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Puerto Rico, Education and Cultural Institutions

Puerto Rican artists, Carnegie Public Library, Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, American University of Puerto Rico, San German

Puerto Rico greatly improved its educational institutions throughout the 20th century. By 2001, 97.6 percent of the adult population was literate, compared with some 67 percent in 1940. The governor of Puerto Rico appoints the secretary of education, who heads the Department of Education. The department oversees the public education system. Most of the schools in Puerto Rico are public and are modeled on the public schools in the continental United States. About 20 percent of schoolchildren attend private schools. The Roman Catholic Church runs a number of the private schools. Children must attend school from age 6 to 16. Most attend for 12 years (six years of elementary school, three of junior high, and three of senior high school).

The government has gradually spent more money on public elementary and secondary schools, but in 1995-1996 Puerto Rico spent only $3,771 per pupil, compared to an average of $6,146 per pupil in the mainland United States. In the late 1990s the commonwealth’s public schools annually enrolled about 452,000 elementary pupils and about 162,000 secondary students.

In 1998-1999 the commonwealth had 51 private and 14 public institutions of higher education with a combined enrollment of 164,000 students. The University of Puerto Rico System was founded in 1903. It is the oldest institution of higher education in Puerto Rico, with a number of branches including those in Arecibo, Bayamon, Cayey, Humacao, Mayaguez, Ponce, and San Juan. Besides the University of Puerto Rico, other institutions of higher education include Bayamon Central University in Bayamon; Inter American University of Puerto Rico, with major campuses in Hato Rey and San German; Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce; and the University of the Sacred Heart in Santurce.

Language has been a central issue in Puerto Rican education and culture since 1898. Until 1930, U.S. authorities insisted upon making English the language of instruction in the schools. They wanted students to speak English in order to expose them to American culture. However, Puerto Ricans strongly resisted the effort to impose English as the primary language in schools. The policy was changed in 1948, when Spanish replaced English in the school system. English became a second language, although students were required to study English at every school level. In 1993 Puerto Rico declared both Spanish and English the island’s official languages.

Puerto Rico has many libraries, including the Carnegie Public Library, the library of the Ateneo Puertorriqueno (a privately run Puerto Rican cultural organization), and the Volunteer Library League, all in San Juan. Several of the other larger cities and towns also have municipal libraries. Many universities have libraries as well.

Many of Puerto Rico’s major cultural institutions are in San Juan. These include the Puerto Rico Museum of Art, housing works from pre-Columbian times to the present; the Children’s Museum in Old San Juan; and the Museum of the Indian, featuring exhibits about the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean region. Of note, too, is the Ponce Art Museum, which has exhibits of paintings by European and Puerto Rican artists. In addition, metropolitan San Juan is the home of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, and ballet and dance companies. A popular cultural attraction is the Pablo Casals Museum in Old San Juan, which contains memorabilia from the life and career of renowned cellist Pablo Casals.

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