18 de Julio de 2018
Portal Educativo de las Américas
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Colección: Trends for a common future
Autor: Noel F. McGinn
Título: Toward International Cooperation in Education for the Integration of the Americas

Current Status of Education

Although schools are better, they are not good enough. Although most children enter primary school, many do so without having passed through some kind of preschool program earlier. In Latin America only 25 per cent of four-year-olds attend preschool. Access to these programs is unequally distributed and is a privilege for urban middle and upper class households. Too many students leave primary school before they have acquired skills in reading and writing to retain functional literacy. Although rates have declined, Latin America continues to be plagued by the highest repetition and early dropout rates in the world.

As a consequence of the high wastage rate of schools in Latin America the rate of increase of levels of education is increasing slower than in other regions. The average level of education of the labor force in Latin America increased from about 2.5 grades in 1955 to more than 4.5 grades in 1990, but during the same period average education of workers in Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong increased from about 3.3 grades to almost 9 grades (Londono, 1996).

Total learning in primary grades is disappointing, and problematic for students and teachers in secondary schools. There are several causes. First, in some countries the total number of hours of instruction is relatively low. The official school year in Latin American countries has fewer days than, for example, Japan, but in addition many of its schools operate for fewer hours per day. A combination of relatively large class sizes and low teacher skills in classroom management result in a relatively high proportion of hours being spent on discipline problems, reducing total instructional time. Poor student health and inaccessibility to school during bad weather further reduces the time students spend on learning. Although these kinds of problems are much more serious in Latin America and the Caribbean, they also are found in urban schools in the United States.

Problems of quality of education are passed on from primary to secondary grades. Enrollments in secondary schools in Latin America and the Caribbean have expanded by a factor of four from 1960. In many countries the expansion was met by doubleshifting schools and teachers and reduced total instructional time. In general, lower secondary schools in the Americas have served as a system for selecting out those students who will not be admitted into universities. The completion rate of secondary school is about 75 per cent in the United States, and is lower in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Although a higher proportion of teachers are trained today than 50 years ago, much of that training is inappropriate for the conditions in which teachers work. Most teachers are taught a single method of instruction. Training heavily emphasizes content rather than techniques and classroom management. In-service training is limited and often unrelated to the teachers’ situation. There are few opportunities for teachers to meet to discuss problems and exchange successful solutions. In addition, the persons entering the teaching force today come from households with lower levels of education and cultural sophistication than was the case 50 years ago.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, teaching is pedantic and rigid, with low levels of student participation. Emphasis is on content learning through memorization and recitation. Student writing is infrequent, as is homework, as teachers do not have time to correct assignments. Teachers seldom encourage students to work in groups, use discovery learning techniques, or assess students on the basis of their products rather than their answers. Science teaching is primarily expository; little time is spent in laboratories or doing research. In those few countries that use high stakes examinations to determine passage from primary to secondary schools, teachers focus on teaching for the test rather than following the official curriculum.

The administration of schools in Latin America and the Caribbean is almost always carried out by someone with no formal training in management, and with little support from supervisors and the central ministry. Administrators are held responsible for the limited funds at their disposition and for monitoring the attendance of teachers. Meetings with teachers are infrequent, and few administrators are capable of assisting teachers with improvement of their teaching.

In recent years most countries in the Americas have begun to move decision making for education from isolated central ministries to regional, district or municipal offices. In addition, some countries have increased use of public funds to subsidize privately owned and managed schools. None of these decentralization reforms have produced large improvements in student learning outcomes.8 A major constraint is the lack of trained managers who can organize community and parental involvement in decision making and resource mobilization, and who can work with teachers on improvement of teaching practices.

Post secondary and higher education enrollments have grown more than 8 per cent per year since 1960. Now more than 19 per cent of the age group enters higher education in Latin America and the Caribbean; the comparable figure is more than 50 per cent in the United States and Canada. Throughout the Americas postsecondary institutions complain that the students they receive are inadequately prepared. Repetition rates are high and completion rates often low.

In Latin America unmet demand for higher education and relaxation of government restrictions has stimulated founding of many private universities. Some of these are of dubious quality, and offer programs that bear little relationship with employment opportunities. In both public and private universities production of new knowledge through research is limited; the principal function of higher education is the transmission of knowledge, often unrelated to current national objectives and economic priorities. Most teachers have had no doctoral level training and more than half work at other jobs.

The improvement of quality and efficiency in education in the Americas has been slowed down by lack of capacity to learn from innovations within national systems as well as those taken in other countries. Planning, budgeting and evaluation most often are carried out as distinct functions; only a handful of ministries of education are able to associate variations in inputs, practices, and costs with indicators of system performance such as completion rates or student learning. Few countries do this as a regular practice (McMeekin, 1998). Reforms are driven by the availability of new funding rather than by analysis of how best to use existing funds. As amounts of new funding, whether from external donor agencies or national budgets, is erratic and system improvement is a sometime rather than a continuous process.

Public spending on education in Latin America and the Caribbean declined during the 1980s, at the same time that total enrollments were increasing. Levels of spending have increased recently, but even now are barely above the levels of 1980. Spending is about one-tenth of the amount spent per student in developed countries (US$143 vs. US$1089 in 1993) (Schiefelbein & others, 1998). Compared to other regions of the world, including those with similar levels of per capita income, education in Latin America is seriously underfinanced. Education expenditure in 1988 as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product was 3.69 per cent in Latin America, compared to 4.08 per cent in all Asia, 4.9 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa, 5.05 per cent in Europe and the USSR (Reimers, 1995).

[INDEX] [Presentation] [Introduction] [The Evolution of International Cooperation in Education in the Americas] [Cooperation After Nationalism] [International Cooperation as Supranationalism] [Cooperation for International Development] [Resistance to Aid] [Cooperation as Collaboration within Latin America] [Cooperation as Structural Adjustment] [The Current Situation of Education in the Americas] [Current Status of Education] [Summary] [Current Forms of International Cooperation] [Aid as a Form of International Cooperation] [Varieties of Aid] [Uniformization as a Consequence of Aid] [Aid or Assistance from Bilateral and Multilateral Organizations] [Cooperation by Transnational Corporations] [Aid and Assistance from NGOs] [Aid by Philanthropic Foundations] [Aid Mediated through Educational Institutions] [International Cooperation in the Form of Collaboration] [Examples of Collaboration in Higher Education] [Obstacles to International Collaboration in Higher Education] [Examples of Collaboration Between Non-governmental Organizations] [Other Instances of Collaboration] [Summary] [Globalization and International Cooperation] [The New Industrial Paradigm] [Implications of the New Industrial Paradigm for Education] [The New Development Model] [An Outline of a New Paradigm for Education] [Alternative Approaches to International Cooperation in Education] [An Example of Regional Collaboration to Develop a New Paradigm] [Notes] [References]