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

V. The Role of the OAS

The policy priorities discussed in chapter four and the suggestions for action in chapter five have implications for the work of the OAS (McGinn, 1990). “The OAS is no longer merely an assistance-oriented institution but has become an entity which promotes international cooperation.  It is increasingly willing to work closely with other Inter-American institutions such as the IDB, with the United Nations system, the World Bank, Andean Finance Corporation, and cooperative agencies of member countries and observers, as well as with private foundations and nongovernmental organizations” (Gaviria, 1997).  The main activities generated by this new role 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.  These suggestions should be analyzed in the context of increasing globalization which also brings with it problems such as environmental degradation, organized crime, migration, and pandemics that require stronger regional institutions (Brauer, 1997).

1. A Clearinghouse to Systematize and Share Research

Systematic access to research findings is crucial to designing effective educational policies (McGinn and Borden, 1995).  It is not easy for each specialist advising the authorities of each country to have access to relevant research findings regarding important issues in education. Policy-makers are unlikely to have exact information defining the parameters of verified information as opposed to issues about which contradictory information or inconclusive findings exist.  The OAS can prepare and distribute periodic reports on the state of the art in each area of interest to governments.  This information could be very useful for rigorous analyses that incorporate the main components of an affective analytical method.  Reports should differentiate clearly between opinions and statements based on rigorously objective data.  This type of analysis must be undertaken by institutions that are not involved in funding education projects (McGinn, 1997a) in order to avoid an excessively close relationship between recommendations based on the analyses and policies funded by International Banks.

2. Analyze Available Data and Identify Trends

A second work area has to do with designing models to analyze available data (Farrell, 1997a). It has become increasingly difficult for each country to design, on its own, relatively sophisticated methods of data analysis.  These methods can correct inconsistencies in statistical information by introducing reasonable hypotheses, or distributions, that show a range of possible outcomes based on the hypotheses used to correct the inconsistencies.  It is unlikely that experts in each country will be in a position to dedicate the time necessary to refine these methods for use once a year, while an individual or team of people who successively analyze different sets of data from countries in the region can invest the time needed to produce a good analysis.  Since it is evident that available data is currently used only rarely (Schiefelbein, 1997a), this constitutes an ideal way for the OAS to contribute to making full use of the immense amount of information available in different countries that is currently being wasted.

3. Compare and Evaluate Development Strategies

Models to systematically analyze existing data also are useful to compare regional and subregional education systems and their underlying development strategies.  Countries can better appreciate progress made (and failure to progress) by comparing their situation with what has been accomplished in other countries in the region with similar levels of development.   It is important to remember that there are no institutions in the region which carry out this kind of activity in-country.  The region still lacks the resources and staff necessary to undertake periodic, systematic comparisons of developments in the education field. This makes it difficult for a country to learn from the experiences of other countries in time to influence its policy-making.  It has been impossible to detect inefficient policies such as, for example, reducing the student-teacher ratio, while also substantially reducing teacher salaries.  The ability to note these changes early on would have made it possible to reorient the policy and retain the higher student-teacher ratio which, in turn, would have allowed teacher salaries to remain stable or even increase significantly.  Access to pertinent studies would have shown that reducing class size does not significantly affect performance, while low salaries strongly influence the ability to recruit future teachers.

4. Report on Consensus-Building Processes

Each country has used diverse strategies to achieve national accords.  It would be useful to compile and process these experiences systematically in order to identify methods that have been most successful in achieving agreements.  It is important to recognize the advantages and disadvantages associated with parliamentary debate, educational conferences, pluralistic presidential commissions or concentric circles of discussion from the local to the central level. The OAS can enjoy a comparative advantage in tasks ranging from examining attempts to reconcile competing interests to reporting on specific development strategies that unify opinion-makers and the various currents of thought held by different actors.  The OAS can contribute in this way to developing strategies for hemispheric cooperation in monitoring the implementation of accords (Gajardo and de Andraca, 1997b).

5. Review and Select Successful  Experiences

Latin America and the Caribbean have clearly expressed interest in improving quality and equity in education and many efforts have been undertaken to respond to this challenge.  The OAS is in a position to identify, review and evaluate these initiatives so that they can be analyzed by other countries facing similar problems.  Eventually, different experiences can be adapted and tested, and their outcomes examined, in order to make a growing body of expertise available to others addressing similar problems.  This helps to assure ongoing progress in the region.  Fostering the exchange of information about innovative and successful educational projects and encouraging horizontal cooperation between countries is one of the most effective roles that international agencies can play to improve education in the region (Farrell, 1997b).