Bolivian institutes, most of them privately owned, are another alternative for education in Bolivia. In view of the poor quality of the country's public education system, enterprising Bolivian and foreign investors have poured millions into private universities
and private schools
, as explained previously, but the proliferation of private and vocational institutes is, perhaps the most surprising result of this neglect.
This phenomenon is most evident in Eastern Bolivia, and more specifically, the department of Santa Cruz, a region that since the Colonial era has been far more neglected and ignored than the Western half of the country.
Even after Bolivia gained its independence from Spain in 1825, the various national governments focused on investing in the country's more populous West, mostly in La Paz, over the next 160 years, and little elsewhere. As a result, Bolivia's Eastern population has developed a very entrepreneurial spirit and massive efforts were made to attract foreign investment. This gained momentum during the 1990's when the region's vast oil and gas fields were opened to foreign investment.
Foreign companies, as a stipulation of their contracts with the Bolivian government, built and equipped dozens of public schools and health centers in far reaching rural areas that previously had little or no education or health care infrastructure. Non-profit organizations donated dozens more. The region experienced a construction boom which lasted for several years, and in Santa Cruz continues at record rates even today, as immigrants from other areas of Bolivia flood into Santa Cruz.
The department of Santa Cruz, and its capital city, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, have become the fastest growing department, and the largest city in Bolivia, within the past 10 years and the economic engine of the country, with this department alone generating nearly 40% of the gross national product. Meanwhile tiny Tarija is now Bolivia's fourth fastest growing department. This where the role of private institutes becomes important.
Most of the population growth Eastern Bolivia has experienced (the same is happening in Tarija) is due to the immigration of hundreds of thousands of Bolivian citizens who are leaving La Paz, Oruro, Potosí, Cochabamba and other areas to seek greener pastures in Bolivia's newly wealthy East. However, most are not middle class or wealthy families and cannot afford to send their children to the posh new private universities and schools that have sprung up. Meanwhile, national government investment in the nation's public education system has grown and dozens of new public schools have been built throughout Bolivia, focusing especially on small, remote towns.
Bolivia, and primarily Eastern Bolivia, has seen a surge in (foreign and Bolivian) privately-owned, but affordable institutes, academies and vocational schools offering every subject under the sun. Students of all ages can study languages, music, handcrafts of all types, baking and decorating, driving, modeling, sports, speed-reading, driving, advanced mathematics, chess, painting and sculpture, fashion design, cooking, carpentry, dance, computer programs, and much more, day and night and on weekends. Some of these, like the private schools and universities, have grown and expanded into other cities, offering dozens of alternative, affordable options for education in Bolivia.
The role of private institutes is important in a country like Bolivia where the public school and university system continually fails to provide good quality education and drop-out rates are high. In Bolivia, where people often say "de la necesidad nace la creatividad" (creativity is born from need) private institutes, and their owners, have risen to the occasion.