Seminario Conciliar San Ildefonso, conciliar seminary founded in 1832

Seminario Conciliar San Ildefonso, conciliar seminary founded in 1832

1503– Nicolás de Ovando, general governor of the West Indies, ordered by decree that a church be built in every Spanish settlement and that, attached to the church, a house should be erected for the purpose of educating children. Twice a day, a priest was to give lessons in reading and writing at these schools.

1513 – The king of Spain ordered the colonists to provide Christian education (doctrine) to the indigenous people. He also ordered that indigenous children be taught to read and write. The children of the chiefs were instructed by the Franciscan monks for four years so they could become teachers.

– The library of the Santo Domingo Convent (order of the Dominican monks) was established. The advance of education in Puerto Rico was largely due to institutional libraries.

1562– The first known school in honor of King Felipe II was founded. During the first 200 years of the colonization of Puerto Rico, education was limited to the teaching of Christian doctrine, art and grammar. It was offered only in San Juan, Arecibo, San Germán and Coamo.

1623– A fire during a Danish attack destroyed the library of Bishop Bernardo Balbuena and the Church archives.

1782– Brother Iñigo Abbad, Puerto Rico`s first historian, reported the lack or absence of school buildings.

1809– General Félix M. de Messina established a rural school of agriculture and manual arts, marking the beginning of rural schools.

1810- Rafael Cordero a poor, black tobacco farmer opened a free primary school in San Juan. His skills and dedication were such that many wealthy families preferred to send their children to studywith Cordero. The school operated for 48 years.

1813- Thanks to the influence of the Friends of the Country Economic Society, Alejandro Ramírez founded the first institute to teach lay courses, such as math, business, geography, civil law and philosophy.

1825– Classes in theology, philosophy, ethics, Latin, liturgy, and canonic and civil law begin to be offered in the San Juan Cathedral. This educational initiative was implemented as a first step toward creating a university, although that never materialized.

1831– The Island Library (currently the Carnegie Library) was founded by royal decree in Puerta de Tierra. Its collection, principally law books, belonged to the Puerto Rico Bar Association.

1832– Juan Alejo de Arizmendi, first Puerto Rican bishop, established the Colegio Seminar San Ildefonso, first institution to offered sciencie courses.

1851– Governor Juan de la Pezuela founded the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, which remained open until 1865. This school granted licenses to teachers to teach at the primary level.

1865– Governor José Lemery issued an order that established rural schools in all the municipalities of the island. Also, in the same year, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts donated its extensive library to the Friends of the Country Economic Society, which made the collection available to the public.

 Colegio de Párvulos was established in San Juan, directed by the religious order Sister of Charity.

 Instituto Civil de Segunda Enseñanza was established.

1875– The first public library in Mayagüez was established.

1880– The first public library in San Juan was established.

1880– The order of Sacred Heart was establised.

– The first public library in Ponce was established with reading cabinet books and the private collection of Miguel Rosich y Mass.

1897– Around the island, 209 schools offered education to children of all socio-economic levels.

1899– Governor Ruy V. Henry proclaimed the first education law under U.S. rule of Puerto Rico. It organized public schools by grades for children and youths between ages six and 18 years. It also established that schools would teach boys and girls together, that classes would be held Monday through Friday, similar to the academic calendar in the United States. It also divided the island into six school districts (San Juan, Fajardo, Arroyo, Arecibo, Ponce and Mayagüez). Under the law, enrollment and books were free.

1899- When the Friends of the Country Economic Society dissolved, it donated its collection of books to the Puerto Rican Athenaeum and the Island Library.

Early aerial view of the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras

Early aerial view of the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras

1903– The island government established the San Juan Free Library, a public library under the direction of Manuel Fernández Juncos. It was commissioned by the U.S. civil governor, Arthur Yager.

1900– The Normal Industrial School was established in Fajardo, the first training center dedicated to the academic preparation of the island’s teachers.

1901– The U.S. civil government over Puerto Rico was established and the Department of Instruction was created under the leadership of Martin Brumbaugh. Schools were modified along the lines of U.S. education. Brumbaugh also imposed the use of English as the language of instruction on the island.

1903– The Normal Industrial School moved to Río Piedras and became the University of Puerto Rico.

1911- The School of Agriculture was established in Mayagüez as part of the University of Puerto Rico. The following year, its name was changed to the College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts, the name by which it was known for fifty years.

1913– The U.S. government by this date had invested $14 million in education in Puerto Rico. It had founded 630 elementary schools structured by grade levels in urban areas. Also, 1,050 rural schools and four secondary schools were built in the period from 1901 to 1913. By 1913, there were 1,974 teachers and 162,000 students.

1915- Education Commissioner Paul G. Miller ordered that Spanish be the language of instruction, but only in the first four grades. In the intermediate grades, teaching would be done in Spanish and in English, and in the last three grades, in English only.

1916– The collection of the San Juan Free Library was transferred to the Carnegie Library. The library was named in honor of Andrew Carnegie, who donated the money for the construction of the building.

1925- Education in Puerto Rico by now had shown significant progress. The Department of Instruction had been organized and had established educational standards covering all areas: supervision, education and administration. According to the Columbia University International Institute of Teachers, the Puerto Rican population had developed education monumentally, despite the island’s scarce resources. There was no parallel to this educational development in the history of the United States. One third of the government’s revenue was destined for education. The funds for managing the Department came from the Legislature and the municipalities.

1931– The U.S. Congress extended to Puerto Rico the benefits of the Smith and Hughes Vocational Educational Act and all its supplemental acts. Under this legislation, $105,000 was assigned annually to promote vocational education, with an emphasis on agriculture, industrial arts, home economics, and the education of teachers who specialized in these areas. With the extension of the George-Deen law, an even greater amount was assigned to support this effort. There were 7,275 students and 361 teachers in these vocational schools. Industrial education under the terms of the Vocational Education Act included machine work, electrician training, painting, linotype operation, carpentry, cabinet making, textile production, radio engineering, and ceramics. Home economics classes were also offered for girls.

1934- Commissioner of Instruction José Padín reinstated Spanish as the official language of instruction in elementary schools and ordered that English be taught from the first grade on as a special class.

1935- According to the census of this year, 38.8% of school-age children attended some school, college or university, just 6.7% higher than in 1899. Also, 10% knew how to read and write, which represented an increase in literacy of 64.9%. Illiteracy was higher among adults, especially in rural areas.

1937- Commissioner of Instruction José M. Gallardo launched a new method of teaching based on the vision of President Franklin Roosevelt: “Instruction in English is vital for the Puerto Ricans to be able to understand our ideas.” Instruction was restructured so that as children moved to higher grades, a greater number of classes in the curriculum were taken in English. In first and second grades, education was imparted in Spanish and English was taught as an assignment; in third and fourth grades, one third of the teaching was offered in English; in fifth and sixth grades, half in English; in seventh and eighth grades, two thirds in English; and in high school, all teaching was done in English, and Spanish became an assignment. During this year, the school-age population reached 600,000 children, with only half of these attending public schools. For each 100 students, only 41 went to school full time.

1938- Puerto Rico had 269 urban schools with an enrollment of 114,068 students. There were also 53 private schools accredited by the Department of Instruction with 10,862 students. Most of these were found in urban centers (20 schools in San Juan). The majority were Catholic or parochial schools. There were also 16 non-accredited high schools and seven commercial schools.
1948- Under the incumbency of Luis Muñoz Marín, Puerto Rico took more control over the development of the university and public education systems.

1949- Commissioner of Instruction Mariano Villaronga established Spanish as the “vehicle of instruction” in the schools.



1954– All children age six were to attend first grade. This accelerated increase, without corresponding teaching resources, led to a need to focus on the quality of the education received by students during the transformation of Puerto Rico.

1960– The 1960s were declared the Decade of Education. Under the leadership of Dr. Angel G. Quintero Alfaro — sub-secretary of the Department of Instruction in 1961-1964 and secretary in 1965-1968 — an innovative program of model schools was developed. The objective was to create instructional models for providing a higher quality education to a larger population.

1968- After a change of government, the process of innovation and experimentation was halted and replaced by a return to a strategy of strengthening traditional models of instruction.

1970s-1980s- The reforms of the Department of Instruction were mainly aimed at attending to the administrative structure and the decision-making processes. With bipartisan control of power, the payroll of the Department grew and this phenomenon impeded improvements to the educational system. Processes were centralized in the Secretary of Instruction, who traditionally answered to the political party in power.

1990– Law 68 Educational Reform was approved, which presented a new educational philosophy with the objective of decentralizing the decision-making process and giving more autonomy to the schools. This law also changed the name of the Department of Public Instruction to the Department of Education. It also created the General Education Council for the purpose of evaluating, licensing and accrediting both public and private schools.

1993- Law 68 was amended to create the community schools program with the strategy of decentralizing the system. However, even today the system remains highly centralized.

2003- At the beginning of this school year in Puerto Rico there were 1,521 public schools and 562 licensed private schools that served, respectively, about 650,326 and 145,114 students. Students in the public system were distributed as follows: 272,719 in elementary levels; 137,773 in intermediate grades; 114,598 in high schools. In the private schools, there were 80,514 students in elementary levels, 29,096 in intermediate grades, and 22,809 in high schools.


Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 09, 2010.

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