School and Education in Peru

There is a 6-year compulsory elementary school. The children start school when they are 6 years old, but preschool for 5 year olds is also compulsory. In 2001, all children attended primary school. The first 2 years of high school are compulsory and equal for all, the last 3 years are divided into general and technical subjects. 61% of young people take higher education. The dropout rate during high school comprises about half of the students.

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There are 25 state and 10 private universities and a host of other higher education institutions. San Marcos University of Lima (founded 1551) is the oldest university in South America. Public education at all levels was free for all until 1993, when payment for university education was introduced.

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According to UNESCO (2001), approx. 10% of the adult population is illiterate.

Peru Country Flag

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Tupac Amaru

Trade reforms were the reason why ports on the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Ocean could trade directly with Spain, which further weakened the position of the Viceroy. In 1780, Native Chief José Gabriel Condorcanqui arrested a city bailiff accused of cruelty, and under the name Tupac Amaru II, in 1781, he led a total revolt among the natives – supported by some Creole (Spanish descendants) – against the Viceroy. The revolt spread to Bolivia and Argentina, but lost support as it developed into a violent showdown between the natives and the whites. Tupac was captured in 1781 and taken to Cusco. Here he was first forced to attend the execution of his wife and children before he was even parted and beheaded. Still, the revolution continued until the Spanish government issued a general amnesty to all the rebels. Guerrilla organization MRTA in Peru andTupamaros in Uruguay have since taken the name of this last great native rebel.


While the other Spanish colonies in South America began their independence struggle in 1810-21, Peru remained loyal to Spain. The reason was the enormous concentration of military power in Lima, the conservatism of the local oligarchy and the failed native insurgency attempts. The forces to throw the Spaniards at the gate had to be picked up outside Peru. In order to secure the government of Buenos Aires’ control over the mines of Alto Perú, General José de San Martín in 1818 liberated Chile, and used it to attack Peru by sea. In September 1820, his forces occupied the port of Pisco and the Viceroy was forced to withdraw his troops inland. On July 18, 1821, San Martín invaded Lima and declared the country independent.

San Martín asked for assistance from Venezuelan Simón Bolívar to attack the large Spanish troop forces in the interior of Peru, but the latter would not share the leadership. Bolívar had liberated the northern part of the continent and now seized power in Peru to continue the fight. At the fighting in Junín and Ayacucho in August and December 1824, the Spanish power was finally eliminated and Peru finally gained its full independence.

The first years of independence were marked by constant struggles between, on the one hand, the conservative oligarchy that longed for the Viceroy and on the other the liberals. The wars of 1827 against Colombia and Bolivia had this underlying theme. In 1835, Bolivian President Andrés Santa Cruz tried to merge Peru and Bolivia, but it failed socially and economically.

Marshal Ramón Castilla ruled Peru in 1845-62 gave the state its modern form after abolishing slavery and drafting a new constitution. Yet the century as a whole was marked by instability, military dictatorship, war and civil war. From 1826 to 1895, the country had no less than 18 military caudillos as heads of state.

In 1864, Spain attempted to establish enclaves on the Peruvian coast, prompting Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador to declare war on the ancient colonial power. Spain managed to bomb Valparaíso in Chile and Callao – Lima’s port city – before it was struck in 1866.

The Peruvian silver mines were depleted and from 1845 the guano became the country’s most important export commodity. These were bird droppings that were suitable as fertilizers. As guano production declined, it was replaced by the extraction of salpets in the desert in the southern part of the country. This wealth triggered the Pacific War (1879-83), with Peru and Bolivia jointly leading against Chile, which extracted the carpenter with the support of English companies. But the two countries lost the war and at the same time the rich areas of saltpetre in the provinces of Arica, Tarapacá and Antofagasta.