Education and Development in the Post-2015 Landscapes
Octubre 18, 2013

Latin America: A Post-2015 Education Agenda

Norrag News, Pages 61-62

 

Network for international policies and cooperation in education and training

By: José Joaquín Brunner, Professor, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile, 01.10.2013

 

 


Keywords
: Inequalities; education quality; policy priorities; funding; learning skills

Summary: Up to now Latin America’s expanding educational opportunities have not compensated for socioeconomic and cultural inequality. A new policy agenda must include universal early education and care, K-12, that provides basic learning skills for the future to all, consistent with international standards, and a strong VET component at the post-secondary level in connection with the changing needs of the productive sector.

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What are the goals that should guide education in Latin American countries after 2015? Whatever they turn out to be, they should go beyond those of Education for All (EFA), to which the national societies in the region – and their various internal groups of class, ethnicity, gender and location – have advanced unevenly. Moreover any gains have been principally in access to, participation in, and quantitative coverage in pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary education.

What is now required is far more difficult – how to transform the educational experience, particularly for children and youth from sectors with few resources – into one that compensates for socio-economic and cultural inequalities, and prepares them for lifelong learning so that they can perform adult roles in an economic and social environment characterized by continuous change, insecurity and demands on labour.

Up to now, Latin America’s expanding educational opportunities have not compensated for socioeconomic and cultural inequality. It is true that today millions of children and young people, previously excluded from education, now participate in the K-12 process. But on average around 50 percent drop out and the other half follow very different educational paths from the point of view of educational quality. Among those that do complete their secondary education (an increasingly important requirement in Latin America to avoid the risk of falling below the poverty line) half of them have not attained minimum levels of learning by the age of 15, as defined by the PISA tests. In brief, rather than compensate for inequalities at birth, the region’s expanded education system actually reproduces them and so narrows the future opportunities for the majority of young people. And, it follows that only a small fraction of them can go on to tertiary education.

For this reason most young people – with low-quality secondary education or less in terms of schooling – are not sufficiently prepared to continue learning throughout life, join the world of work, assume their civic responsibilities and deal with the uncertainties of contemporary life. Further, their expectations for social mobility become frustrated, their material satisfactions and cultural needs unmet, as are their ambitions for participation opportunities and the assets of modernity. These circumstances result in a dull discomfort that, similar to volcanoes in the Andes, erupt from time to time and destabilize politics and society.

How best to advance then from 2015 toward a more equitable educational future for the population of children and young people in Latin America?

First, and above all, preschool education should be expanded but made universal together with programs for early attention and care (early childhood care and education, ECCE). Until Latin America reaches this standard, education cannot become an instrument to compensate for socioeconomic and cultural inequalities. For the next 15 years this should be the absolute priority – for public policy, State actions, public investment and private cooperation.

Second, children and young people in Latin America should receive an education between K to 12 that provides (at least) the minimum basic learning skills for the future, consistent with PISA standards, independent of their social, ethnic, gender or local background. The challenge is to transform school effectiveness and quality into a real tool that equalizes, as much as possible, the results of learning.

The two previous goals require three necessary conditions: (i) that the higher education system provides preschool and K-12 education with teachers and administrators able to convert failing or mediocre schools into those which meet the proposed educational standards; (ii) that together with civil society, national and local governments provide the required support to these schools so they can be transformed; (iii) that public expenditure for education is used for meeting priorities with high standards of accountability and transparency and not, as frequently happens today, when the two highest income quintiles receive the greatest proportion of public expenditures and in consequence it has a regressive impact.

Finally it is essential to revise the policies and goals of tertiary education, not only to dramatically improve the education of teachers and administrative staff at all levels of the educational system but to: (i) strongly develop vocational and technical education (VET) in connection with the changing needs of the productive sector and with their active participation and collaboration, so as to reduce the pressure of demand on long, complex, academic careers at a high cost; (ii) ensure the widest possible availability of information to guide young people when they are at the point of choosing a tertiary education institution or program, in order to reduce the high attrition rates, the frustration of expectations, waste of public and private resources and the potential for fraud that occurs when there is little or no trustworthy information in markets with strong information asymmetries; and, (iii) actively encourage with state resources, appropriate incentives and international cooperation, educational research oriented toward both system troubleshooting and pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary educational innovation; so that public policies can rely on evidence, teachers on knowledge to improve their work, and national societies on information and arguments that enable discussion and information about the best courses of action for education reform.

 

 

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