In this article, I’ll summarize the structure of the Chilean high school system.  I’ll examine the publicly available data on the country’s schools, focusing on the factors that affect student performance in standardized testing.

There are three types of high schools in Chile.

High schools are classified by the type of funding they receive. In the United States, we generally distinguish between private schools and public schools. In Chile, there are three types—public, private and a hybrid between the two.

  1. Municipal (public) high schools. These are the equivalent of our ‘public schools’: they are state-subsidized schools that are locally administered. Based on my analysis of the Ministry of Education’s 2012 school database, about 27% of high schools in Chile are ‘public.’
  2. Particular subvencionado (subsidized private) high schools. These schools are ‘semi-private’: they are privately operated, but receive a government subsidy. The majority (57%) of Chilean high schools are ‘semi-private.’
  3. Particular (private) schools. Particular schools are privately owned and operated schools, which charge a tuition. About 14% of Chile’s high schools are ‘private.”

Techno-professional schools

Chilean students elect whether to pursue a broad or a vocational education during their high school years. Students who want to go on to university generally attend a scientific-humanities school. Vocational, or techno-professional schools, are generally meant to be a substitute for university, and aim to teach students skills they can use in the workplace. In Chile, students enroll in techno-professional high schools before the 9th or 11th grade. Students select a specialty, which they will study for the remaining two or four years of high school.

Since vocational schools are more affordable alternatives to higher education, techno-professional schools primarily serve students from lower income communities.

In practice, the country’s vocational school system has a few notable flaws. Although the goal is to prepare students for their chosen trade, the educational system doesn’t calibrate the number of graduates of each specialty to the demands of the current job market. For example, computer programming, wasn’t offered until as recently as 2016.

The graph below shows the numbers of graduates of each specialty in 2012.

Commonly held beliefs about the Chilean high school system

I’ve spent two months interviewing administrators, teachers and students in Chile. In my conversations, I heard a few beliefs expressed repeatedly:

  • The gap between public and private schools is huge.
  • A family’s income level determines the quality of education their children will receive.
  • There are the schools in Santiago, and the schools outside of Santiago. The further away you go from the city, the worse the schools get.

But I wanted to substantiate the beliefs I was hearing with data. I’ll examine the veracity of each of these statements, using publicly available data on the school system.

Does the type of school a student attends affect performance?

Teachers had told me that the difference between a public and a private school education is pretty big. But how big?

To quantify the gap, I turned to Chile’s Agencia de la Calidad de Educación. As its name suggests, the agency aims to measure and ensure quality in Chile’s primary, middle and high schools. Each year they evaluate every school in the country through an initiative known in Chile as SIMCE, Sistema de Medición de la Calidad de la Educación. As part of the initiative, they administer standardized tests to students in the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 10th grades. These tests evaluate students in reading comprehension, math, science, history and English.

I used the 2012 SIMCE data, since this is the most recent year for which school-level performance is published. I chose to examine data collected on highest level of students in the tenth grade. These students are the oldest, so they are the closest to beginning their professional careers. This data set contains statistics for 2,771 public, private and semi-private high schools in Chile.

When I segmented math performance of 10th graders by school type, the results are as expected—private schools outperform public schools.


Required disclaimer: This is my own elaboration from official databases of the MINEDUC Study Center.

This isn’t all that exciting. We have a similar difference between public and private schools in the United States.

But this graph does not tell us the whole story. When I showed the article to my research partner, he wasn’t convinced. He hypothesized that the difference between public and private schools would disappear after controlling for socio-economic factors.

He was right.

How does the socio-economic profile of a school affect performance?

While I am unable to determine the cause of the correlation, the socio-economic level of a school correlates with the students’ performance.

Chile’s Education Quality Agency classifies each school into one of 5 income designations—low, medium low, medium, medium high and high. Unfortunately, they don’t go into more detail about what thresholds they use for each designation.

The scores are for 10th grade students who took the test in 2012, which is the most recent year for which the agency includes socio-economic groups.



Required disclaimer: This is my own elaboration from official databases of the MINEDUC Study Center.

What is a stronger predictor of performance, socio-economic level or school funding?

Both school type and income level exhibit positive relationships with student performance. How do these two factors interact?

The graph below shows test performance in math by school type and by income level. I excluded groupings that didn’t have enough schools to compute a valid average—public schools with a medium-high income level (4 observations), and private schools with a medium income level (2). Other groupings, such as public schools with high income level, did not exist in the data.

The graph shows that schools within the same income classification tend to have similar student performance across school types. It seems like socio-economic level has some correlation with student performance.

2012 math performance of 10th graders by income level of school attended in Chile

Source: SIMCE 2012

Required disclaimer: This is my own elaboration from official databases of the MINEDUC Study Center.

How does geographic location affect student performance?

There’s this saying in Chile— “Santiago is Chile.”Over 40% of the country lives in the country’s largest city, Santiago. Many students move to Santiago to study, as the country’s top universities are located in the city.

When speaking with educators, I would express my desire to visit school’s outside the country’s metropolitan region. They all warned me—there’s a huge difference, and schools outside the city lack many basic resources.

When I cut the data geospatially— I was able to confirm that students in the metropolitan region outperform schools in the rest of the country. If you hover over the map, you can see the average math test scores for each region.

2012 math performance of 10th graders in Chile

Source: SIMCE 2012

Required disclaimer: This is my own elaboration from official databases of the MINEDUC Study Center.

Wrapping up

I was able to confirm many of the commonly held beliefs expressed to me in interviews. In short, the socio-economic level of a school correlates with student performance. And the school’s location also seems to play a role in student performance.

Next steps

Over the next year, I’ll be traveling to schools, offering computer science workshops. My goal is to develop a method of teaching computer science principles “offline,” without computers.

Chile’s government has introduced a number of initiatives to grow the country’s technology sector. Notably, the country offers equity-free funding to entrepreneurs, requiring only that they keep their business in Chile for 6 months. As many of the country’s schools lack the resources to invest in technology, there is a need to teach 21st century skills offline. Chile, like many other countries, will need to find a way to train the next generation of programmers.