City Profile

Santiago is the largest city and the capital of Chile, with a population of over 6.1 million, which roughly represents 34 per cent of Chile’s total population.

Education System

The Chilean education system has four levels of education: preschool (for children from 0 to 5 years old), basic or primary education (for children from 6 to 13 years old), secondary education (for children from 14 to 17 years old) and tertiary education (for children from 18 years old onwards). Basic education lasts eight years (from 1st grade to 8th grade), and secondary education lasts four years: two years for lower secondary education and two years for upper secondary education. Since 2002, compulsory education has included primary and secondary education; from 2013, the last year of preschool, called kinder, was incorporated, adding up to 13 years of compulsory education.


Source: Ministry of Education of Chile, 2003.

In terms of the International Standard Classification of Education, in Chile the first six years of education correspond to ISCED 1, with the next two (lower secondary) corresponding to ISCED 2. Upper secondary education corresponds to ISCED 3. During secondary education students can choose between two alternatives: humanistic-scientific (general or academic) or technical-professional education (vocational). These are equivalent to ISCED levels 3A and 3B respectively. Tertiary education consists of academic degree programmes with a typical duration of between four and five years (ISCED 5), professional degrees (ISCED 5A) that take three to four years to complete, and technical titles, which are typically two years long (ISCED 5B). Post graduate programs and diplomas normally take one year to complete and are ISCED 5A, masters take two years and are ISCED 5A, and doctorate (ISCED 6) are usually four years long.

Since the promulgation of the General Education Law (Ley de Educacion General, 2009), by 2017 all primary and secondary schools will have to change their education structure to six years of primary education and six years of secondary education. In the case of secondary education, the first four years will correspond to general education, and the last two years to technical-professional and/or humanistic-scientific education.

In Chile there are schools that provide pre-school, primary and secondary education, and some schools that focus on a particular level of schooling (primary or secondary). Some secondary education schools provide either technical-professional education or humanistic-scientific education, and some others provide both kinds of secondary education.

School System


The Chilean school system is considered one of the most privatized systems in the world. In the reform of 1981, Chile started the implementation of a national voucher system along with processes of decentralization and privatization of primary, secondary and tertiary education. The voucher consists of a subsidy per student daily attendance to school, which is transferable and redeemable at any school, public or private. In Chile there are many private subsidized school, privately run and with the facility to receive the student subsidy from the state. In this context parental choice has been enhanced by the proliferation of private school alternatives.

The consequence of over three decades of operation of the voucher system has been the creation of a competitive educational market whereby more than 6,000 private schools represent 55 per cent of total schools in Chile and enrol 61 per cent of all students (in 2013).

Recent changes

In January 2015, after a decade of massive and internationally reported student demonstrations, the Chilean congress approved a law that modify the pillars on which the Chilean education system is built. The new law, which started to operate gradually from March 2016, prohibits:

  • profit making: all schools receiving state subsidies have to be “non-for-profit” organizations. Previous to this law, owners of private subsidized schools could make profits through the school voucher.
  • extra family fees: all schools receiving a public subsidy are no longer permitted to charge extra fees to families.
  • Irregular admission processes: schools receiving public subsidy cannot consider past or future student performance as a criterion to admit students, nor can they accept or reject students on the basis of socioeconomic background, religion, disability, nationality, ethnicity or culture.


Preschool education in Chile is largely provided by three different types of institutions:

  • Junta Nacional de Jardines Infantiles (JUNJI), a public organization under the Ministry of Education established in 1970 to provide preschool education to the most vulnerable families in Chile.
  • Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral del Menor (INTEGRA), a private non-profit institution created in 1990 as part of the Network of Foundations of Socio-Cultural Management of the Chilean Presidency.
  • Private child care centres, funded entirely by parental contributions.

Primary and secondary education

Since the reform of 1981, primary and secondary schools in Chile are largely defined by their administrative and funding arrangements, according to the following categories:

  • Municipal schools (public schools), administered by Chile’s 345 municipal governments, using either of two possible systems: municipal education administrative departments (DAEM) or municipally controlled non-profit corporations. DAEMs answer directly to the mayor and are subject to more rigid rules with regard to personnel management. The municipal corporations are governed by less strict rules regarding personnel hiring and resource use. Eighty percent of municipalities manage education through DAEMs. Primary municipal schools cannot charge extra fees to families, but secondary municipal schools were allowed to do so until recent arrangements to limit this practice came into force.
  • Private, subsidized schools are financed through an attendance-based, per-pupil public subsidy. They have been allowed to charge extra fees to families in primary and secondary education.
  • Corporation schools are publicly funded secondary schools managed by business corporations and were previously allowed to charge extra fees to families.
  • Private paid schools receive no government subsidies and operate entirely on parental contributions.

Vocational Secondary Education

Vocational education at secondary level, when originally established in Chile during the school reform of 1960, was defined as a four-year program at secondary level – from grades 9 to 12. The reform of 1977 introduced important changes that continue to this day. First, the length of vocational secondary education was reduced from four to two school years – 11th and 12th grades, lessening in both time and content the gap between general education and job-related specialisation. This changed the traditional distinction between general and vocational education, establishing two new categories:  general or humanistic-scientific education and technical-professional or specialised upper secondary education. According to this, secondary vocational schools provide the same general education as humanistic-scientific schools during the first two years, and a combination of general formation (specifically in the subjects areas of Spanish, mathematics, history and social sciences, and a foreign language) and specific subjects during the last two years of secondary education.

In terms of curricula, the reform changed the sense and content of the first two years of professional-technical education, opened new options for differentiation in the last two years of academic scientific-humanistic modality, and drastically reduced the range of options in the differentiated cycle of the professional-technical modality (going from 400 areas of specialisation to 14 economic sectors and 46 specializations[1]).

Students that successfully graduate from schools providing vocational secondary education receive a Secondary Education Technical Degree (Título Técnico de Nivel Medio), while students that successfully graduate from humanistic-scientific education receive a certificate of successful completion. Successful completion of any of the two pathways of secondary education is required to take the national test to enter tertiary education (Prueba de Seleccion Universitaria, PSU).

Tertiary Education

Once students successfully graduate from secondary education, there are different pathways into tertiary education. First, they can choose to undergo an academic degree, which in most cases last from four to five or more years (normally two years of bachelor’s degree, and 4 to 3 years extra to obtain the degree). They can also choose to study a professional degree, which in most cases takes three to four years, since they do not undergo the two years required for the bachelor’s degree program. Finally, students may opt for a two-year technical or vocational title.

Tertiary education institutions in Chile are divided in three main categories:  universities, professional institutes and technical training centres.

  • By law, universities are the only tertiary education institutions authorised to confer academic undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Over time they have diversified their provision to offer professional degrees and technical titles. There is a distinct division among Chilean universities depending on when they were established. Sixteen public and nine private universities (also known as traditional universities) were founded before the 1981 reform. They belong to the National Council of Provosts of Chilean Universities (CRUCH) and receive direct public funding. The other group consists of 34 private universities founded after 1981; they do not belong to CRUCH and do not receive direct public funding. All universities must be non-profit organizations, although this has been a contentious issue over the past five years.
  • professional institutes are authorised to confer professional degrees or technical titles, but not academic degrees. Generally, they offer professional programs of four years 5A level, but also offer a lot of 5B programs. They are private, self-funded institutions, and may be either for- or not for-profit.
  • technical training centres can only provide technical titles ISCED 5B, which normally require between two and two and a half years to complete. They are private institutions and may be for- or not-for-profit.


[1] The sectors are: Agriculture, Apparel, Construction, Chemistry, Electricity, Food, Graphics, Management and Commerce, Maritime, Metal-mechanics, Mining, Social programs, Timber, and Tourism.