9 de Diciembre de 2018
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Colección:
La Educación
Número: (126-128) I,III
Año: 1997
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY*

Despite some positive experiences, education in the Americas has not responded to the challenges posed by new development models based on international economic competition and by the political, economic, scientific-technological, social, cultural, and moral demands of the 1990s.  Today, this lack of response has led presidents and heads of state, the business community, political parties, and the media to make education a new priority in Latin America and the Caribbean.  This consensus is based on research findings demonstrating that a good education is closely associated with the development of autonomous, informed, committed, responsible, and tolerant citizens.  Research also associates a good education to the expertise, values, and abilities required to adapt or create technological innovations and with the ability to reason and learn independently —in short, the capacity to develop intelligent and productive individuals.

Growing concern about quality and equity in education is reflected in numerous declarations, but has not resulted in effective reforms. The importance placed on education is explicit in the Declarations of the first two Hemispheric Summits of Presidents and Heads of State (Miami in 1995 and Santa Cruz de la Sierra in 1996) and those of the first six Summits of Heads of States of the Ibero-American Community of Nations (1991 to 1996).  It was also evident in the Assembly of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (1990 and 1992) and the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995); in the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995); and during the recent conferences on population (Egypt, 1994) and environment (Río de Janeiro, 1992).

The demands currently being placed on education stem from diverse social phenomena. The independence of Anglophone countries in the Caribbean in the 1960s and 1970s, the demise of the de facto regimes of the 1980s, and the advent of democracy in much of Latin America, coupled with contemporary economic development models and rapid technological advancement, demand renewed efforts to compete effectively in the international arena. Initiatives must be taken to overcome extreme poverty, eliminate profound inequalities in income distribution, and prevent social disenfranchisement and urban and rural violence.  Socially equitable education can contribute to social integration and stability, to ethnic and racial harmony, to a trained work force, and to the development of a community of informed and responsible citizens. Moreover, an equitable education fosters political tolerance, reduces violence, and, consequently, creates a more propitious climate for national and international investment and social and cultural growth and prosperity.

Although primary education is virtually universal in the region, educational reform policies premised on extending national coverage have been shown to be insufficient. Most Latin American and Caribbean children and youth receive a poor quality education. This is particularly true in public schools in disadvantaged urban and rural areas which serve the poorest children in the region (in these areas, private education is nonexistent due to low income levels.) Haiti’s situation is unique in that it has numerous free private schools—thanks to foreign donations— given the low per capita income in the country. Deficiencies in education are observed primarily in high rates of grade repetition and functional illiteracy.  Students who remain in school for an average of seven years generally only pass fourth grade and fail to achieve minimum competency in reading and writing. Nonetheless, there are cases in which these deficiencies have been successfully overcome through the adoption of  appropriate strategies.

Because problems of quality generally affect certain groups with characteristics that compel them to enter the public education system (the only one willing and required to serve them), equity in education can no longer be measured based on coverage alone.  It must instead be gauged in terms of  “equity in the quality of education,” that is, the number of grade levels passed and the quality (compared to the national average) achieved by students from disadvantaged-urban and the poorest rural sectors, minority ethnic groups, and learning disabled children. This requires a closer look at new aspects of education.  If the problem of quality is to be solved, it is imperative to identify the factors impeding learning in certain groups of students. And, while additional resources and improved resource distribution are necessary, as is often stressed, it is essential to foster initiatives that reshape the methods used in most classrooms at every level of the educational system.

There are factors external to the learning process that influence the quality of education, such as the characteristics of each student, his or her family and immediate environment. Internal factors, inherent to education, also determine whether learning occurs.  But these factors operate differentially since, in low income areas, they center on:  (i) the most heterogeneous population groups for which the traditional lecture model geared toward an average student is inefficient; (ii) smaller institutions that often do not offer all grade levels;  (iii) multi-grade or multi-area classrooms that require individualized attention; (iv) school materials in short supply and not conducive to individualized classes; (v) inflexible curricula unrelated to the students’ experience or life situation; and (vi) 40% of teachers lacking degrees and who use memorization and authoritarianism to teach class.  It should come as no surprise, then, that three out of four children who leave schools in these areas cannot comprehend what they read from a text.

There are also problems of quality in secondary, post secondary and preschool education which are compounded by pressures to increase coverage at each of these levels. Only one in five college professors has the doctoral training necessary to teach at the university level.  The report analyzes at length the degree of inequity caused by the different problems identified. For example, 1,000 learning hours during the school year are generally available to private school students in Latin America; in contrast, many public schools offer no more than 500 to 600 hours annually. In CARICOM countries, conversely, public schools generally offer a higher quality education than  private schools, particularly at the secondary level.

Governments consider improving education a political priority in order to overcome their status as developing countries, since education offered in the region is unresponsive to the demands of the current national and international panorama. There is consensus that the region must offer a quality education to everyone, especially at the early levels, in order to achieve social equity and reduce extreme disparities in income. The technical support required to diagnose problems and to define or choose among alternative solutions, however, is not always available.

Governments are convinced that they must offer an education that: (i) equips people with the ability to communicate effectively and to continue to learn throughout their lifetime; (ii) assures them an adequate entry into the workplace; (iii) fosters scientific and technological research for regional development and competitive insertion into the international arena; (iv) eliminates poverty, increases social mobility and leads to a quality of life that ensures social peace; (v) prepares people to become responsible citizens who value peaceful means of resolving conflicts and consensus-building; (vi) is decentralized to the extent that a significant level of community participation in the supervision and administration of local education is possible. Therefore, it is especially important to identify new resources for education, as well as improved distribution of existing resources.

Political priorities and the regional diagnostic make it possible to identify certain long-term strategies. A national consensus to integrate and unify the efforts of all social actors around specifically defined strategies is needed to achieve the primary objective of an educational system responsive to current national demands and conducive to sustainable development.

The following seven strategic suggestions seem to be appropriate for many countries in the hemisphere: (i) build consensus based on sufficient data; (ii) modernize education administration and establish accountability for outcomes, including the adoption of a system of incentives and structures to evaluate and regulate administration; (iii) increase funding from the public and private sectors to reach 6 to 7 percent of the GNP, redistribute resources appropriately and equitably among the different education levels, and focus on fundamental inputs; (iv) develop an individualized, dynamic, and relevant educational model, which means modifying the teacher’s role, the curriculum (content and methodology), and educational materials (especially learning guides) in the regular school system; (v) develop realistic plans to train teachers in the regular school system by replacing the lecture style with a curriculum-based approach, consistent with recommendations, in order to create the capacity to surmount difficulties in learning;  (vi) establish doctoral programs to train university professors and to stimulate scientific and technological research and artistic creation; and (vii) invest in the field of science and technology and in selected research institutes.

The policy priorities outlined in Chapter Four and the suggestions for government action found in Chapter Five have implications for the OAS role in education.  The most important of these can be synthesized into five courses of action: (i) serve as a clearinghouse to compile and share research; (ii) analyze available data and identify trends in education systems in the region; (iii) compare and evaluate development strategies; (iv)) report on consensus-building processes in different countries; and (v) review and select experiences that can be adapted and applied in other countries.

With this study of the current situation of education in the Americas, the General Secretariat of the OAS hopes to contribute to the new debate over education in the hemisphere during the preparation of the Summit of Presidents and Heads of State which will take place in April 1998 in Santiago de Chile.  The Presidential Summit is, indeed, an excellent opportunity to stimulate the joint undertaking of both local and national educational reform in the context of the social development policies of each country in the hemisphere. It is also an opportunity to propose alternatives for cooperative action in the field of education.

* This study was prepared under the direction of the Unit for Social Development and Education of the General Secretariat of the OAS for the II Summit of the Americas. The working group that prepared the study was coordinated by E. Schiefelbein and included P. Schiefelbein, B. Sander, L. Zúñiga, G. Carvalho, B. Edwards, L. Wolff, and M.H. Alleyne.