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

Educational Models

Bryan Holmes has developed educational models to portray the situation as it existed at the outset and the conclusion of the period under review, i.e. before and after the great expansion in education (Holmes 1983). We cite them here because they will help to point up the great transition that middle-level schooling, in particular, and optional education in general has undergone over this period.

The traditional model, inspired by the declaration of human rights, illustrates the educational ideals that prevailed at the end of the Second World War. This was based on national school systems, with a supposedly universal primary education system, and a selective secondary system, both focused, as has been said so many times, on meeting the requirements for university entrance as their ultimate goal. At the same time, there were technical and vocational schools that served as a fallback and that tended to be more sensitive than the rest of the school system to the needs of industry and business.

This concept of the school system has given way to another one that demands that the system be more democratic, more relevant, more permanent, more flexible and less differentiated. This last point refers to the hope that everyone will follow essentially the same path, although its duration will not always be the same. The new ideal stresses continuity and puts off specialization for as long as possible: horizontal differentiation, which exists to a greater or lesser degree, is to be avoided, or relegated to the final stage of schooling. These principles call for an extensive period of compulsory attendance, which generally includes the first level of the former model (under the name of basic education) and the first stage of secondary school. As to the second stage of the secondary level, although it is not compulsory, everyone is in principle entitled to it: in fact, it has become widespread throughout the world, and has even become universal in many countries. Attendance at the third level is considered as a right for a great proportion of the population, as long as its growth does not come at the expense of quality. The new model brings to mind one of the ideal models of the typology developed by Ratinoff thirty years ago (1964), the so-called “acquisitive system”, the predominant internal differentiation of which was quantitative and whose guiding principles were continuity and the systematic articulation of institutions and teaching content. Growth in education, which is now occurring at a slower pace and is probably viewed with fewer illusions than a little while ago, has changed the meaning of school levels, and particularly that of intermediate education, all over the world. From a system geared to the elites, it has become a mass teaching system that excludes selection as inadmissible.

Within this panorama, while Latin America once had a prematurely extended intermediate education system, at least in parts of the region, its education performance at that level is now only average at best. As can be seen from Table 1, it is now behind that of North America, Europe and Oceania, and is very close to the world average, where (as is natural enough, given its numbers) the developing world is the dominant factor. It is nevertheless higher than the overall rate for Asia and for developing countries as a whole, and of course higher than that for Africa, which is farthest behind in this regard.


As recently as a few decades ago, Latin America was still thought of justifiably as sharply split between a rural society, with widespread illiteracy, and an urban world that encouraged the development of intermediate and higher education, with an ever widening gap between those two worlds. The growth of intermediate education was the expression of these profound differences between rural and urban dwellers.

Today it is quite clear that the region has a higher education system that is much broader than its level of economic development would lead us to expect, a point that has been made repeatedly, and will be discussed later on. What seems to have happened, to some extent, is that the shortfalls in the basic education system have been transferred to the intermediate level, while the tendency to over-development (in terms of what would be expected by international comparison) has shifted from the intermediate to the higher education level.