Historically, Paraguay has not valued education highly. During Alfredo Stroessner Mattiauda’s presidency (1954–89), education initiatives took a backseat to economic concerns and the task of controlling political adversaries, and teacher salaries fell to extremely low levels. The constitution of 1992 attempted to remedy the long neglect of education. Article 85 of the constitution mandates that 20% of the government dibudget be designated for educational expenditures. This measure, however, has proven to be impractical and has been largely ignored.
Nevertheless, democratization has been accompanied by a gradual improvement in the education system. Spending on education has increased, reaching 4.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2000, up from 1.7 percent in 1989. Much of the increased funding went to raise teacher salaries and update curricula. Students are required to attend school from ages seven to 13, and surveys indicate that Paraguay has a net primary school attendance rate of 92 percent. Public education is free to all, but dropout rates remain high.
Until the 1990s, the state National University and the Catholic University served Paraguay’s entire population. As part of the educational reforms of the 1990s, the government created 10 new universities. In 2003 Paraguay’s national military academy admitted female cadets for the first time, opening another door for women pursuing education.
In 2003 Paraguay had an estimated literacy rate of 94 percent, with very little differential between men and women (94.9 percent to 93 percent, respectively). Illiteracy rates exceed the national average in rural areas. The 2001 census found that 15 percent of women and 10 percent of men living in rural areas were illiterate.