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Colección:
La Educación
Número: (126-128) I,III
Año: 1997

IV. Suggestions for Action in Education

In order for education in the region to impart traditional national values and the abilities and skills conducive to innovation, long range strategies must be established based on national consensus and the involvement of all sectors of society (Farrell, 1997b).  The following are some suggestions for action —based on relevant research—  which should be considered in the process of consensus building consensus: (i) modernize administration through information systems, professionalizing the responsibilities of school principals, evaluating decentralization and targetting of the activities of the Ministry of Education; (ii) increase income using public and private resources to improve equity in the quality of education; (iii) professionalize the learning process in the classroom, using carefully evaluated materials that ensure individual or group learning —this is especially necessary for more heterogenous population groups, particularly those at the lower end of the income scale; (iv) establish policies for initial teacher education and in-service training for primary and secondary school teachers that are conducive to individualized and group-oriented learning models; (v) develop postgraduate programs to improve the education of university professors; and (vi) invest in scientific and technological research (Loera, 1995).

1. Consensus-Building Based on Adequate Information


Since the poor quality of education is a given, the performance of education systems in Latin America and the Caribbean must be measured in order to build national consensus around desired goals (Schultze-Kraft, 1997).  It would then be possible to design well-researched innovations, evaluate outcomes and compare them with the rest of the world based on unified goals, and garner the strong political support necessary to implement reforms (Puryear, 1997). This would contribute to surmounting the current problem of educational policies which, since they are supported solely by the government in power, change with each government. (Braslavsky, 1997; Wilson, 1997).  As a result, schools are constantly changing their priorities (Elmore, 1996) and do not always incorporate the best methods available.

The actors in the education field, to be involved in national consensus-building around goals and strategies for reform include: professors, academics, students, their parents,  teachers’ associations and unions, the productive sectors of society, local authorities, legislators, and administrators of public resources.  These sectors must have the relevant background and research at their disposal to nourish discussion and make decisions.  Consensus on goals enables long-range objectives to be established, together with lasting agreements with broad and fair proposals that involve all social actors (Mayor, 1995; Farrell, 1997a).

There are no tried and true recipes for educational reform, nor are there formulas for technical cooperation to support the process of designing and implementing policies and reforms (Farrell, 1994; Sander, 1996a).  In accomplishing objectives, however, it is worthwhile to support innovations that have demonstrated success in terms of the educational level achieved by countries and associated costs (Castro, 1997a).  It is also important to adopt methods and materials that have already been tested, such as those that include group and cooperative learning methods (Mevarech and Kramaski, 1997; Slavin, 1997).  Using research findings and informing the public can contribute to improved educational administration, information exchange, and international cooperation in the education field.  Premising initiatives on successful experiences reduces the risks associated with innovation and avoids errors in their implementation (McGinn, 1997b).  An assessment of the effectiveness and impact of previous innovative experiences allows teachers to try them with full knowledge of the facts (Wise and Liebrand, 1996).  It is useful, therefore, to evaluate experiences and use interactive systems through national and regional networks.  Future policies must support innovations with demonstrated capacity to produce desired outcomes based on the educational level reached by the countries and the financial impact (Mayorga, 1997).

TABLE 5

The following are some of the successful experiences that can be adapted to different situations: the televised transmission of preschool programs like Sesame Street—which have a positive affect on children’s ability and subsequent success in primary school—and primary school projects such as EDUCO in El Salvador, Community Instructors in Mexico (Public Education Secretariat, 1996), Chile’s “900 schools” (Guttman, 1993), and the “New School” program in Colombia which was launched during the 1980s and has been successfully evaluated on several occasions (Lavín, 1996).  At the secondary level there are other alternatives to increase access for the most isolated sectors: for example, the use of long-distance mass media such as the “telesecondary school” in Mexico, Argentina’s “TELAR,” and “Enlaces” in Chile.  There is growing evidence that long-distance education, especially the use of radio and television, can serve disadvantaged groups at a lower cost than formal education and, in some cases, can improve learning.   In Latin America and the Caribbean, several Brazilian alternative secondary school programs  have proved to be cost effective, as have radio education programs in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Costa Rica, and the Open University in Venezuela and Mexico.  It would be important to have objective evaluations of many other experiences.  One such experience is Argentina’s “alternating” system for grades seven through nine, in which students alternate between a week at school and a week at home where they work on a “project” with detailed instructions based on a learning guide.  They subsequently finish the project with the teacher at school.

Countries in the region must recognize how vital “transparency” is to the process of improving the quality of education.  It is important to take into account negative outcomes, since they offer important information about the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum and different educational methods.  In fact, many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have launched evaluation programs and the initial findings have been used to compare the region’s performance with that of the rest of the world.  These serve to bring the official curriculum and the one actually implemented closer together as well as to improve texts, teacher training, classroom methods and learning processes.  Evaluations or statistical analyses can also be used to target additional resources to schools identified as having greater needs, to identify specific actions or targets that might effectively raise students’ academic achievement, and to reduce extreme inequity in academic achievement.

Tools to measure educational achievement include: (i) evaluations measuring what children learn in school; (ii) statistical analysis to determine drop-out and repetition rates; (iii) measures of school inputs including a definition of minimum resources that each school should have; (iv) measures of classroom processes and (v) measures of performance of school graduates in the workplace.  There is a need for financial and institutional support for academic research on the factors that influence learning as well as on cost-effectiveness.  Research must employ modern analytical techniques to identify causal relationships.

To ensure that evaluations, statistics, and research influence national education policy as well as classroom behaviors, researchers, advisors and evaluators should: (i) establish consensus about the research objectives; (ii) widely disseminate and debate research findings; and (iii) inform public opinion to ensure effective public involvement.  Consensus is difficult because the issue is one of modifying trends that have long been part of the Latin American educational system, especially those having to do with learning process and teaching methods (changing from a “transfer of knowledge” model to one of  “constructive, active, group learning”).  It is not easy to build consensus around reform of educational methods and pedagogical content, and the attendant training for teachers.  Reliable, timely information can ease the transition.

2. Incentives for Positive Initiatives and Accountability for Outcomes


Education ministries should create incentives for teachers and administrators to adopt better educational methods and replicate positive experiences (Elmore, 1996; Chhibber, 1997; Pradhan, 1997).  In this context, they must adapt to the framework produced by decentralization, the market economy, and pressure to increase equity.  And, they must be prepared to be accountable for outcomes (Ter-Minassia, 1997).  This new role at the ministerial level involves establishing new public or autonomous institutions to: evaluate students, subsidize research through competitive project proposals (with outside evaluators), accredit institutions, manage information systems and data bases, and facilitate the exchange of research findings (Tedesco, 1987; Braslavsky, 1997).  Although efforts to decentralize education in the region have not yet met their stated goals, nor brought about real improvements in the quality of education (Prawda, 1993), it is probable that the delegation of functions to the local level will continue to the point of school-based management (Winkler, 1997).  In any case, a balanced distribution of functions among central, regional, and local levels must be achieved.  All of these activities require qualified personnel in fields such as administration, information sciences, evaluation and measurement of achievement, and research.  It is also important to forge long-term stable teams to manage the education sector (Braslavsky, 1997).

Efficient operational autonomy for schools must include the principal agents of the process (IDB, 1996; Fujimoto-Gómez, 1996; Bastías, 1997).  Citizens (parents, students, and community) must be directly involved in school organization, financing, and administration —including the selection and supervision of school personnel—, and there must be educational leadership of school principals (Schaeffer, 1997; Winkler, 1997).  The success of projects like “EDUCO” (El Salvador), Community Instructors (Mexico), “Support for School Communities” (Nicaragua), Social-Educational Plan (Argentina), “School Councils of Minas Gerais and Paraná” (Brazil), and “Institutional Educational Projects [PEI]” (Colombia) and “Partners for Change” (Jamaica) shows that it is advisable to involve parents in administration.  Students and parents who are adequately informed can choose objectively among existing educational alternatives, thereby introducing an element of quality control into each unit of the system.  Eventually, indicators must be established to evaluate progress in each type of educational context and identify the most successful strategies and models in the region.

Professionalization of education in schools requires improved training for principals of educational institutions so that they can effectively guide the learning process at the classroom level.  More than simply establishing performance standards for teachers —which do not stimulate autonomy and creativity— it is necessary to: develop the ability to guide and motivate teachers, encourage innovation, and undertake jointly the imrovement of the educational establishment.  In Minas Gerais and Paraná (Brazil) participatory methods of selecting principals have been implemented (Mello and Wey, 1995; Gadotti and Barcellos, 1996).  And principals have been key to the success of  “Fe y Alegría” programs in several countries (Lavín, 1996; Swope, Celedón, and Latorre, 1997).  Moreover, although it is generally agreed that it is useful to reward the most effective teachers, up until now it has not been possible to design effective models (Hatry, Greiner and Ashford, 1994; Mizala, 1997).

3. Acquiring New Resources and Targeting Existing Resources


New resources must be obtained through public and private funding.  These must be allocated according to priorities established through national consensus and targeted to vulnerable groups.

Effective reforms require social consensus on the amount of publicly and privately administered resources to finance education as well as on the allocation of these resources.  The countries in the region must build consensus to increase public and private involvement in education at the national level.  It will be much easier to accomplish this given that through the year 2015 the “dependency ratio” will have decreased in Latin America and the Caribbean —in other words, the number of children and retired persons will have decreased relative to the economically active population.  This will open a “window of opportunity” since there will be an increase in national public funds for social spending.  And if economic growth continues, it will be possible over time to increase the percentage of GNP investmed in education.  It will then be feasible, for example, to raise the percentage of the GDP from the current level of 4.5 percent to 6 or 7 percent and maximize spending efficiency (including financing from international agencies which accounts for more than half of total investments to improve education).  Increased spending requires improved coordination and communication among these sectors and agencies (national and international networks) to maximize efficiency and effectiveness (UNESCO, 1996b).

In terms of national resources, funds must be allocated for key policies to bridge the quality gap in education.  (see box on “Policy Priorities by Level”).  Poor  resource distribution must be corrected and additional resources acquired to expand some areas of the system, introduce innovations, and improve operations.  Excessive resources often are allocated to administrative facilities leaving few available for textbooks and other teaching materials (IDB, 1996).  In most Latin American countries, teacher salaries absorb at least two-thirds of public spending for education, while no more than 1 percent is used for educational materials (UNESCO, 1991; Schiefelbein and Wolff, 1995).  Significant resources have not been available for effective educational materials despite research showing that such materials have a positive influence on learning (Pogrow, 1996).  At the same time, simply increasing educational inputs may not improve the quality of education.  For example, secondary education did not improve despite significant spending for laboratories and libraries during the 1970s and 1980s.  Surely this investment would have yielded greater returns if work guidebooks and young assistants or teachers had been provided to ensure their effective utilization.  Adopting innovative methods requires additional resources and better use of existing resources, and should be based on studies demonstrating the feasibility and efficiency of implementation (Slavin, 1997).

Targeting resources to improve equity in education requires “affirmative action” to serve high risk populations.  Universal coverage in primary education should extend to the most isolated areas of the region; nonetheless, serving isolated areas is more expensive and preschool coverage remains partial (Myers, 1995).  Costs rise, however, when the goal is to elevate the standard of living of preschool and primary school students living in extreme poverty who lack nutrition and health services.  In these cases the  family, community, and school must work together.

High levels of failure demand attention to what is occurring in the school and in the classroom, without disregarding factors external to education (nutrition, health, or parental education level) which also influence  student learning (Slavin, 1997).  Therefore, resources to improve equity in the quality of education for the most disadvantaged sectors must include programs to extend coverage to localities of extreme poverty (reinforcing factors that contribute to increased quality). There should also be  socio-economic support programs for students coming from the most disadvantaged sectors, through free public education, nutrition, health, distribution of textbooks, and scholarships to prevent children in this social sector from dropping out early (Schiefelbein, 1997b).

Extending the school year (to approach that of industrialized countries) is one example of affirmative action.  Since most countries in the region have the infrastructure in place to achieve these levels of schooling, it is feasible to increase the school day gradually to a length comparable to developed countries.


Political Priorities by Educational Level


Basic education must be the highest priority since the higher levels (secondary and university) are the "result" of what is achieved at the elementary level.

The priorities for public spending on basic education are: (i) extend the school year to approach that of developed countries; (ii) extend access to early education and preschool with resources targeted toward poor and at- risk children (affirmative action). Since this educational level is costly, emphasis should be placed on seeking low cost alternatives through public or private programs; (iii) facilitate access to school textbooks and educational materials, especially appropriate self-paced learning materials, and, to the extent possible, provide computers, software programs, and trained staff to use them effectively in the learning process; (iv) increase teachers’ real salaries, but this increase should include agreements to guarantee extending the minimum length of the school day and the 180-day school year, reduction of teacher strikes (and a commitment to compensate for time lost), breaking the vicious circle of poor candidates who become poor teachers, and allocating a portion of the salary increase to incentives and awards for the best teachers; (v) reform initial education of teachers and in-service training to encourage new approaches in the classroom and to offer individualized attention --focus on the students’ multiplicity of basic needs-- (Wolff, Schiefelbein, and Valenzuela, 1993); (vi) use affirmative action to allocate funds to at-risk schools, especially in rural and disadvantaged-urban areas, and provide awards and incentives to teachers working in these areas; (vii) use mass media to launch campaigns to encourage early parental stimulation of children and expand preschool coverage; and (viii) undertake research and evaluation and improve statistical information (analytical studies are inexpensive relative to the overall cost of education and the benefits in terms of learning and reducing dropout levels can be substantial, resulting in a positive cost-benefit ratio).

Given low secondary school enrollment in Latin America and the Caribbean, substantial investment is also needed at this level, in order to compete with countries who produce similar goods. In many of these countries, at least 50% of the corresponding age group is enrolled in secondary schools. As with elementary education, there must be greater spending to improve quality. Subsidies can be provided for students served by private schools to reduce costs and promote diversity.

It is also necessary to invest in higher education: in technology, so that students at this level have access to computers and the Internet as early as possible, and in research and postgraduate training. Given high costs and the bias toward elite groups, a growing portion of funding for higher education should come from the private sector. At the same time, the type of public funding must change. To date, governments have provided funds based on "per capita subsidies", number of academics, and direct bargaining with the institutions. Direct government support should decrease in a new funding system. Government spending should concentrate on: scholarships and loans for needy students, certain areas of higher education, such as research and postgraduate studies, which offer additional benefits in terms of promoting development, and less prestigious institutions or those in underdeveloped regions. Government support for institutions should be based on formulas and incentives that promote increased efficiency, quality and equity and on open competition for postgraduate studies and research projects. Investment in technology and higher education should be linked with cost recovery and more emphasis on institutional accountability for outcomes (Reisberg, 1997)


Four groups specifically require substantial support in order to achieve acceptable levels of quality and equity in education: (i) children from disadvantaged-urban and rural areas; (ii) indigenous and minority groups; (iii) street children; and (iv) special needs children.  In each of these cases, teaching methods must be changed radically to meet individual needs.  Appropriate strategies should: create methods that stimulate active learning (individual and group); respect diversity by adapting education to the specific needs of each student (children with disabilities); and, offer learning opportunities related to the students life experience and reality (Schiefelbein, 1997b).

Four groups specifically require substantial support in order to achieve acceptable levels of quality and equity in education: (i) children from disadvantaged-urban and rural areas; (ii) indigenous and minority groups; (iii) street children; and (iv) special needs children.  In each of these cases, teaching methods must be changed radically to meet individual needs.  Appropriate strategies should: create methods that stimulate active learning (individual and group); respect diversity by adapting education to the specific needs of each student (children with disabilities); and, offer learning opportunities related to the students life experience and reality (Schiefelbein, 1997b).

Poor academic performance associated with multilingual education has led to programs in Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru which give political and legal recognition to the different cultures living in the region.  This recognition must now be incorporated into the school system by offering native language education when it differs from the language used at school.  The education and training of child workers and street children deserves special mention. Three areas of action are required: public information, mobilizing funding sources, and cooperation (MacPherson-Russell, 1995; UNESCO, 1995b).

Support is also needed to open schools that mainstream many children requiring special education. Because alternative education programs are only available to students with specific disabilities, many other students with less severe learning impediments remain in regular classrooms without special services to address their individual needs.  Many countries in the region have founded “integrated or mainstream schools” in which all the students learn together, regardless of their personal, social, or cultural circumstances.  These schools use an individualized and group approach accessible to all of the children and their diverse needs.

In sum, these varied categories and types of students have both shared and individual educational needs.  In some cases, educational services that differ from those provided to most students are required, either temporarily or permanently.  In all cases, it is important to change the role of the teacher, provide self-paced and group learning materials, and develop a flexible curriculum that offers alternatives (in terms of time and difficulty level) to the students (Thomas and Shaw, 1992; Slavin, 1997; Tenti, 1997).

4. Changing Pedagogical Practices


An individualized, dynamic and relevant learning process is needed.  Very few relevant learning experiences occur in Latin American classrooms (especially in public schools), although any educational method can work when students have substantial support at home, and help from parents or tutors to solve learning problems, when they attend class regularly, and when books and electronic equipment are available.  This is not the case for public school children in high risk areas.  In these cases, creating quality learning experiences involves shattering myths and taking initiatives that diverge from the expectations created by “popular wisdom.” Classroom methods currently emphasize the oral transfer of information (lecture-style teaching followed by rote memorization) in heterogeneous classrooms.  As a result, some students are unable to keep up the pace at which information —which is often far removed from their own experience— is “deposited.”

Like other types of major change, improving schools that use the lecture style of teaching will not be easy (Schiefelbein and Tedesco, 1995: UNESCO/OREALC, 1996).  To begin with, it is important to examine and identify alternative teaching methods that eventually could replace the lecture style (at least some of the time) and produce the desired increase in quality (Senge, 1991; Calvo, 1996).  It is feasible to do this: some schools serving low income students  achieve significantly higher performance levels than other similarly situated schools (Muñoz, 1992). Research suggests that it is possible to improve quality if students spend their time on relevant learning experiences (Mevarech and Kramarski, 1997).

A high quality education occurs when students: (i) are motivated to participate in meaningful learning experiences and draw on their previous knowledge (Iran-Nejad, McKeachie and Berliner, 1990); (ii) interact and discuss planned activities among themselves (Slavin, Madden, and Stevens, 1990); (iii) have sufficient time to learn a subject or participate in an exercise; (iv) engage in activities related to their daily life or expectations (Roda, 1984; Langer, 1990; Mamchur, 1990); (v) receive formative evaluation to enable them to work through problems encountered during planned learning activities (Slavin, 1997); (vi) are asked to prepare written reports (Adams, 1990); and (vii) realize that they are learning (relevant knowledge and meta-cognizance) along with their teachers.  In these cases, students learn for themselves, building knowledge independently or in groups through learning activities designed and explained in a text (manual, guide, or script).  This leaves the teacher with enough time to help the students solve problems and express their feelings and concerns, (given that many learning problems have emotional roots).

Several barriers must be removed in order to implement these suggestions.  First barrier: group activity areas must be created by pushing two to four tables together, since the traditional classroom is organized in rows for lecture style teaching (unless the benches or seats are fixed to the classroom floor).  Second barrier: students who finish their work must silently read books of “their” choosing, without interrupting the work of slower students (this fosters love of reading) (Tenti, 1997).  Therefore, each classroom should have a stocked bookcase —a classroom library. A third barrier is the scarcity of appropriate educational materials conducive to good learning. Since textbooks play an important role in traditional classrooms, one possibility is to adapt them (Weiss, 1992) into effective learning guides. Such materials (paradigms and guides) not only serve as lesson plans, but allow the teacher to make useful adjustments (although it is likely that 40 percent of teachers in rural areas will not make many changes since they lack degrees). Experiments with using self-paced learning guides in Colombia and Chile demonstrate that teachers are interested in using materials that help them  avoid repeating rote instructions (Schiefelbein et al, 1992).

There are several ways in which the use of self-paced learning methods train teachers: (i) teachers observe how students interpret and investigate as they follow instructions developed by experienced teachers (it takes time and resources to produce well-designed learning guides), and come to accept that there may be “more than one correct answer” to questions or problems; (ii) they listen to the children’s questions, which tend to be simple, and realize that they can easily address them or, they recognize that it is sometimes necessary to say “I don’t know but we can find out together;” and (iii) they realize that it is more pleasant to accompany the children in a discovery process than to work in the traditional mode of information transfer (Kulic et al, 1990; Schiefelbein, 1994).  As these paradigms motivate students to investigate, the teacher will begin to join in changing his or her role.  The development of effective self-paced learning paradigms is a demanding, long, intense and, therefore, costly process.  But when these paradigms are carefully designed and teachers use them critically, they can change a passive learning process into an active one.  Paradigms for a successful classroom lesson at the secondary or university level usually include: (i) previous distribution of certain written materials or texts and subsequent opportunities to ask questions arising from the reading; (ii) written instructions explaining the activities to be carried out by the participants, enabling them to understand (and master) the planned learning activity; (iii) evaluative and practical application exercises in order to finish with a constructive evaluation; and, (iv) distribution of materials to be studied before the next session.

Lastly, it may be necessary to modify and adapt the curriculum to fit the students’ basic needs (Aguiar, 1996; Tenti, 1997).  Excessive standardized content in the curricula used in the countries of the region allows little flexibility to: develop lasting skills, study in more depth subjects of interest to the students, incorporate local characteristics, and relate the material to the students’ life experiences.  Curricula should de-emphasize content and place greater emphasis on increasing intellectual skills and should evolve through the use of learning guides and texts.

Initial Teacher Education and In-service Training

Quality in education depends on excellence in the teaching profession.  Evaluations in the region reveal that the present-day education of teachers is mainly text-based, passive, and lecture-oriented.  It should come as no surprise, then, that teachers go on to reproduce the same model with their own students, with attendant poor scholastic achievement.  It is not easy to improve teacher training when academics in the field do not practice what they preach to future teachers (Tenti, 1997).  Spontaneous change is unlikely in the context of low salaries and the predominance of the “do-it-yourself” model, whereby each teacher must develop learning activities, without the benefit of those designed by experts in the field (a result of misconceptions about their role).  Low teacher salaries create a vicious circle of candidates entering the teaching field by default, resulting in generations of unmotivated and poorly trained teachers.  Moreover, the traditional role of the teacher —which places him or her at center stage— requires a level of creativity that many teachers lack.  It also increases the time needed for class preparation (based on the erroneous supposition that they have free time outside the classroom) resulting in poorly planned lessons limited to lectures presented by the teacher.  This has a detrimental effect on teachers who experience the constant pressure of giving lessons that do not meet expectations, and failing to improve student performance.

An untapped strength revealed in numerous studies is that teachers are interested in keeping up-to-date and want to respond effectively to the demands of modern society (Braslavsky and Birgin, 1994; Farres and Noriega, 1994; Gatti et al, 1994).  Teachers are aware that their lessons do not motivate students nor promote learning.  In-service training is essential, therefore, but through active learning methods whereby teachers learn through an experiential process in order to break the vicious circle of passive education.  This requires a departure from the traditional lecture style of teacher training (Alexander, 1995).

There are successful examples in the region, such as the teacher training offered by the “New School” (Colombia), which use the workshop setting to experiment with learning materials and modifying the teacher’s role (Vera, 1984; Lavín, 1996).  In addition to this approach, a data base compiling diverse learning activities, from which teachers could select those most relevant to his or her class, would make the teacher’s job easier and help improve the quality of education.  The task of designing effective learning activities corresponds to highly qualified teams or “creative” teachers, but  must also involve classroom teachers in order to refine and adapt materials periodically.

Encouraging teacher effectiveness increases public awareness of the capacity teachers have to improve education and strengthen cultural identity.  This can set in motion a virtuous circle resulting in better teacher salaries and less time wasted on strikes (Graph 4).

Training University Academic Staff

The professional background of university professors must be raised substantially if the region is to be able to select, adapt, and eventually create the science and technology it requires (to complement appropriate changes at the other levels).  The profession of university professor was only established in Latin America in the 1970s (Schwartzman, 1990).  University faculties previously consisted of professionals whose principal source of income came from their practices, business offices, industrial facilities, and law offices.  The teaching profession must be consolidated in Latin American universities through permanent funding to offer competitive salaries as well as opportunities for updating and career development.  The number of doctoral-level professors capable of asking the questions that open doors to new frontiers must be at least doubled (Yentzen, 1997).  And, while academics have exhibited interest in career development and specialization, facilities are not available to accommodate most of them.  New policies must offer today’s academics the opportunity to receive doctoral training.  Funds are needed to: (i) develop doctoral programs in fields of national and regional importance that effectively meet the needs of professors; (ii) allocate resources to higher education facilities in order to contract substitutes for professors working on their doctorates; (iii) make funds available for doctoral research; and, (iv) provide the infrastructure necessary to hold or attend conferences or for other research-related activities (publications, edited works, exchanges, and access to data bases).  These activities must be supplemented by relationships with developed countries offering scholarships and international agencies that offer similar benefits including the OAS, UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of Iber-American States, and assistance agencies in developed countries.  All of these activities must be linked to quality in education at all levels and to strategies to develop a national system for research and innovation (Mayorga, 1997).

5. Investment in Research, Science, and Technology


Latin America and the Caribbean spends about 0.4 percent of its GNP on research and development (much less than the developed world or Asian competitors) and private spending in this area is only 0.25 percent.  University research continues to be unrelated to the productive sector.  Today many exemplary institutions are under-funded and doctoral-level training in universities is minimal.  Public spending for research and development could include: (i) doubling the number of academics with doctoral training; (ii) expanding doctoral programs in fields critical to the region and (iii) increased funds for research.  Besides increased funding in these areas, a new system of incentives should be created as well as a structure for research and development.   Government policies should encourage private investment in the field, which is currently very low.  Public spending should be based on: competitive, transparent funding for research proposals, support for institution-based projects (which can be renewed based on performance) and priority accorded academic research related to the productive sector.  It should be recognized that not all institutions of higher learning should be research-oriented.   The workplace requires that higher education diversify, with significantly more two-year technological training programs and institutions focused primarily on education; only a small number of these institutions can become specialized in international research.

The rapid expansion of science around the world, the exponential increase in computer power, and decreased communication costs have important repercussions for education in the region (Haddad and Method, 1997).  First, Latin American and Caribbean children must understand and be familiar with the technology that will define their adult life.   Secondly, modern technology (long distance education or computers) will broaden the horizons of education and improve quality (Ochoa and Monroy, 1997).  Lastly, countries in the region will need to strengthen their capacity for research in order to understand, adapt and, in some cases, initiate scientific and technological advances.

In the developed world, computers have increased the capacity for logical reasoning, creativity, and education in specific disciplines.  They have helped change the role of the teacher from one of provider of knowledge to one of administrator of learning —there are already examples of this in the region (Miller, 1996).  In the future, technological tools will offer even better alternatives for learning, such as the Internet.  This will create a revolution in learning at least in higher education.  In contrast to the developed world, few homes in the region currently have access to computers or the Internet.  Therefore, the public sector must undertake a series of initiatives to ensure understanding of the role technology plays in their lives.  The region must invest in this area, while keeping a perspective on its own limitations in terms of resources and the diverse role technology plays in each society.  This is particularly key at the secondary and postsecondary levels as well as in primary school (Haddad, 1997).

Investment in technology for schools and universities could be relatively costly.  For example, the annual cost per student of an experimental computer program at the secondary school level in Latin America ranges from US$40 to US$100, compared to current costs per student at the secondary level which approach US$300.  Technology in the schools can be justified economically if a greater number of graduates obtain jobs with better salaries and greater technological demands.  In practice, however, it will be important not to discard alternative methods of improving quality —such as additional libraries, laboratory equipment, and teacher training— and to ensure that the economic means to develop access to technology are identified.

At the university level, upgraded technology can be combined with improved cost recovery or greater institutional accountability for outcomes.  Once consensus has been reached, some of the keys to successful implementation, which include the use of mass media and the introduction of computers into the school system, are: (i) implementation in phases and modest start-up investment; (ii) intensive teacher training programs; (iii) strong leadership and administration; (iv) accountability and dedication at the local and school level; (v) adequate and ongoing funding to cover costs (including a limited charge to the consumers); and (vi) feedback through evaluations.