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La Educación
Número: (123-125) I,III
Año: 1996


The development of technology and its specific applications require responses from the educational sector. In certain political circles, a consensus exists that the objective of technical education should not be the reproduction of the same social inequalities that have always characterized industrial societies. It therefore seems quite clear that the reform of technical education is not simply a technical question, but is rather a political question which relates more closely to different perceptions, ideologies, and interests than to the “objective” findings of economic studies.

At this moment, it is improbable that private enterprise, consisting of either domestic or foreign capital, is prepared to assume the costs of the education of its labor force directly. On the contrary, one of the most compelling incentives for promoting the international fluidity of capital and goods is to facilitate the search for lower labor costs. Therefore, public support for technical education in some form will continue to be necessary, although perhaps it might be channelled through non-governmental organizations.

Given the uncertainty and fluidity of the global economy and international trade, it is also apparent that traditional programs from international agencies of technical cooperation, which tend to apply a single model uniformly in many countries with only minor adaptations—as in the case of “Chile Joven”—are as obsolete as the programs they seek to reform. Instead, a variety of innovations that respond to a range of national, state, and local conditions is needed. One important service that international agencies can provide is the continuing survey of fundamental reforms and alternative approaches to teaching and learning through an evaluation of functioning projects.

A final observation should be added about the role of the State. Based on comparisons with other regions, Latin America has serious problems with the financing of secondary education and of education in general. Although increased financial support does not represent the entire solution to the problem of inadequate education, there is a point at which efforts to reform impoverished educational systems without providing additional resources become pointless.

The lack of educational resources cannot be resolved through loans and external financing. As the last twenty years have demonstrated, the cost of the educational reforms of the 1970s was repaid through the fiscal austerity of the 1980s, and during that time, much of the progress of the earlier decade was lost.

Nor can the problem be solved through a transfer of resources from one level of education to another.14 Rather, additional resources should be allocated to education. The fact that the public resource base is so reduced in comparison to other parts of the world suggests that there are possibilities to increase the taxable resource base for the specific purpose of funding the educational sector. Although it is inconsistent with the overall policy of reducing the sphere of State action, it is consistent with the objective of concentrating public sector action and resources in those areas where they can be used effectively.

Finally, a discussion of educational reforms at this time raises some of the most basic questions about social and economic organization. First, if we are reasonably honest, we must admit that, for the better part of this century in this hemisphere, there have not really been enough jobs for everyone at decent wages, nor are there likely to be. Moreover, we have seen clearly in the 1990s that this is true even in times of economic recovery or growth, both in North America and in Latin America. Secondly, visible long-term tendencies in agriculture, manufacturing, and services are steadily displacing labor relative to productivity, and these tendencies accelerate dramatically with the application of computer-mediated production.

Given the widening gap between the number of jobs worth having and the number of people who want them, we must begin to consider the broad implications of rapid technological change. These go well beyond issues such as curricular innovation and administrative decentralization. What does routine technological innovation imply about the quality and quantity of paid work? How can our societies adjust to a world where paid work is less and less relevant to technological productivity? Will increasing technological capability free us from tedious, tiring, and dangerous jobs, or will it immiserate us further by eliminating more human employment without creating new means of support? Are there limits to productivity that are ultimately fixed by environmental equilibrium? The need to reform technical education in Latin America is only one practical aspect of a much broader issue. The larger question concerns the value of paid work and its proper place in social life.