UPR highlighted the need of an integral sexual education to inform women and girls about sexual health and reproductive rights.[ix] In short, this law potentially challenges the quality of education in human rights, justice and freedom of expression while hampering the development of critical thinking skills.

Also, as regards legal improvements, it should be noted that, as noted in the 2018 UPR recommendations, fully equipping disabled people with full juridical capacity and recognition in the Civil Code could guarantee their access to adapted, inclusive, quality education, which is something that hasn’t been fully achieved yet.[x]

The Digital Gap

The Covid-19 pandemic hit the Peruvian educational system hard: in 2021, a total of 124.533 students stopped attending the classes. Although the government of Perú acted fast and implemented various policies to continue providing education for all students (including the provision of technological material to families with little resources and connectivity, and equipping teachers with capacities to adapt to virtual education)[xi], the crisis underscored a salient problem in Peruvian education: the so-called Digital Gap.

Children from a rural area using technological devices. Photo by Servindi.

Numerous studies conducted during and after the pandemic highlighted that rural, usually indigenous families (which are also often the ones with lowest income) have got less access to technological material, sometimes lack internet connection and, by extension, attain less digital literacy than those located in urban areas under better socioeconomical conditions.[xii] The lack of technological accessibility and knowledge is a widespread problem in South America and the Caribbean, where as much as 55% of the population is affected.[xiii] This gap represents a situation of inequality in education access and quality between urban, wealthier populations and poorer rural communities, and it has implications far beyond the Covid-19 pandemic in a future where digital access is increasingly essential for professional development[xiv]. Less than 10% of the Peruvian population that did not finish primary education has access to internet[xv], highlighting that the inequality also affects those with a lower educational level, making the inequality somewhat cyclical. It should also be considered that ensuring the obtention of technology is not enough: the technological item itself needs to be accessible to students with special needs, which reportedly was the most overlooked collective during the pandemic.

Illiteracy, School Dropout and Absenteeism

According to the National Statistics Institute, around 5.6% of the population over 15 years old in Perú do not know how to read and write.[xvi] Literacy is key to reduce poverty and build democratic and fair societies with respect for social equality and human rights. While steady improvements have been made in this area in Perú, the illiteracy rate remains high, especially among, again, vulnerable collectives and minorities. Most illiterate individuals live in contexts of extreme poverty located in rural areas (in which illiteracy is 4 times greater than in urban areas), are indigenous, and their mother tongue is Quichua, Aimara or another regional language.[xvii] The gender component, which will be elaborated on further on this article, also plays into illiteracy: 8.3% of Peruvian women are illiterate, compared to 2.9% of men.[xviii]

Women from a rural area attending a literacy class. Photo by Diario Correo.

The number of workers between 14 and 18 years old has reportedly increased by 485.000 in 2021.[xix] Many young individuals who live in non-urban areas in poor economic conditions, often must assume work duties to survive, which makes their school attendance irregular and negatively impacts their performance.[xx] This is especially true for girls, who are often assigned to do the bulk of domestic work by their families, or who are affected by teenage pregnancy and sometimes forced into marriage.[xxi] This represents an obstacle to alphabetization and obtention of quality education, as well as a school dropout problem: the dropout rate in Perú is of 6.3%. For the reasons mentioned above, the rate for women is of 10.2% while for men it is of 8.4%.[xxii]

The challenge here is obvious: there needs to be greater efforts to increase literacy, particularly in poverty and rural contexts, including tending to the cultural and language needs of indigenous communities by enacting more flexible and inclusive education systems.[xxiii] Gender sensitive policies to ensure the education of girls and women must also be developed, while fighting patriarchal gender roles that undermine their rights.

A child working in agriculture. Photo available in RCR.

Sexual Violence in Education

In 2018, 34.6% of the Peruvian teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 had reportedly been victims of sexual abuse either at home or at school.[xxiv] Needless to say, these experiences deeply harm children at various levels and profoundly violate their human rights, including their right to quality education. This figure is alarming enough to highlight the importance of preventing such violence in education through implementing strong reporting and detection mechanisms, applying multisectoral prevention plans against child victimization, providing education in sexual and gender matters, raising awareness as well as building a stronger and more accessible justice system.[xxv]


As it can be picked up from the sections above, there is a level of discrimination towards certain (vulnerable) populations in Peruvian education, expressed through situations of inequity, inequality of opportunities and access to education, and differential provision of quality education.

Discrimination by gender is one of the most pressing matters. As explained earlier, Peruvian women and girls experience inequality in access and permanence in primary, secondary, and tertiary education due to socially enforced sexist gender roles that disregard their right to quality education.[xxvi] The inequality worsens in the case of women who live in rural areas; a limited education limits their professional possibilities, driving them towards jobs that do not require professionalization, provide low incomes and poor working conditions.[xxvii] Moreover, although the legislation includes a gender lens in education since 2003, implementation of a curriculum on gender issues has been very slow, mainly due to the opposition of religious groups.[xxviii] Hence, education in Perú still enforces sexist stereotypes that perpetuate gender inequalities.

Children from rural areas attending class. Photo by Educacción Perú.

Inequality is experienced by rural populations as well, visible through the previously mentioned education access difficulties, lower quality education due to lower resource allocation in rural educational centers, lack of technological facilities, and socioeconomical constrains. Indeed, the discrimination of these individuals intersects with the discrimination of lower socioeconomic status individuals, whose conditions makes it hard to attain educational continuity and good performance. Only 1 in 10 poor youths access university, while 5 in 10 rich youths do.[xxix]

Also intersecting with the discrimination towards rural populations, there is a longstanding discrimination against indigenous peoples. Evidence of this is displayed, for example, by the fact that they are vastly underrepresented in tertiary education. Students whose mother tongue is Spanish are more than twice as likely to register in tertiary education (34.4%) than those whose mother tongue is an indigenous one (14.1%).[xxx]

Disabled students also suffer a longstanding situation of inequality that, although formally condemned by the state and legally acknowledged, in practice results in the continued segregation of disabled students and a deficient Basic Education assistance rate of 52%.[xxxi]

Disabled children attending school. Photo by Perú 21.

Yet another level of discrimination in education can be seen against Venezuelan migrant children. Venezuelan migration to Perú for sociopolitical and economic reasons has been a rising phenomenon over the last years. Unfortunately, prejudices against them and structural disadvantages has placed them in a position of vulnerability; and Venezuelan children have not been exempted from it: 42% of Venezuelan children in Perú still have not accessed formal education.[xxxii] More palpable forms of discrimination towards Venezuelan children such as xenophobic bullying have also been reported.  Physical or psychological violence in the context of education has been the result of xenophobia against Venezuelans, sometimes intersecting with other forms of discrimination, such as gender-based prejudices, which have contributed to the hyper-sexualization of Venezuelan girls.[xxxiii]

All in all, it seems necessary to promote inclusive educational schemes in which centers, educators, students, and families take conscience of the existing inequalities and work together to overcome them. The state needs to properly equip institutions and professionals in order to implement policies that shape a system that truly grants universal access to the same opportunities and quality contents while ensuring a positive and safe environment for all individuals.[xxxiv]


[i] Human Rights Tracker (n.d.)

[ii] UN, Human Rights Council (2018)

[iii] Ames (2021)

[iv] Ames (2021)

[v] Aquino (2018)

[vi] Ames (2021)

[vii] Cabrera (2023)

[viii] UN Perú (2022)

[ix] UN, Human Rights Council (2018)

[x] UN, Human Rights Council (2018)

[xi] Tarazona (2021), Fundacion Weise (2021)

[xii] Ortega Murga et al. (2021), Acho Ramirez et al. (2021)

[xiii] Tarazona (2021)

[xiv] Ortega Murga et al. (2021), Fundacion Weise (2021), Acho Ramirez et al. (2021)

[xv] Tarazona (2021)

[xvi] INEI (2018)

[xvii] Plan International Perú (2022), CARE (2023), INEI (2018)

[xviii] INEI (2018)

[xix] CARE (2023)

[xx] Plan International Perú (2022), CARE (2023), Becerra Paico (2022)

[xxi] Plan International Perú (2022), Becerra Paico (2022)

[xxii] CARE (2023)

[xxiii] Castillo-Acobo et al. (2022)

[xxiv] UNICEF (2018)

[xxv] UN Perú (2022)

[xxvi] Rojas (2022), Becerra Paico (2022)

[xxvii] Santa María et al. (2020), Cuenca and Urrutia (2019)

[xxviii] Rojas (2022)

[xxix] Cuenca and Urrutia (2019)

[xxx] Ames (2021)

[xxxi] Ames (2021)

[xxxii] Navas Zaraza and Morin Cabrera (2021)

[xxxiii] Navas Zaraza and Morin Cabrera (2021)

[xxxiv] Castillo-Acobo et al. (2022)



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