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

I. Education and The National and International Panorama

Today, presidents and heads of state, the business community, political parties, and the media are making education a priority in Latin America and the Caribbean. This consensus is based on the sense that there is a wide gap between society’s needs and demands and the education offered in the region, despite the fact that progress clearly has been made. The globalization process has contributed to this gap. While globalization offers numerous opportunities to the region, education must improve in order to take full advantage of its potential benefits (ECLAC/UNESCO, 1992; McGinn, 1997a).  Even though access to primary education is now virtually universal, persistent problems of quality and equity require more than increased resources. Initiatives must be undertaken to change learning processes in the classroom at all educational levels, including preparatory programs for entry into primary school.

The new development models of the 1990s based on international economic competition, political stability, and personal security, rely mainly on the equitable distribution of knowledge and the intellect of human beings (Thurow, 1996; Birdsall, 1997).  These aspects coincide with current political, social and cultural demands.  Therefore, to reap the benefits of modern society, today’s education system must develop autonomous, informed, responsible, and tolerant citizens. It must cultivate citizens with the values and abilities needed to create technological innovations, the ability to reason and learn independently, and with cultural and artistic creativity.  This requires changing the role of the teacher, more time to learn systematically, and educational materials conducive to relevant learning experiences.

The media have reiterated that education is not simply a current issue, but rather a political, economic, and social priority for governments and society as a whole.  This is reflected in the recommendations of the Hemispheric Summits of Presidents and Heads of State in Miami (1994) and Santa Cruz de la Sierra (1996) and in the agenda for the upcoming Meeting in Santiago (1998) in which education features prominently (Gajardo y de Andraca, 1997a).  It is also evident in the Declarations of the first six Summits of Heads of States of the Ibero-American Community of Nations.  The Guadalajara Summit (1991) acknowledged that education was the main path toward successful international integration and the Madrid Summit (1992) underscored that “knowledge is the major capital of the 20th century.” The Salvador de Bahía Summit (1993) recommended investment in education, health, and social security; the Cartagena de Indias Summit (1994) considered education to be key to achieving equitable development; the San Carlos de Bariloche Summit (1995) declared education to be fundamental to economic development and access to employment; and the Santiago Summit (1996) proposed joint efforts to promote education.

The need for educational reform has also been underscored by those in charge of advancing the current economic system (Edwards, 1997).  At the 1990 Assembly of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) the region’s Ministers of Economy opted for a model of  “productive transformation with equity” to reverse traditional development patterns. This model would stimulate productivity through technical progress, and by fostering the convergence of competition and social sustainability (ECLAC, 1990). Later, at their 1992 meeting, the Ministers of Economy recognized that the dissociation between education and knowledge jeopardizes potential progress in development. They suggested intensifying efforts to transform education and training and to increase scientific and technological  potential  with  a view toward  developing  citizens  committed to democracy, equity, and international competition (Londoño, 1995; ECLAC/UNESCO, 1992).

Social analysts also recognize the fundamental role of education.  At the 1995 World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995) an emphasis on the education of parents, and particularly of mothers, was considered essential to combat the vicious circle of poverty and the academic failure of children, to foster social integration, and to increase productive employment. Similar statements were made at recent conferences on women (1995), population (1994), and environment (1992).

To summarize, consensus on the urgency of improving education in Latin America and the Caribbean stems from the need to develop the region.  Improved education is necessary to ensure adequate insertion into the international, political and economic arena, as well as to surmount extreme poverty, low productivity, polarized income distribution, exclusion, social, racial, ethnic, and gender inequality, and social violence.  A good education is conducive to a well-trained work force and a community of well-informed, responsible citizens.  As the World Summit on Social Development affirmed,  access to education guarantees social equity, prevents the rupture of the social fabric, and encourages political tolerance.  This, in turn, contributes to a favorable climate for investment and social and cultural advancement (Copenhagen, 1995).

A brief analysis of the key social issues that require improved educational quality  in the region will help to pinpoint specific demands for better education.

1. Political Issues

Most of the region’s authoritarian regimes ended during the 1980s and progress has been made during the current decade, almost without exception, in consolidating democracy and building consensus to forge long-range policies.  Several countries have established lasting accords containing effective and equitable proposals, with the broad-based participation of different social sectors (UNESCO, 1996b).  While cases of direct public consultation through plebiscites have multiplied, political parties have been challenged openly and today’s youth are visibly apathetic about building a society that guarantees a functioning democracy, respect for human rights, and the search for equity and peace.  The presidents of  legislative bodies in the region, moreover,  are concerned about the “weakening of Parliamentary functions” (Meeting of Presidents, 1997).  There is consensus that more needs to be learned about the role and potential of legislative bodies.  And it is widely agreed that the public must be aware of, and influence the debate over issues underlying government decisions in a democratic system (Thesing, 1997), since a country engaged in debate and analysis is a vibrant country (Correa, 1997).

All of this suggests that education must cultivate informed citizens willing to participate actively in the democratic process. It must spark the creative potential of the region’s inhabitants and ensure a critical approach to information and mass media as well as an ability to build consensus or strike reasonable compromises. In this way, education can encourage citizens to play a protagonist role in government policy decisions.

2. Economic and Labor Issues

To date, the educational level of the work force has increased at a slower pace in the region than in Southeast Asian countries (Graph 1). Current economic models in Latin America and the Caribbean have permitted several countries to experience rapid economic growth which could come to a standstill unless the quality of their human resources improves, as well as the equity of their human resource development programs (Birdsall, Ross and Sabot, 1995; Kim, 1997). The new development model is based on opening national economies to international competition, maintaining a balance at the macroeconomic level, foreign investment, deregulating economies and job markets, technological innovation, and strengthening national capacity to keep the country competitive (ECLAC, 1992; Tokman, 1995; Castro, 1997b).  Industries based on intellectual capacity, however, do not have an inherently predetermined geographical location (Thurow, 1996). Therefore, it is imperative that traditional industries make decisions that maximize the opportunities for Latin American and Caribbean countries. This implies that the level of development and competitiveness attained with this type of economic model will depend largely on the efficiency of each production unit and the decision-making power at each level of organization (Tedesco, 1996).  In short, development will depend on better trained and equitably distributed human resources able to adapt to technological changes and recognize and assimilate new information and methods.  They must work well autonomously, but also be able to work in teams to analyze and implement new ways of organizing functions and tasks (quality circles) rather than relying on rote knowledge and the mastery of specific skills that become obsolete (Rojas, 1997).

Education systems must endeavor to respond to the demands of the workplace and an internationally competitive economy (Levinson, 1995).  Adequate insertion into the world economy requires a labor force capable of producing at levels equal to or higher than developed countries. And, society must assimilate values that inspire confidence in commitments made. Productivity has contributed very little to the regional economy (Rojas, 1997) and current productivity levels are far below international levels (Chart 1).


Education has a role to play in changing this situation. An analysis of possible solutions must take into account the new debate–already ongoing in developed countries—over how education should respond to the new challenges posed by society as it enters the twenty-first century.

3. Social Issues

The utilization of resources and development produced by the new economic model has failed to improve social equity, which is essential to sustained development (Birdsall and Jaspersen, 1997; ECLAC, 1995).  From 1990 to 1994, the poorest 40 per cent of the region’s population earned between 10 and 22 per cent of total income compared with 26 to 42 per cent earned by the richest 10 per cent (ECLAC, 1995).   The “increase in per capita income” has failed to address social inequalities —which also are present in industrialized and developing countries— such as: drug addiction, domestic and social violence, pollution, and environmental degradation.   Nor has this increase succeeded in eradicating extreme poverty, reducing skewed income distribution, preventing pandemics such as AIDS, cholera, and tuberculosis, or reducing teenaged pregnancy  Timely investment in primary and secondary education is less costly in the long run and benefits society far more than spending to counteract the educational deficiencies of those entering the workplace (Psacharopoulos, 1997). Compensatory educational programs for adults are 1.5 to 5 times more costly than four years of regular secondary school (ECLAC, 1995).  Moreover, current social policies reflect the belief that education is one important factor in surmounting such problems and at a reasonable cost (Psacharopoulos et al, 1997).


4. Technological Issues

Industry-based training constitutes its only sustainable competitive advantage.  Rapid technological growth requires the ability to learn throughout one’s lifetime and to adapt to change.  The scientific and technological revolution is premised on the ongoing discovery of new processes that constantly render existing knowledge obsolete.  The existing educational process, therefore, which is essentially based on the transfer and accumulation of knowledge, is incompatible with this historic moment.  Memorization of facts and mastery of specific skills has been replaced by the ability to apply them to unexpected situations (Graph 2),  adapt to constant technological change, adopt new methods, organize new functions and tasks, and constantly be prepared to assimilate new information and ideas (Haddad, 1997).  The profile of the new worker in modern industry includes initiative, responsibility, and additional training in the use of sophisticated, smart tools (Barbee, 1992).

The education system must “teach how to learn” in order to prepare people to meet these new challenges (Thomas and Shaw, 1992; Delors, 1996). It must train people to retrieve information from various data storage systems and equip them to identify alternatives and make decisions. More retraining programs and opportunities for continuing education at different stages of life are also needed.

5. The New Role of Government

New development models and the consolidation of democratic regimes are producing substantive changes in the role of government and public institutions.  The role of transnational corporations in the new international development model has directly influenced the role of national governments (Thurow, 1996).  The role of government has evolved from a protagonist one of economic administrator or producer to one of creating incentives, stimulating innovations, establishing standards, and guaranteeing genuinely equitable conditions (Braslavsky, 1997). National integration and decentralization —the linchpins of  institutional reform (ECLAC/UNESCO, 1992)—call for administrative autonomy and creativity to ensure the effectiveness of the new government role. This can create tensions between the government and the electorate, diminishing the political and institutional effectiveness of the former.  Clearly, therefore, it is necessary to strengthen participatory mechanisms that ensure the governability of countries.

In the education field, different actors must play an increasingly dynamic role in administration at the central and regional ministerial levels and, obviously, in schools and classrooms (Delors, 1996).  Channels and mechanisms must be available to ensure the input and involvement of parents, who have not been well organized in the past.  But most importantly, the school must become the space, par excellence, to encourage participation and make decisions pertinent to the educational community (Noddings, 1996; Sander, 1996a).  This constitutes a challenge to rigid curricula and traditional authoritarian educational models.


6. The New Role of the Family

Family structure has changed dramatically for numerous reasons including: (i) the decline of the nuclear family and the existence of a significant number of single parent households (usually  the mother); (ii) increased urban commuting time; (iii) the audiovisual invasion of homes through television —which leaves less time for personal interaction and often undermines traditional family values and behavioral standards; (iv) the evolution (or mutation) of the traditional male role as income earner and female role as housekeeper; (v) and greater access to consumer credit. As a result, fewer adults are at home to care for the children and help them with homework and school activities, and children spend more time in the streets.

These changes create demands for greater education coverage, access to consumer credit, greater opportunity to choose how leisure time is spent, and consistency between school and family behavioral standards.  The fact that children must spend more time at school—where their activities are supervised and their need for personal and social interaction met while their parents work—has a tremendous impact on the resources needed for education.

7. Demography and Environment

The current decline in population growth is favorable for affirmative action initiatives (serving the poorest sectors).  It also means that more resources are available per student.  Decreased growth of the younger population, which was registered during the previous decade, (CELADE, 1992) has facilitated universal access to primary education and produced a virtuous circle of development: there is more classroom space available to children and more teaching materials to enhance learning.  As the pace of urban migration has slowed, it is no longer necessary to build new classrooms in urban areas while rural classrooms are left vacant.  Moreover, it is now possible to turn to the matter of quality.  Nonetheless, the population is aging and leaving the labor market (Thurow, 1996), and pressure will soon mount to care for senior citizens.

It is to be expected that a quality education, for women as well as for men and vulnerable groups, can prevent unwanted pregnancies among the poorest sectors, thus alleviating another demographic pressure point.  It can also contribute to disease prevention to improve the quality of productive life and reduce health costs.  As stated at the Conference on Environment (Río de Janeiro, 1993), environmental education furthers the adoption of measures to safeguard sustainable development.  Environmental education can be a catalyst to change citizens’ attitude and behavior towards the environment.  Existing experiences have shown that the most effective programs are those that adopt a local focus to address concrete issues (Edwards, 1993).

8. Cultural Issues

Our current development models could fail if they do not pay sufficient attention to ethnic and cultural complexities. Although empirical evidence is lacking, there are indications that negligence in this regard could unleash violent conflicts.  Cultures that coexist in the region struggle, sometimes at great cost to themselves, to preserve characteristics central to their identity.  Some countries, moreover, show signs of growing intercultural intolerance and xenophobia.  There is an urgent need to establish new forms of cooperation, exchange ideas, and reach a deeper level of understanding and respect for individual, social, and cultural differences (Pérez de Cuellar, 1996).  One important concern in this area has to do with the type of competition that education can encourage without compromising cultural identity and the genuine value of collective human coexistence.  Widespread authoritarianism in education, the product of the predominance of lecture style teaching, compounded by the prevalence of vertical, authoritarian institutions in society in general, make it difficult to address these exigencies.  Poor outcomes in reading comprehension limit the love of and interest in reading and the ability to understand each other as people or interact with others; a person who cannot read closes a window to the world.  Reading and managing information are essential to becoming responsible members of society both nationally and internationally.

Education must pay sufficient attention to all minority groups and foster the principles of pluralism, tolerance, and respect for and acceptance of diversity (Delors, 1996) in order to establish harmonious relationships among different groups within each country and with other countries.  Education must stimulate dialogue among cultures and value cultural diversity through a relevant learning process with motivating and contextual subject matter (Mayor and Iglesias, 1995).  Group activities contribute to genuine respect among group members and teach the skill of developing commitments that incorporate different perspectives (Pratt, 1989; Veenman, 1995).

9. Moral Issues

The new development model encourages competition of knowledge and skills to participate actively in public life.  However, it also requires public integrity, personal security, and confidence in contractual relationships both nationally and internationally.  Development creates expectations for a better life, but can also affect peace to the extent that contradictions, errors, and challenges give rise to doubts, confusion, and social conflict.

Society demands a new type of education to resolve these potential conflicts, one which prepares people to contribute to development and consolidate peace even as they assume increasingly complex roles in daily life.  Education must teach listening skills followed by the ability to articulate coherent arguments and challenge unfounded assertions without resorting to violence or brute force.  Education must also facilitate communication using society’s diverse social languages and codes, by understanding the historical processes that define those languages and codes.  An “education for peace” makes tolerance, cooperative effort, and understanding a priority since these qualities promote the moral capacity to achieve justice (UNESCO, 1996b).

To summarize, the educational demands produced in the nine areas described in this chapter have not been adequately addressed by the education systems of Latin America and the Caribbean. Traditional policies to improve education by focusing on extended coverage are inadequate.

Education must change its current approach by promoting: intellectual autonomy and personal freedom;  the ability to analyze and choose alternatives, argue without resorting to force, and understand one’s self and others; and, respect for and appreciation of diversity, without seeking passivity, obedience, and conformity.  These objectives cannot be  achieved through the existing education system, which Paolo Freire described as a  “bank pedagogy” limited to the “transfer or deposit of knowledge” to an entire class.   Rigid programs that disregard the individual needs of the students must be reformed (Moraes, 1997).  Retraining must be provided to teachers who target lessons to the “average” student, evaluate solely the ability to remember facts, require students to listen to them in silence, and do not tolerate differences of opinion (Schiefelbein, 1997c).  Contemporary education must offer students the opportunity “to build knowledge through both personal and group activities” because this is the only way to acquire the teamwork skills required by modern business (quality circles).  It is, likewise, the only way for students to acquire multicultural sensitivity, and, finally, tolerance and respect for the people around them (De Vries, 1987).  Success is possible by building national consensus, just as similar challenges have been met in the past (Pangle and Pangle, 1993).  Nonetheless, accomplishing these reforms requires people capable of analyzing broad trends rather than the minutia of daily life (Farrell, 1997a).

Desafíos Nacionales e Internacionales que los Cambios Sociales presentan a la Educación Pública e indicadores que contribuyen a Diagnosticar si las Escuelas responden efectivamente a ellos

Desafíos de la Sociedad

Político: Enseñar una comprensión cívica e histórica de la experiencia del país y Latinoamérica y del rol que les compete como actores activos (no pasivos) de nuestra sociedad. Preparar al alumno para que participe plenamente en la actividad democrática, como un ciudadano que contribuye con su comunidad y sociedad.

Económico: Ayudar al alumno a dominar aptitudes y talentos intelectuales básicos, para que tengan las herramientas que le permitan acceder a un trabajo y a una vida de calidad.

Social: Ayudar a los individuos a lograr una autonomía económica, proveer oportunidades educativas equitativas y crear una atmósfera segura, positiva y saludable para aprender.

Tecnológico: Facilitar la capacidad de recombinar elementos y enseñar aptitudes tecnológicas de punta en materia de comunicación.

Demográfico: Enseñar a todos los jóvenes, independientemente de sus capacidades, las aptitudes necesarias para tomar decisiones responsables.

Cultural: Crear personas que aprendan durante toda la vida, para una diversidad cultural y social.
Indicadores para evaluar la respuesta de la Educación

Participación en los servicios comunales y en elecciones (tasa de abstención), nivel de empleo (cesantía), índice de crímenes juveniles, número de crímenes violentos, individuos atendidos por asistencia pública, individuos inscritos en educación permanente, nivel de encarcelamiento y evaluaciones cívicas.

Pruebas estandarizadas de rendimiento, grados universitarios, ingreso per cápita, pruebas de habilidades previas y posteriores, evaluaciones de aptitudes básicas que sean culturalmente equitativas y normadas a nivel nacional, índice de graduación, índice de empleo, índice de escolarización, evaluación de académicos por parte de los alumnos, pruebas para ingresar al mundo laboral, índice de participación estudiantil.

Número de individuos que reciben asistencia (ayuda) social del gobierno, índice de empleo, índice de pobreza, ingreso per cápita, cuentas de ahorro, fondos de becas para asegurar equidad, número de personas que buscan capacitación, índice de escolarización, índice de matriculados en educación superior, índice de graduación, índice de deserción, perfil del maestro, puntaje en pruebas evaluativas, participación de los padres, número de incidentes conflictivos en las escuelas, vandalismo, número de servicios de seguridad usados en las escuelas.

Pruebas computacionales, número de computadores en las salas de clases, uso de experimentos y construcción de conocimientos, realización de proyectos.

Indice de embarazo precoz, índices de enfermedades de transmisión sexual, índice de mortalidad, índice de abusos.

Participación en actividades culturales, número de actividades culturales locales, voluntariado, donaciones de caridad.
Fuente: Stunard, E. Arthur (1997). "The Chicago Forum at the DeVry Institute of Technology. Results of the Forum". Kappan;Vol.78; No.10; pp.774-776.