Few issues facing the societies of Latin America and the Caribbean are more important than educational reform. As countries shift throughout the region toward open economies, democratic governance and state decentralization, they are placing radically new demands on education systems, requiring that they train students for jobs in an internationally competitive economy, foster technological change, promote social equity and prepare people for democratic citizenship. Yet the region's traditional model of educational development--in place since the 1960s--has focused almost exclusively on expanding enrollments and has not delivered adequate levels of quality, equity, and efficiency. The result has been a system that often fails to meet the demands of modern labor markets and modern citizenship, and resists change. A new approach is needed.

In an effort to address this crucial issue, the Inter-American Dialogue, in collaboration with the Corporation for Development Research (CINDE) in Santiago, Chile, decided to establish a special Task Force on Education, Equity and Economic Competitiveness in the Americas. The Task Force is chaired by Senator José Octavio Bordón of Argentina, who earlier served as governor of the province of Mendoza, and John R. Petty, the former chairman and CEO of Marine Midland Bank and presently chairman of the Czech and Slovak American Enterprise Fund. It is composed of distinguished leaders from Latin and North America and the Caribbean, drawn from the diverse sectors--government, business, political parties, the academy, churches, and professional associations--that have a stake in the region's educational systems. Its chief objective is to develop a broader and more active constituency for educational reform. Task Force activities are being co-directed by Jeffrey M. Puryear and José Joaquín Brunner.

The papers presented in these two volumes were commissioned for the first phase of the Task Force program. That phase concluded on November 19, 1993 with a day-long meeting in Washington that brought together a group of prominent leaders and education specialists to shape a work plan for task force activities in 1994 and beyond, and to contribute to the production of a policy paper assessing the chief problems afflicting education in the region and the opportunities for constructive change. The meeting was attended by representatives of diverse sectors--government, business, political parties, education, and the academy--from Latin and North America and the Caribbean. Participants from the Inter-American Dialogue included Mssrs. Bordón and Petty; David Hamburg, president of the Carnegie Corporation in New York; Senator Billie Miller, opposition party leader of Barbados; and Dialogue President Peter Hakim. Others attending the meeting included Osvaldo Sunkel, director of CINDE; Juan Carlos Tedesco, director of the International Bureau of Education of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC); and representatives from the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Academy of Educational Development.

The commissioned papers--four of them exploring key education policy issues and eight country-specific case studies--were intended to provide background for the discussions at the meeting. They were prepared by distinguished experts on educational reform from throughout the Americas. Among the authors of the papers were Eduardo Aldana, director of SER Research Institute in Colombia; Patricia Arregui, executive director of the Group of Analysis for Development (GRADE) in Peru; Thomas Bailey, director of the Institute on Education and the Economy at the Teachers College of Columbia University in New York; Cecilia Braslavsky, coordinator of Education and Society at the Latin American Faculty of the Social Sciences (FLASCO) in Argentina; Cristián Cox, director of the Educational Quality and Equity Improvement Program of the Chilean ministry of education; Joseph Farrell, professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Canada; Carlos Filgueira, senior researcher at the Uruguayan Center for Information and Studies (CIESU) in Uruguay; Carmen García Guadilla, professor at the Center for Development Studies (CENDES) of the Central University of Venezuela; María de Ibarrola, Director General of the SNTE Foundation for the Culture of the Mexican Teacher in Mexico City; and Simón Schwartzman, Senior Researcher at the Nucleus for Research on Higher Education (NUPES) at the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

The four papers published in volume one address themes that are currently central in the debate over educational reform: the economic and technological context of educational change; the allocation of public funds across educational levels; the requirements for developing effective schools; and the role of foreign assistance in facilitating reform of education systems. Several conclusions in these four papers merit special attention: 1) that the competitiveness of firms and nations depends increasingly on the relationships between education, business and technological development; 2) that in order to carry out comprehensive educational reform, the countries of the region need both to increase their investments in human resources and to manage those funds more efficiently; 3) that such changes will only produce the desired effects if they manage to improve the processes of teaching and learning that take place at the classroom level; and 4) that successfully promoting educational reform requires solid knowledge regarding local conditions and constant feedback among the several stages of policy development--analysis, formulation, implementation and evaluation--a process that can be strengthened through new forms of foreign assistance and cooperation.

Volume two presents eight country-specific case studies analyzing entire education systems from pre-school to tertiary. Here the emphasis is on briefly describing the fundamental characteristics of the education systems in each country, identifying their principal problems in terms of equity, quality, and efficiency, and documenting the efforts at change currently underway. Each paper also compares the national education agenda with the recommendations presented in the recent publication--Education and Knowledge: Basic Pillars of Changing Production Patterns with Social Equity--by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO).

During phase two of the project, the Task Force will develop and administer a program of activities in coordination with national teams established in approximately six Latin American and Caribbean countries. These activities will culminate in the preparation of a comprehensive, high-profile report that makes the case for education reform, lays out the principal issues, and makes policy recommendations, along with a diversified program of analysis, consultations, publications and outreach.

Funding for the papers, the conference and for other activities carried out during phase one of Task Force was provided by the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).

Jeffrey M. Puryear

José Joaquín Brunner