Argentina’s formal literacy rate of nearly 97 percent is one of the highest in the Americas, but that statistic disguises some serious problems. Education is free through high school and compulsory to age 12, and the curriculum is rigid; more importantly, though, many schools are disorderly and continual teachers’ strikes have meant that students often only get half a year, or less, of instruction.
Geographically, there are vast differences. The level of instruction at rural public schools can be appallingly low, but other public secondary schools, most notably the Colegio Nacional Buenos Aires, are even more prestigious than some of their private bilingual counterparts in the capital.
Public universities like the capital’s Universidad de Buenos Aires and the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, in the provincial capital, are generally superior to private universities. Public university education is free of charge, but has generated a surplus of high-status degrees in fields like law and intellectually stimulating but less obviously practical subjects like psychology and sociology—and not enough in hands-on disciplines like engineering and computer science. It is also highly politicized, with activists insisting on open admissions to careers such as medicine, and claiming that any rejection is discriminatory.
Schoolteachers generally do not receive university degrees but attend special teachers colleges. There is vocational and technical training as well, but these skills enjoy little respect even when those jobs pay more than white-collar positions or office work.
Several Argentine scientists have won Nobel Prizes, including Bernardo Houssay (Medicine, 1946), Luis Federico Leloir (Chemistry, 1972), and César Milstein (Medicine, 1984). One continual concern is the “brain drain” of educated Argentines overseas; Milstein, for instance, spent his most productive years in England because political pressures at Argentine universities made research impossible. Many talented individuals, though, have left simply because the economy has failed them.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition