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

III. Policy Priorities

Education in the region, as described in the diagnostic, has failed to respond to the demands of the new national and international panorama.  Governments are recognizing that they must offer a good education to everyone and that better quality for only a few is not enough.  This entails increased coverage at the preschool level and greater equity in basic education (Loera, 1995). This recalls principles set forth in the charter of the OAS which states that “education must be oriented toward justice, liberty, and peace.”  In addition to developing reasoning and independent learning skills in youth, it is also necessary to ensure their ability to select and utilize appropriate technology to compete in a global market.  And, everyone should achieve the minimum competency necessary to participate in the modern job market, rather than only a chosen few. Moreover, education must promote a society of active, responsible and critical citizens (education for peace).  This means finding a balance between “education” [educación] understood as the development of an individual capable of creating, together with others, a livable social environment, and “education” [formación] understood as the individual acquisition of the practical skills and aptitudes necessary for personal development.

However, governments wishing to transcend their status as developing countries have not been able to translate these political priorities into effective strategies.  This is true, in part, because policy makers assisting government ministers lack the academic training required to tap into available research findings from the region and around the world (Schiefelbein, et al 1997).  It is also due to the inability to spark public debate over the future of public schools (Rose and Rapp, 1997). Therefore, countries never achieve the consensus needed to implement fundamental reforms in classroom methodologies and the role of the teacher  (UNESCO/OREALC, 1996; Schultze-Kraft, 1997).

1. A Quality Education for Everyone

The region must ensure acceptable levels of quality for everyone, leading to social equity and, in turn, greater social stability and economic productivity.  Needed reforms include: (i) increased access to preschool ( as Table 1 shows, only 23 percent of the population between the ages of one and six attends preschool); this entails serving rural areas and public spending or subsidies for private, preschool education; (ii) timely entry into the public elementary education system and individualized attention and (iii) increased time available for learning.

The care and education of preschool-aged children is the foundation of any policy to increase equity (Delich, 1990).  Early stimulation fosters the child’s intellectual development, reduces the trauma associated with entering primary school, and gives mothers the opportunity to study or work.  Efforts in this area include evaluating the quality of preschool programs and choosing among diverse models (formal and informal), both in terms of pedagogical focus and the degree of maternal and community involvement (Myers, 1995).

Making primary education available to everyone entails serving the 5 percent of the population in the corresponding age group who remain excluded and ensuring that school-aged children start primary school on time.  Late entry and the low quality of primary education are the principal causes of excessive grade repetition (and eventual drop-out), as well as the high rate of functional illiteracy or the inability to apply effectively reading, writing, and mathematics skills.  The ability to use these skills in daily life is essential to becoming a functioning, productive citizen in today’s society.  Therefore, classroom learning processes must be improved in order to redefine equity in education in Latin America.  This entails affirmative action for the poorest sectors.

2. Education and Productive Employment

Education must enable countries to participate in economic globalization and prepare each person to achieve success in an increasingly competitive job market (including people from different countries).  Those entering the job market each year must be able to understand what they read, express themselves in writing, and execute basic mathematical operations upon completion of six or more years of school.  Education, especially at the secondary and post secondary levels, must allow the flexibility to choose (at the appropriate time) courses that facilitate entry into the workplace.  This means replacing the encyclopedic approach and the predominance of  lecture- style transmission of knowledge unrelated to the productive sector with an emphasis on developing the student’s reasoning and critical thinking skills and the capacity to manage information (Clinchy, 1996).  The educational system must encourage the student to explore new ideas systematically, to take intellectual risks, and to take on long-range tasks that may even have negative outcomes (Meier, 1996) and lead to new activities (Bertrand, 1997).  To reach these objectives, initiatives must be undertaken to reform the secondary school curriculum, as has already occurred in several countries in the region.  Innovations of this sort attempt to combine academic education and technical training consistent with the demands of the technological world which already has discarded the traditional dichotomy between intellectual and manual labor (Corvalán-Vásquez, 1989).

3. Research, Technology, and University

Despite the recognized importance of scientific and technological research for the region’s development and competitive insertion into the international sphere (Sander, 1996b; Haddad, 1997), emphasis is still placed on traditional academic education and accepted knowledge, rather than on fostering the ability to refine theories and to be creative.  The use of obsolete technologies, outdated texts, and lecture-style teaching which makes the teacher the primary source of knowledge, should be avoided (Schiefelbein, 1994).  These should be replaced in the classroom setting by a receptiveness to modernity and contemporary forms of expression that stimulate the academic and productive growth of teachers and students (Muñoz, 1990). Emphasis must be placed on efforts to incorporate modern information science into secondary education at the administrative and educational levels.  The system should encourage and publish research, not only in public universities but in all institutions of higher education in the region (Castro et al, 1996).  These problems are part of a broader issue, the importance of promoting the development of science and technology  (Mayorga, 1997), which is outside the scope of this work.

4. Education to Overcome Poverty and Improve the Quality of Life

Adequate education levels contribute to the eradication of poverty and access to a standard of living that ensures social peace.  It appears that there is no more efficient means than education to combat extreme poverty and ensure greater economic growth, which is generally associated with reduced levels of inequity (Birdsall, 1997; Kim, 1997; Psacharopoulos et al, 1997). Overcoming poverty and improving the standard of living imply respect for people and the environment as well as the capacity to prevent illness and contribute to the common good. Political freedom and social equity are essential to improving the quality of human life and overcoming poverty and discrimination (Sander, 1990).

The eradication of functional illiteracy and the promotion of intellectual development are conducive to a skilled labor force, committed citizens aware of their social rights and responsibilities, and families capable of cooperation and working toward a common goal. Designing an education system capable of offering a quality education to everyone, however, (with the percentage of the GDP that a country can reasonably allocate to education based on the experience of developed countries) requires genuine agreement among leading opinion makers (Schultze-Kraft, 1997).

5. Education for Long-Lasting Democracy

Broad social consensus is needed to respond effectively to contemporary social demands: international competition, democracy-building, environmental protection, promotion of peace and human rights, raising the standard of living, and responding to rapidly evolving technology, particularly in the information field.  Only broad national agreements can surmount the slow pace of structural reform of education (Carnoy and Castro, 1996).  Education must prepare people to vote responsibly, tolerate differences of opinion, understand political issues, encourage participation, understand laws and regulations, know their political leaders, and be politically informed (Carvalho, 1997a).

At each educational level —including the education of specialists at the highest academic level— value must be placed on humanistic precepts, in other words, on teaching people to understand themselves and others, and to understand what is happening in the world (Einstein, 1952). Unfortunately, attempts to instill values and change the attitudes of young people are occurring in a lecture-style context in which the teacher, rather than the student, is the principal actor; this denies students the right to participate in relevant learning processes.  Young people are told to behave properly even as the doors to an education with options are closed to them, job opportunities are unavailable, and the street remains the only venue for social interaction.  Young people cannot be asked to respect social values that lack validity in the classroom and in society. Education must guide youth to evaluate critically and to work in small groups to share their doubts and fears (which can lead to violence if they are not dispelled).  Educational models must reverse the gradual process of curricular obsolescence which offers students learning experiences that are increasingly divorced from those needed to function effectively in modern society (ECLAC/UNESCO, 1992).  In this regard, it is important to promote team work, the application of individual experiences in a creative atmosphere, and the development of leadership skills essential to innovation (Carvalho, 1997b).

6. Managing an Efficient and Equitable Education System

The changes brought about by the fall of the Berlin Wall and contemporary development models give a new role to government.  This includes an administrative style focused on creating incentives, promoting innovation, establishing new parameters for action, and encouraging decentralization.  The rebirth of democracy has permitted a critical look at the rigidity and inefficiency of centralized systems, spurring increased delegation of functions and local autonomy with more community participation, in order to increase resources, efficiency and quality in  education (Aghón and Edling, 1997; Schaeffer, 1997; Winkler, 1997; Sander, 1996a and b).  New links must be forged between political decision-making and the public in the education field.  Therefore, students, parents, and staff —now largely uninvolved in education at a regional or school level (ECLAC/UNESCO, 1992)— must be included as actors in the educational process.  In order for decentralized educational administration to function efficiently, deficiencies must be addressed by professionalizing school leadership and oversight of individual school administrations and classroom learning processes in  This aids in reducing the corruption observed in different countries (ghost teachers, appointment of friends and relatives, and teacher transfers to non-teaching positions).  It also must be recalled that rapid growth and diversification of higher education has led to pressure for public regulation of developments at this level.  This must be examined carefully since such controls can become an insurmountable obstacle to urgently needed reforms.

Problems with Educational Systems in
the Region and Suggested Changes
Inappropriate educational models are prevalent.

Ethnic, social class and gender inequity persist.

Accountability for failure in the system is lacking, and actors capable of innovating and applying new models are scarce.

Cooperation between parents, teachers, labor leaders, political leaders and the business community must be encouraged.

National conceptual framework on the role of education in a democratic society must be established in order to share an "educational culture."

It is imperative to endow local groups with both the power and the means to implement educational reforms.

The private sector can and must play an important role in educational reform, as this sector benefits the most from an educated population and has the most to lose when workers lack basic competency.

Centralization can impede the development of diverse educational models and discourage local support and involvement.

Multinational organizations, such as NGOs and the private sector, must coordinate to establish complementary policies and create mechanisms to exchange successful strategies and models.

Positive changes and innovations are difficult, but they are possible, as some countries have already demonstrated.
Source: de Cerreño, A. and C. Pyle (1996). "Educational Reform in Latin America." Studies Depatement Occasional Papers Series No. i. Council on Foreign Relations. New York, U.S.A.
7. Joint Public and Private Funding for Education

It is not equitable to deliver public resources to economically affluent students.  Public resources must instead be targeted towards those with the greatest educational needs, specifically, students from low-income families.  But increased resources in these areas must be used to substantially improve academic outcomes in the school system and guarantee universal coverage, rather than to further the status quo.  The inefficiency of the system, as demonstrated by poor achievement levels and high repetition rates, leads to the conclusion that available resources must be better utilized.  This means adopting thoroughly evaluated programs that ensure successful innovative approaches, in the classroom such as changing the teacher’s role and developing interactive, individualized, and group learning experiences (Thomas and Shaw, 1992; UNESCO/OREALC, 1996).  Additional resources are also needed to expand preschool education (Myers, 1995), raise the number of hours for primary and secondary school—including actual work time—, and promote research in science and technology.