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Colección: Tendencias para un futuro común
Autor: Bernardo Kliksberg
Título: La situación social de América Latina y sus impactos sobre la familia y la educación

V. Some Conclusions

At the threshhold of the new century, the destiny of nations appears increasingly linked to the quality of their population. Adequate levels of health, education, culture, people’s participation play a decisive role in the life of stable democracies, to attain sustainable development, to preserve the environment, for cultural growth. This is evidenced by the historic developments over the last 50 years. Most of the countries having made the highest and most sustained investment in their population, and having adopted true state policies in fields such as health, education and culture, have also achieved sustained economic growth and technological development, as well as high human development indicators, active democracies, and cultural maturity. To care for their population has allowed them to move along the path of integrated development. Frequently mentioned as important reference in this kind of development are countries ranking highest in terms of economic and social statistics such as Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Israel, and others. Family protection and development as well as continuous and increasing investment in education were included among the core strategies implemented by all these countries.

The twenty-first century will be featuring an evergrowing requirement for a healthy and qualified population. As commented by Thurow (1996), it will be a “knowledge intensive” century. The ability to generate, absorb and handle knowledge will become more and more the key to productive processes. State of the art industries such as communications, computer science, biotechnology, information technology, robotics and others are all knowledge based. Therefore, in a century based on knowledge, featuring an accelerated pace of ongoing changes, the degree of physical and psychological health as well as the level of training of the population will be decisive for countries wanting to be part of the mainstream of technological explosion. Achievements such as productivity, technical progress, the possibility of successful location within the globalized economy will be related to any society’s available human capital.

As has been pointed out, family units and educational systems are essential in modeling the “quality of population” of a country. Family, as described, has profound bearing on many essential aspects, including: value patterns, basic health indicators, emotional intelligence, styles of thought processes and a strong incidence on educational performance. On the other hand, the possibility of access to the various stages of the educational system as well as the quality of learning processes themselves will define essential aspects related to the degree of qualification attained by the population.

In Latin America, poverty and inequity are having a marked effect on these structures, which are the pillars of democratic societies and, by the same token, they are seriously hitting the region’s economic, social and political realms.

Imbalances and their costs are felt in many ways. The region enters the twenty-first century with poorly qualified labor. Thurow (1998) points out: “At present, in order to comply with the minimum requirements and be able to compete in the world, a worker needs at least 3 years of post high school training. Otherwise, he is handicapped for the workplace. The development of the great industries of the future is based on the intellectual ability of their labour force”. This picture is in sharp contrast to the average five years of schooling in the region. Family difficulties as well as educational limitations also have a daily incidence on productivity at the workplace. They strongly impact basic aspects of quality of living on large population sectors, with the ensuing social tensions. They are a source of the loss of credibility in the political system, and entail a drawing back from participation in same. Their silent negative influence can be felt in many ways, as illustrated by the role they play in one of the most alarming problems facing all sectors of Latin American society, that is the rise in insecurity and crime.

According to IDB reports (Technical Notes, and Buvinic, Morrison, Shifter, 1999), the rate of homicides in Latin America is clearly increasing. It rose by over 44% between 1984 and 1994, and presently ranks second highest in the world. In the region, 22.9 homicides per hundred thousand inhabitants are committed every year. This figure more than doubles the world’s average rate of 10.7, second only to Sub-Saharian Africa. Many of the region’s cities are currently considered unsafe. In some of them, homicide rates are manifold the world average. Among those with the highest rate are: Medellín, with 248 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, Cali 112, Guatemala 101.5, San Salvador 95.4, Caracas 76, Río de Janeiro, 63.5, Bogotá 49.2, and Sao Paulo 48.5. In Mexico, violent theft tripled between 1990 and 1996, and the number of stolen cars per day rose from 40 in 1990, to 157 in 1996.

Crime and violence cause much harm in many ways, and they also entail great economic cost for societies. United Nations estimates that due to violence, Brazil loses close to 10% of its Gross Domestic Product yearly, 80,000 million dollars. As shown in a study from the Institute of Religious Studies and IDB (1999), violence is costing Río de Janeiro 1.100 million dollars every year, out of which 500 are used for the care of victims of robberies and assault with firearms.

In Latin America, there is a defined trend toward “juvenile crime”, as many crimes are committed by youngsters. Research into the causes identify multiple factors, clearly including the kind of family these young people belong to, their educational level and the extent of their inclusion into the labor market.2

As described above, the family represents one of the most important elements for crime prevention within society. If, as is the case in widespread sectors of the population, the family is disrupted and weak under the pressures of poverty and inequity, society is losing the benefit of the potential role it could play in this field.

A clear correlation between level of education and crime has been observed in the region as well as internationally. Even though there may be some exceptions, it is considered that, in general, as the educational level increases, crime is reduced. In Latin America, large groups of children are, in fact, excluded from the educational system shortly after they enter it.

The weakness of the family group which, among other things, reduces the child’s educational performance and “social capital” (contact network, membership in associations, etc..) and the lack of preparedness are two factors contributing to people’s limited possibilities in a labor market featuring high unemployment levels.

In short, contingents of young people from weak family backgrounds, excluded both from the educational system and the labor market are developing in many countries of the region. Anomy and social exclusion are clear risk factors with regard to criminal behavior.

Is it possible to face all these problems, by concretely confronting the weaknesses of family and education, the two great structures that contribute to the shaping of human resources?

Claiming helplessness in this regard is not acceptable; Latin America has a wealth of potential economic resources as well as a history rich in values which provide the necessary background to confront this kind of problems. It also exhibits a very valuable achievement, that is the democratization of the region. Therefore, after so many efforts and struggles by the population, established democracies throughout the region should face this challenge as a priority issue, as is expected of a democratic system.

Amartya Sen (1981) has identified the fact that mass starving situations during this century have occurred under dictatorships. However, in democracy, pressure from public opinion, from mass media and other sectors of organized society, obliges state authorities to prevent them.

Latin American states and societies need to enter far reaching social agreements in order to strengthen the family and improve the situation in education.

The very valuable roles of the family must be taken into account in the public policies adopted in the region. In Latin America, public speeches frequently refer to the family, but, in fact, there is very little implementation in terms of public policies. Efforts to design integrated overall policies for the protection and strengthening of the family unit, burdened by growing poverty and inequity remain limited. There are many sectorial policies, for women, children, the young, but few efforts are aimed at developing a policy clearly aiming at that single unifying factor encompassing all of them and having a profound influence on each: the family.

Social policy should have a strong focus on this decisive unit. Concrete support must be provided to families of lower income sectors, by specific protection throughout pregnancy, economic assistance in difficult situations arising during essential stages in family life, reinforcement to prevent child labor and ensure school attendance for their children, and design a network of support services (daycare centers, care for the elderly and the handicapped, etc.), to provide greater opportunities for cultural development and family recreation. Specific policies are required to this end, as well as the organizational tools, resource allocation, joint action by public and civil society sectors in order to contribute to these objectives.

Important efforts have been undertaken in the field of education, but there still is much to do in the face of the existing deficits. To begin with, society at large has to adopt education as one of the most important investments a country has to make for its future, and allocate the necessary resources. Despite progress made, in many countries of the region the investment in education is around or below 4% of GDP. This is very different in countries that have consistently “made their bet” on education. In Norway and Denmark it is 8.3%, in Israel 9%, in Sweden 8%, in Finland 7.6%, in Spain 6.2%. It is estimated that developed countries devote an average of 115,220 dollars to cover a person’s education from preschool levels up to completing University. In Argentina, one of the comparatively more advanced countries in the region, the figure is 12,644 dollars. In the light of these realities, Birdsall (1994) states the following: “Poor people have been granted a right–there will be universal education. However, without the necessary resources, the quality of said education, and therefore the value of that right are voided”.

Possibilities of access to the educational system need to be broadened. As mentioned, preschool attendance, particularly in the lower income groups, is very limited. Important sectors still remain without coverage at the primary level, particularly in rural areas, in some of which there still prevails a bias discriminating girls. In Guatemala, for instance, many girls do not reach school in rural areas, and two out of every three who do dropout before completing third grade, 60% of the country’s female population is illiterate.

Public policies should aim with determination at solving the problem of inequity in the quality of education. Strengthening of public schools is a core strategy to that effect. The status of teachers, who are the driving force toward real progress in this field, has to be heightened into the appropriate hierarchy, along with a review of curricula, improvement of teaching materials and infrastructure. Teaching has to be devised as a true profession, with adequate remuneration, and opportunities for growth and training to make it attractive to talented young people. In various West European countries, for instance, salaries of teachers are higher than the average salary in the general economy, which shows the importance afforded to their work. Puryear (1997) comments on the situation of teachers in the region: “There has been a deterioration of the teaching profession. At all educational levels, teachers are usually poorly trained and ill paid, and they have little incentive to achieve professional excellence and improve their skills. Low salaries and precarious conditions have worsened, making recruitment of new teachers even more difficult.”

Germán Rama (1993) recalls how this situation evolved:

In some societies, it involved an effort spanning half a century to train a solid group of teachers for all schools as well as of a good guidance and supervision system, within the framework of an ethical concept of the teacher’s role within society. Economic adjustment policies which, unintendedly, impoverished teachers, prevented the maintenance and building of school facilities and led to overcrowding of children, thus originating a serious crisis in teaching as a profession. The best teachers looked for jobs elsewhere, and those who stayed turned into bureaucrats, no longer believing in what they were doing—because through public policies, the noble act of teaching lost its value—talented young people did not want to attend the teacher training institutes and, in some countries, it may well be that in the immediate future there are no young professionals to substitute for the ones which retire or give up, and that there will be a return to teaching without formal qualifications.

Can these problems be solved? It would seem that there are effective ways to face them. In the region, a number of countries have made continued efforts with excellent results. Costa Rica, a country with very modest economic resources, has adopted education as an important national project, and widespread social consensus provided the necessary support to strengthen it throughout decades. Thus, high educational performance indicators have been achieved. Among other aspects, the quality of schools was one of the determining factors enabling it to attract state of the art technological investment, achieved recently based on the assurance of solid backing behind its educational system. The Constitution was amended in 1997, with the unanimous approval of all political forces, to introduce a clause committing governments to invest no less than 6% of the Gross National Product in education. Uruguay, already exhibiting significant achievements in education, is attempting however to reach universalization of preschool education by the year 2000. Democratic Chile increased budgets for education considerably, strengthened the teaching profession, increased teacher’s salaries by 80% in real terms between 1990 and 1998, and started a sustained policy to improve equity in education.

The implementation of determined and sustained family and education policies would also generate a number of positive virtuous circles derived from the interrelation between both aspects. Stronger families would allow a higher educational performance of school children. Improved levels of school attendance would help to curb early motherhood. As shown in a number of studies, results could demonstrate that improving the education of young girls is one of the most productive investments any society can make. It has been estimated in Latin America that by adding merely one year of schooling to girls from low income groups would reduce child mortality by 9 per thousand. This broadening of the scope of their education could provide them with the necessary knowledge to prevent teenage pregnancy, to better handle the period before, during and after birth of their children, as well as improve nutrition.

The burden of poverty and inequity on the lower income groups in Latin America is creating a number of “dead end alleys” that need to be faced through policies like the ones mentioned and others approaching most important issues such as employment, production and various economic aspects. It is unacceptable that “iron circles” should continue to operate as the ones mentioned in an ECLAC report on the family (Panorama Social de América Latina, 1997). It shows that “according to country, in 72 to 96% of families living in abject poverty or poverty, parents have less than 9 years of schooling”. This means that in the region, poverty leads to limited education, which, in turn, causes the formation of families whose children will have reduced schooling, and again family destinies will maintain a status of poverty from one generation to the next.

It could be argued that there are no resources to undertake renewed family and educational policies. It is imperative to make every effort for countries to grow, to improve productivity and competitiveness and increase resources, but at the same time it is essential to entertain an active debate on priorities. This type of debate will encourage rational use of limited resources. At the same time, the latter need to be increased by calling on all social groups for their active participation in implementing policies aimed at the strengthening of family and education. Various advanced societies in the world show important contributions in both fields from civil society and volunteer work. And experiences from small countries in the region with limited resources such as Costa Rica and Uruguay illustrate that much can be done when priorities are clearly established.

Strengthening family and education means upgrading society’s human capital, which is the lever for economic growth and social development, as well as the foundation of democratic stability. Furthermore, beyond the direct effect of improving an area, it serves the ultimate purpose of democratic societies. Family is an essential foundation for many realms, but, moreover, it is an end in itself, and the same holds true for education. Backing these two aspects effectively opens the way for the development of human potential, dignifying it, broadening opportunities, providing true freedom.

Every hour that passes in Latin America—this continent plagued by the social problems described above— implies that unless effective policies are devised in these areas, a greater number of families will be destroyed or will not be constituted, there will be teenage mothers, children dropping out of school and young people excluded from society.

Ethics, above all, but also democracy and historical ideals call for joint efforts and urgent action to prevent it.