Aún sabiendo que la enseñanza superior es un motor de desarrollo económico y social, que tiene valor por sí misma al facilitar el desarrollo de las personas, su enriquecimiento cultural y el progreso de sus conocimientos, y contribuye a la igualdad de oportunidades de todos los alumnos, está en crisis. Las políticas de reajuste han elevado las deudas presupuestarias de las instituciones, el éxodo de competencias y el desempleo de los titulados han provocado una pérdida de confianza en este nivel de la educación (Delors, 1996).
Papadopoulos states, education is presented as "the gateway to
future economic prosperity, the chosen instrument for combating
unemployment, the driving force behind scientific and technological
advance, the sine qua non for the cultural vitality of increasingly leisure-intensive
societies, the spearhead of social progress and equality, the safeguard
of democratic values, the passport to individual success" (Papadopoulos,
1995, p. 493). The multiplicity of economic, social or cultural
objectives is not any news; however, it is indeed a novelty the
insistent demand for educational reforms with the aim of achieving these
objectives. Especially the economic imperative. In Latin America the
political imperative of educational reform can be also noticed over the
nineties. To this effect, neo-liberal policies are established in the
Latin American context directed towards the destruction of “collective
structures which may impede the pure market logic" (Bordieu, 1999).
A new educational policy is configured with premises such as the erosion
of the state, or "the failure of the state as the guardian of the
public interest", the privatisation and the decentralisation of
educational systems, and the emphasis on primary education to the
detriment of the rest of educational levels (Arnove, 1998; Puiggrós,
However, a remarkable characteristic is that education is not the subject in itself, per se, of attention but a tool at the service of other sectorial policies. As examples, we may mention its instrumentation in the active policies to fight unemployment fostered by the OECD (Lázaro and Martínez, 1999), and the increasing protagonism given to education in the strategies to fight poverty, supported especially by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), but also the Inter-American Development Bank, or UNESCO itself.
the last few years we have assisted to a continuous series of
International Declarations to fight poverty: World Summit for Social
Development, Copenhaguen (1995); the Millennium Summit, New York (2000),
or very recently in Monterrey (2002). Little by little, we can see that
the compromises to eradicate from our planet poverty and the problems
associated with it are being postponed: 2000, 2005, and now, 2015. 2015
has been fixed as the deadline for reducing absolute poverty by half,
infant mortality by two-thirds, and succeeding in providing
definite access to universal primary education. In all the cited
pronouncements education has been pointed out as a first-rate tool for
the global strategies to restrain the increase in poverty. However,
international aid to development keeps decreasing, so much that between
1990 and 2001 suffered a 20% drop. The European Union commits to
reaching 0.39% (far from the ideal 0´7%) whereas the United States will
contribute with 0.15% of G.N.P. to aid development. Of all regions,
Latin America is that in which there persist the most severe problems of
poverty. There have been indubitable efforts made on behalf of education
in the region, too. About them and their current situation we would like
to discuss now. For that purpose, we will review in four sections: the
role of international organizations in poverty alleviation, in the first
place; and what have been the guidelines for educational reform in the
region up to the present, in the second one. Sections three and four
will complement the previous ones, acting as elements of contrast
between the most institutional discourse and the plain reality. Thirdly,
we will map the current panorama that insistently undermines people’s
possibilities of development; concluding in the fourth section with the
action guidelines expected for the future, trying to integrate the
initial aspirations with a sensibility towards the reality of education
in Latin American countries.
Education as a strategy for
poverty alleviation: actions undertaken by international organizations
it has been proved through several studies that education itself does
not lead to development
since this is a far more complicated principle (World Bank, 1991),
nowadays there is a minimum consensus on the evident and positive
influence of educational action on the economic growth of the nations.
From this precise scenario, education should be reconsidered both as a
fundamental right to the social, political and economic development of the nations and
as a key vector to poverty reduction. This has been shown by the
different educational actions of the decade of the nineties, from the
Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations General Assembly,
1989) to the recent seminars and work groups that have arisen since the
Dakar Forum, April 2001, also fostered by the United Nations (UNESCO,
2000, pp. 73-89).
In line with the recurrent revalorisation of human capital and therefore
of the role education can play not only in economic growth but also in
the integral human development, most international organizations put
their efforts to strategies that give priority to `primary education´
to the detriment of higher education, from which only a very small part
of the population benefits. This is, for instance, the position that the
«United Nations Development Programme» has been holding for a few
years already, in line with other international organizations. They all
ratify their ‘conviction that education has an essential function in
the continuing development of people and of societies, but they do not
consider education as a miraculous remedy or a magical formula that will
open the door to a world in which humankind will realize all its ideals.
Instead, they look upon it as one of the main tools – like others but
better than most- leading to deeper and more harmonious forms of human
development, the objective of which is to reduce poverty, exclusion,
incomprehension, free communities of oppression and war, etc.´ (Delors,
1996, p. 13).
According to these premises, the international organizations have
adopted several policies on poverty alleviation. Next, we will focus on
the ECLAC, the World Bank and UNESCO.
ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), analyses
the concept of ` social
vulnerability ´, which is consubstantial to poverty. It is defined
as a multidimensional social phenomenon that accounts for the sentiments
of risk, insecurity and defencelessness caused by the material basis
that supports them. It is the consequence of the implementation of new
forms of development that introduce changes of considerable scope and
that affect the majority of the population. All dimensions get affected
thus by the effects of this vulnerability that spreads over every social
strata (ECLAC, 2000, p. 49), so that it is possible to consider it a
distinguishing mark of the society of the third millennium, inherited
from the 20th Century.
search of solutions to ease the high rates of poverty in Latin America,
the ECLAC pays special attention to relating poverty reduction with
strategies that pursue a higher equity among the inhabitants of Latin
America. For that purpose, they have been promoting a philosophy with a
cognitivist bias that is directed towards transformation since the
1980’s. That will be achieved through the improvement of the
conditions of access to knowledge, as a conditio sine qua non for escaping poverty , together with social
and economic measures (ECLAC, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1999, 2000). To this
effect, provided that `equity demands the coexistence of an egalitarian
vocation and an attention to the difference´, the objective pursued
must keep a balance between both aspirations. The first thing needed in
order to achieve this concerted strategy is to ensure universal
education coverage up to secondary level, and to reduce the socio-economic
gap that defines the quality of education depending on the background.
Secondly, programmatic adaptations to specific groups must be
implemented, curricular appropriateness must be sought on the basis of
territorial realities, and special resources assigned to the areas of
higher social vulnerability and precarious economy. One way or the other
`experience teaches that the
most suitable programmes are those with an integral and multidimensional
character, long term ones, focused on breaking the channels of
intergenerational reproduction of poverty in homes structurally affected
by it; not forgetting other programmes focused on solving temporary
problems resulted from economic or natural conditions´ (ECLAC, 2000, p.
6). Therefore, the educational vector is present in the policies of this
organization in order to achieve a more stable, dynamical, integrating
and sustainable development. Regarding particular educational demands,
the ECLAC advocates for a series of goals. The most remarkable ones are:
an education that fosters and consolidates compensatory programmes, and
a policy that encourages educational continuity, considering the latter
as a viable and appropriate investment. Another goal is an education
that does not forget a pending task up to the present: a qualitative
improvement of the situation of the teaching staff in the region,
acknowledging that being exigent in the training of teachers has
decisive and determinant repercussions on the quality of education in
aware of the changes suffered in the international context and that, as
a result, other strategies should be implemented, the World Bank introduced in the year 2000 a solid proposal for fighting
bravely the spectrum of poverty. The organization acknowledges that, on
its basis, `in a world where the distribution of political power is
unequal and frequently very similar to the distribution of economic
power, the functioning of state institutions can be specially adverse
for the poor´ (World Bank, 2001, p. 1).
the basis of this premise, which affects both policies and procedures,
the World Bank promotes a vision of education that contributes to
improving people’s lives and to reducing poverty, `helping people to
become more productive and earn more (because education is an investment,
strengthening their skills and abilities -their human capital),
improving health and nutrition; enriching lives directly (e.g. the
pleasure of intelligent thought and the sense of empowerment it helps
give), promoting social development through strengthening social
cohesion, and giving more people better opportunities´. This aspiration
is revealed by a multidisciplinal implementation plan articulated in
different actions, most of them in collaboration with other
international organizations (World Bank, 1999). So we can observe, from
the educational ambit, the strengthening of a basic education for girls
and for the poorest countries; the development of early intervention
programmes (especially in health education); an opening towards new
education formulas in accordance with the new realities in Latin America
(distance education, open learning and the use of new technologies); and
the consolidation of systematic reforms that pay special attention to
matters such as standards, the curriculum and its certification,
government and school decentralization; and the search for suppliers and
financiers other than the government (World Bank, 1999; World Bank Group,
the World Bank has been blamed for the economic bias of its sectorial
policies (Bennell, 1996; Lauglo, 1996; Jones, 1998). Regarding education,
`the World Bank has identified educational system with system and market
[...] leaving essential aspects of education aside [...]. This procedure
[...] becomes reductionism when the economic analysis is considered
conclusive and on that basis, conclusions on the general problems of the
educational system [...] and proposals for specific intervention in
teaching/learning processes are launched´ (Coraggio and Torres, 1999,
model of human and sustainable development according to which the man is
considered the end and never the means is widely promoted by
international organizations such as the United Nations. Especially
has proved a remarkable activism
in accordance with the notion of development defended and published for
the last ten years that crystallizes in two major milestones: the
Jomtien World Conference (1990) and the Dakar Forum (2000).
Jomtien Conference defended the motto of `satisfying
basic learning needs´, so that the principle of «education for all»
transformed into a first-rate political goal through the six ‘Jomtien
dimensions’ (expansion of early childhood care and development
activities, universal access to primary education, improvement in
learning achievement, reduction of the illiteracy rate and increase
acquisition of knowledge, skills and values). In Dakar, taking into
account that the educational activity did not cease during the interval
of time between both, certain weariness, uncertainty and even uneasiness
could be appreciated since the results had not met the expectations laid
out (Ferrer, 2001, p. 129). In this context, marked by the relative
failure of the proposals and the resulting search for more realistic
alternatives, some aspects are reconsidered: the role of international
organizations, the guidelines of the educational policy and, especially,
its modus operandi, that is,
the action strategies to be carried out. The goals (now `aspirations´)
appear more realistic and operative, translating the new motto, `acquisition
of the knowledge, skills and values required for better living´.
Meanwhile, international organizations get involved ethically and
politically calling directly on international co-operation (EFA, 2000;
Little & Miller, 2000; Osttveit, 2000).
this logic of action, already known as `post-Dakar period´, the
Regional Intergovernmental Committee of the Major Project for Education
in Latin America and the Caribbean (PROMEDLAC VII) adopted a series of
principles and recommendations that crystallized in a document: the `Cochabamba
Declaration´ (UNESCO, 2001). Of an indubitable value as a statement
and as a project, the Declaration emerges in a context marked by a
realistic and resigned attitude towards the real achievements produced
(`we declare: our concern for having not yet fully achieved all the
goals proposed in the Major Project of Education´). That is not an
obstacle however to find explicit references of new strategies for
advancing in the educational reality of Latin America in aspects such as
adult literacy, management, quality and efficiency of education, or the
reformulation of the role of UNESCO itself. In relation to the most
important `challenges´ raised as a consequence of the Dakar follow-up,
there are some issues to deal immediately with. These are: gender
equality in basic education; the importance of ideas and innovations, in
which knowledge becomes a crucial weapon in economic growth (that will
require a strategic advance in matters such as the use of new
information and communication technologies, the consolidation of new
forms of social organization, or the insistence on the role of human
capital and education, etc); the quality of teaching in formal,
non-formal and informal contexts, in accordance with the guidelines
suggested by other organizations; and the consolidation of an increase
in literacy rates, clearly connected to equity policies before a reality:
repetition and dropout rates are closing doors on the development of
latter is taking place in an unhopeful context where it has been argued
that `in the next fifteen
years education in Latin America and the Caribbean will suffer the
negative impact of economic stagnation, political instability and the
decreasing governments’ capability to develop long-term sustainable
social policies [...] the economic and cultural globalisation will have
a very strong negative impact on the region, increasing the already
considerably high rates of inequality and social marginalisation´
(UNESCO, 2001). Criticisms of international organizations have to be
understood to this effect in this context. UNESCO in particular is
criticised by advocating regional programmes, and therefore global, when
the fact is that Latin American Ministers of Education conceive
education as a national issue rather than regional so that each country
should give priority to the educational levels that require attention
most. Finally, and in close connection with this reality, the
parallelisms and superpositions present in many of today’s Latin
American programs (Education For All-EFA; Major Project for Education,
PROMEDLAC; PREAL [Partnership for Educational Revitalization in the
Americas], Inter-American Program of Education, etc) reveal the lack of
coordination among the work dynamics emerged from each program. The
aforementioned redounds to a disorder leading to a duplication and
dispersion of efforts, an excessive cult of the event and of the
document, an ideological defence of certain values to the detriment of
others; a consolidation of ghettos and a profusion of client-oriented
mechanisms (Schneider, 1995, p. 73; Torres, 2001, p. 111; Dyer, 2001, p.
the policies put forward by the cited international organizations imply
the importance acquired by education as a strategy for change. From that
it follows that the educational reforms that have been implemented in
the region since the 1990’s constitute the crystallization of the
discourses analysed in this section, as set out below.
Brief analysis of the discourse of educational reform as a strategy for
priority granted to education in development strategies is due to the
diagnostic power implied by education, on supposing that education
constitutes the best factor for predicting opportunities in life (Boli,
Ramírez and Meyer, 1998; Reimers, 1999). At the same time, there exists
the conviction that education is the only variable that simultaneously
affects social equity, economic competitiveness and citizen performance
(Tedesco, 1998; Buchman, 1999).
and maybe in contrast to a more ideal level, `if education is expected
to help the poor exit poverty, first we will have to take education
itself out of poverty ´ (Rivero, 2000, p. 132). This reflects a reality:
education in Latin America continues to be, in many ways, a pending
subject; and as a logical result, it becomes subject of continuous
attention on the part of those who, one way or the other, are committed
to achieve an education of quality that is at variance with equity. In
such a context, several reactions and responses have been emerging since
the decade of the nineties formally setting up as proposals for
educational reforms. Some of them deal with very particular aspects (reforms
on primary or secondary levels of education, for instance). Whereas
others are characterized by being integral reforms that deal with
different aspects of the education policies of the region, in order to
configure scenarios that are more prone to development, and always under
the aspiration to alleviate a good part of the exclusion and the
constant risk of social reproduction through education.
the evolution of the reforms on education policies undertaken in Latin
America, three stages are distinguished with easily identifiable
features (De Puelles and Torreblanca, 1995; Filmus, 1998; Reimers,
2000). During the first stage, which starts in the sixties, there is a
tendency to identify equal opportunities with the expansion of the
access. The strong quantitativist emphasis prevailing at this time can
be interpreted, in fact, as a consequence of the optimism in economic
matters, even reaching the point of becoming an obsession with
management and financing as emerging key issues of the educational
reforms (Molina, 1999). For its part, the second stage, from the late
seventies to the eighties, is dominated by policies of a compensatory bias and the beginning
of the rhetoric of positive discrimination,
thus becoming the proof that the premise of quality stands as an
unquestionable priority, as
opposed to the advance of merely quantitative aspirations. To a great
extent, the discourses held by UNESCO, ECLAC and other international
organizations like the World Bank are the ones that promote and nurture
this qualitative vision of education. Finally, the third stage, of which
we are witnesses now, pursues the aspiration of reaching a forceful
forthright action, and this is no other than to walk towards a real
positive discrimination. At the same time, some aspects that are
revealing themselves as structural in the region are being questioned.
The inequalities found in academic achievements due to the extreme
heterogeneity of learning contexts, the low results from a general point
of view, the gender gap, or the distressing work conditions suffered by
the teaching staff at all levels are some of the most significant
examples (UNESCO-OREALC, 2000; PREAL, 2001).
this sense, we find a varied classification of educational reforms on
behalf of the great variety of contexts in which they are issued and
developed. As a consequence, it is not strange to find a considerable
educational inequality both between and within Latin
American educational systems (Schiefelbein and Tedesco, 1997). Despite
diversity, the initiatives of reform can be structured in three large
groups, on the basis of the goals they pursue (Carnoy and De Moura,
1997). The `reforms supported by
financing´, in the first place, are constituted by educational
reforms that pursue a rationalization of education expenditure. They are
directed towards reducing the budget of the central governments public
sector in order to finance and therefore to give priority to education
and training in the regions. The `reforms
supported by competitiveness´ have in turn the purpose of
organising educational performance and work skills in a newer and more
productive way. Now the sights are set on preparing a human capital of
quality but also a competitive one for Latin America. Finally, the `reforms
supported by equity´, which reflect the most current trends in
educational policy, consist of reforms aiming to foster the political
function of education as a source of mobility and social levelling.
classification gives an account of the reforms that have taken place
from the 1960’s onward, although it is acknowledged that none of these
models are in their pure state (Hopenhayn and Ottone, 1999). It is
rather the exposition of ideal models corresponding to different notions
of `reform´ that present variations and even combinations in their
practical and real scopes. With regard to this classification, thinkers,
educators and experts in education have agreed to reflect on and to
propose a series of elements that are being part of the current
educational reforms in Latin America, and that therefore have become new
channels of action whose study is completely necessary. Some of the
elements present in the formal discourses will be set out below.
the first place, Decentralization
as a formula for institutional management, or making
decentralization become, as Aguerrondo (1998) points out, an
organization constantly learning. In contrast with the centralized style
of many of the educational policies of the 1990’s, and after having
proved their dysfunctionality, the current reforms advocate for
decentralized systems in the structures of management, administration
and supervision of their respective educational levels. Secondly, the
aforementioned leads to rethink the Role of the State, whose competences are being reformulated,
because whilst there is progress in the reduction of its classical
functions, it seems to prevail certain unanimity on the State’s
competences in planning, and others like compensation and evaluation (Tedesco,
1998, 2001) or concertation and control (Cosse, 1999).
The Teaching Staff Situation constitutes
the third coincidental goal. It is shown by the fact that the success of
educational reforms lies to a great extent in having a motivated
personnel, open to changes and willing to generate transformation
environments. In Latin America, very on the contrary, the teachers’
situation is far off from reaching those ideals as more and more adverse
obstacles are bursting into the current conditions of the collective,
such as the loss of protagonism, the decrease in wages and income, and
the drop in the levels of professionalisation (Schiefelbein and Tedesco,
1997; Rivero, 1999, 2000; Gajardo, 1998; PREAL, 2001). So, the reforms
ought to pay special attention to the staff, aiming to enhance teaching
capital, to invest in their training and to strengthen policies that
support decent wages. The reforms should also influence on the levels of
exigency in their professional practice, so that a possible solution
would be the generation of a coherent and stable system of incentives
for the teaching staff (UNESCO, 1998; Torres, 1999).
goals focus on: a preferable attention to basic
education and the promotion of primary education, echoing strategies
put forward by UNESCO, the World Bank and other international
organizations; professional and
secondary education, whose structure is also in process of
reformulation and reconceptualisation; the adoption of new directions on
educational evaluation more
sensible towards Latin American educational reality;
or the emphasis on educational quality
and orientation, among others.
In synthesis, these aspects do not by any chance exhaust the panorama of change and innovation that translates the spirit of the reforms implemented in Latin America since the 1960’s, which are a reflection of the concerns of the international organizations that help drawing the different action lines for the current educational policies. However, the most recent publications have proven specially critical to the scarce advances in educational matters (Gajardo, 1998; Torres, 2001). They have issued more sensible and specific orientations before a reality that, as it will be demonstrated below, battens on the deficiencies of different nature generated by poverty and whose effects, far from lessening, reflect with the harshness of numbers a situation that spreads unstoppably.
Mapping the current situation: poverty as an endemic evil and its
consequences on education
latest balance of the economic situation issued by the ECLAC for the
nineties, in contrast with the ominous ‘lost decade’ of the eighties,
implies an unquestionable improvement in key aspects of the political,
social and economic situation. However, even though the economy
maintained an average growth rate of 3.2%, compared to the 2.4% average
annual growth rate of the world economy, this growth was unstable and,
over all, insufficient, since it did not generate employment in the
constant expected rate, and it keeps depending too much on external
capital (ECLAC, 2001).
worrying is the persistence of poverty: more than twenty million people
have been acquiring this little honourable status in the last decade. To
this it should be added that although democratic regimes have been
gradually substituting the ruling dictatorships, inequality has not been
mitigated however. Very on the contrary, it has increased in quite a
good number of countries of the region, while social expenditure
presents very low rates[i]
(ECLAC, 2001). In absolute terms, the number of poor people has
increased during the nineties in Latin America. In 1999 around 43.8% of
the population was in poverty. Countries like Argentina, Brazil and
Colombia are noticing an increase in poverty rates, as opposed to Mexico,
El Salvador or Panama with a certain reduction in their rates. Another
fact: 54% of poverty is rural, compared to 30%
in urban homes. The first estimations on the current situation do
not lead to optimism at all.
a strictly economic point of view, the year 2000 interrupted an
incipient recovery in the economies of the region as a consequence of
the deceleration of the world economy, and so the regional growth ended
being of 0.5%. The continuity of the current world economic crisis is
going to have a very negative effect on the evolution of the economies
of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2002: the worrying situation in
Argentina is a good example of the problems that some of the countries
of the region might suffer if there were no positive changes in the
world economic situation. In this situation there is, logically, a reduction in public social expenditure on education[ii],
health, social security and housing. Some of the most significant
effects are: the worsening of social exclusion processes, the increase
in institutional fragility and social vulnerability and the people’s
insecurity, due to unstable family incomes and precarious employment.
All this determines the intergenerational transmission of educational
and professional opportunities.
furthermore, the huge inequalities evident in the distribution of income
consolidate, certifying the lack of equity. There is an average
difference of income between the highest and the lowest rates of almost
20 points. The Gini Coefficient shows that the countries with higher
inequality rates are: Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia,
Paraguay, Chile, Panama and Honduras. The rates are more moderate in
Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and
Venezuela; while Uruguay and Costa Rica are the countries with the
lowest inequality rates. As a consequence, from an occupational point of
view, the significant increase in active population over the nineties
and the weakness of the productive fabric generate an increasing
unemployment. But in addition there are other effects: precarious
unemployment increases, while the increasing informalization of
employment strengthens in urban areas.
happens to education in this scenario? Education coverage has extended
considerably, as indicated by the PREAL (2001), although it also reports
that most of the countries have not achieved 100% enrolment at the
primary level. In average, from 1980 to 1994,
schooling time of children in comparison to their parents has
increased in 3 years both in urban and rural areas, from 6.5 to 10 in
the first ones and from 3 to 6.5 in the second ones. However, in
1994, still 47% of urban youth and 73% of the young people living
in rural areas had not been able to surpass their parents’ educational
achievement levels and to reach the basic educational capital, estimated
in twelve years of schooling. According to the ECLAC, completing
secondary education and attending
12 years of study has proved to be essential in the region to access
well-being, and thus escape from poverty by having the opportunity to
earn higher wages (ECLAC, 1997, pp. 60 and 66).
`social origin´ variable continues to be determinant with regard to the
educational opportunities received since
the lack of equity in the access blocks one of the main channels
of mobility for young people. This lack of opportunities proves to be
especially dramatic when accessing secondary education. Thereby, in
Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela, with
relatively lower secondary education coverage rates, `only one out of
six young people whose parents have less than six years of schooling
succeed in completing secondary education. On the other hand, three out
of four young people whose parents have more than 12 years of study
reach that level as a minimum´ (ECLAC, 1997, p. 65). In countries with
higher coverage rates (Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama and
Uruguay), 51% attends twelve or more years of study in comparison to the
29% of average in the first group. For their part, in rural areas, there
is a similar behaviour during the eighties and the nineties with regard
to the maintenance of the proportionality in the inequalities of access
to education tied to the `educational climate´ of the families. The
ECLAC’s conclusion is clear: `it is disturbing that the efforts to
extend education coverage in Latin America in the last 10 to 15 years
have not translated into a reduction of the distance among young people
from different social strata´( p. 68).
parents’ education level and the economic capability of the family
continues to be determinant also at the primary level. About the middle
of the nineties, in urban areas of Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica,
Honduras, Paraguay and Venezuela the rate of young people that did not
attend more than eight years of study ranged between 25% and 50%; and
most of them came from homes where the parents had not surpassed that
educational level either. In Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama and
Uruguay those rates range between 15% y 30%. For the same period,
1980-1994, UNESCO’s studies, attending to learning outcomes, settle an
evident association between social origin and the possibility to access
an educational offer of quality (UNESCO, 1996). The ECLAC (1998) remarks
that the educational reforms of the systems of the region directed
towards the improvement of the quality that started in the nineties will
probably succeed in bringing nearer the educational achievement of
students from private and public education. They will also have a direct
impact on the reduction of educational inequalities among the different
social groups. However, it indicates at the same time that `a good part
of the educational inequalities transmitted from one generation to the
following still lie in the number of years of study completed by young
people from different social strata, independently of the quality of
education received by them´. In this way, an improvement of the quality
may have slight effects if it is not followed by policies that seek to
extend the stay of young students from middle and low strata in the
school system. In all the countries, a very high percentage of these
students do not stay at school the number of years necessary to acquire
an appropriate educational capital, which actually corresponds to 12
years of schooling, as it has been already mentioned. Against this ideal
situation, as the PREAL pointed out, in several countries between one-fourth
and one-half of the children that enter primary level do not succeed in
reaching fifth grade (PREAL, 2001, p. 8). At the same time, 10% of the
wealthiest 25-year-olds have 5 to 8 years more of schooling than 30% of
the poorest 25-year-olds (a situation specially evident in El Salvador,
Mexico and Panama). This lack of basis limits their possibilities of
finding a job that ensures them well-being and a sufficient income.
the above-mentioned data with employment and income opportunities, `a
very high homogeneity is noticed in the education-occupation-income bond
that determines socio-economic stratification in the region´ (ECLAC,
1998, p. 78). Thus, `depending on the country, between 72% and 96% of
the families in situation of poverty or indigence have parents with less
than nine years of schooling in average´ (p. 143).
this situation of poverty and social vulnerability not even teachers
escape. Although the exact dimension of this situation is intimately
correlated with the magnitude of poverty in each country, teachers’
wages per hour are generally in the region between 25% and 50% lower
than those of other employed professionals or technicians (ECLAC, 1998,
p. 136), as follows from the different evaluations made during the
focus of concern and preferable attention lies in universal access to
primary education. Although enrolment ratios have increased, most of the
countries of the region have not reached 100% net enrolment in primary
education. To this effect, countries like Brazil, Colombia and Honduras
have not managed to reach this aspiration neither in urban areas nor in
rural ones, whereas Ecuador and Paraguay have reached this goal but only
in urban areas (ECLAC, 1998, p. 154). In effect, the crystallization of
this premise, for which there is so much struggle taking place, involves
different lights and shadows. On the one hand, even though there is an
improvement in the situation of girls in primary education, and besides
the fact that social expenditure recovered in the nineties in comparison
to the drop suffered in the eighties; there is also a consolidation, on
the other hand, of the problems of access for ethnic minorities both to
schools in general and also to schools that meet their cultural needs.
With regard to the mentioned social expenses, their growth reduced to
6.4% in the second half of the nineties, half the growth rate of the
first half of the decade[iii].
the year 1999-2000 the aforesaid inequalities persist. `In rural areas
two out of five children do not complete primary education, while in
urban areas one out of six minors interrupt their studies before
finishing primary school or they complete it with at least two years of
delay, which implies most of the times abandoning school before
completing 12 years of study ´ (ECLAC, 2000, p. 172). Dropout and delay
affect 40% of children that live in rural areas. Only in Chile, Honduras
and Mexico a reduction of the disparities of educational opportunities
between urban and rural areas can be noticed. Meanwhile, Colombia, El
Salvador and, in a lower extent, Brazil are the countries which present
the highest disparities. And as a last fact, only in Nicaragua the gap
between the ones and the others exceeds 50%.
the phenomena of dropout and delay adds repetition. In 25% of the
poorest homes the repetition rates in the second grade of primary
education, 18%, almost quintuples the 4% registered among minors from
the 25% of the homes with higher incomes. These disparities take place
both in countries with low enrolment rates in the level (Brazil, El
Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic), and in those with
higher enrolment rates (Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama and
Uruguay). Such phenomena diverge, in addition, on the basis of the urban/rural
binomial: in the rural areas of those countries only 7% of minors that
live in 25% of the homes with higher incomes abandon school or complete
primary education with delay. In 25% of the poorest homes, that
percentage goes up to 26%. It is the derivation of the initial
differences, which worsens along the level ending up being very evident
in fourth grade.
progress on the coverage and on the fight against desertion is, then,
insufficient, as follows from the data presented above, demonstrating to
be the most significant differences in secondary level education, in
full contrast with the aspirations of the international organizations.
While in primary education, although incompletely, disparities among
different social groups have indeed been reduced a little, in secondary
education the achievement differences among young people from different
socio-economic status have not been reduced during the nineties. This
way, there persists an important mechanism in the reproduction of
poverty and access inequalities,
for the differences of achievement depending on social origin are even
more marked at this level. The
ECLAC’s estimation for the year 2000 was that in urban areas nearly
half the young population of 20 years of age would have abandoned their
studies without completing the level or either having a big delay, while
in rural areas nearly three out of four young people would find
themselves in the same situation (ECLAC, 2000, p. 174). From that it
follows that the most immediate challenges for regional policies on
primary level in urban areas are the enrolment and retention of children
from the poorest strata, from disintegrated families or those who do not
value education. The fight against school desertion can be complemented
by health and/or nutritional measures with the purpose of helping
children to achieve well-being.
the numbers of the year 2000 to 2001 do not offer specially encouraging
data in comparison to previous years since the tendencies already
pointed out do not reverse but, on the contrary, they consolidate.
Regarding education coverage, for instance, seven countries remain below
90%: Costa Rica, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Nicaragua
and Guatemala. Only Cuba, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Panama have a net
enrolment in secondary education beyond 50%. (PREAL, 2001, pp. 7 and
29). In most countries of the region only one third or less of secondary
education potential students are in fact enrolled.
One more remark on gender and ethnicity: with regard to the first,
undoubted advances have been achieved, but it is clear that there still
exist cultural segregation patterns in the interaction among teachers,
teachers and students, and among students themselves (Stromquist, 1993).
With regard to the second, in Latin America, even though racial and
ethnic groups find themselves in a disadvantage situation, shown by the
fact that indigenous adults in Peru, Guatemala, Brazil and Bolivia have,
at least, three years of schooling less than the rest of the white
population of the same country (PREAL, 2001, p. 10), there is a
consolidation of the policies aiming at a sensibilisation towards the
mentioned minorities, as it is demonstrated in the following review of
the state of the question.
4. Conclusions. Latin American educational reality. From
institutional discourses to realistic strategies: future focuses of
view of this reality and the current analyses of Latin American
educational reforms, whose outcomes, despite the efforts made in recent
years, have been described as at least `poor´ (Gajardo, 1998) or `limited´
(PREAL, 2001), there is still a long way to walk before the binomial of
quality-equity become a viable premise and the key element to contribute
to make societies more just. Especially in an international context
marked by external debt, an evident burden which hinders educational
achievements and aspirations `by reducing availability of foreign
currency for the educational system´ [...] `through the adjustment
process which results in reduced real educational budgets´ (Reimers,
perspective plus the vision provided in this article of the present
social and educational reality in Latin America are necessary to
understand the 2001 Report of the Task
Force on Education, Equity and Economic Competitiveness in Latin America
and the Caribbean (an independent non-governmental commission
composed of distinguished citizens from throughout the region who are
concerned about school quality). The report reflects a reality in which
very limited progress is recorded despite the efforts made by
international organizations through programmes explicitly designed for
that purpose, since `quality remains low, inequality remains high, and
very few schools report on the parents and the communities they serve´
(PREAL, 2001, p. 6).
a conclusion, and in view of a panorama full of contrasts, as
demonstrated in the previous section, the Report proposes to advance in
four aspects. In the first place, setting realistic standards for
educational systems and measuring progresses until they are reached; in
the second place, conferring schools and local communities more control
and responsibility on education; thirdly, strengthening the teaching
profession through salary raises, training reforms, and commitment with
the community they work for; and finally, investing higher financial
expenditures for students in pre-primary, primary and secondary levels.
These measures coincide with the guidelines pointed out by some
international organizations, yet in essence they try to deal with local
issues in order to have a more responsible and more involved education
with regard to the reality of its social, political and economic context.
projections coincide, in the main, with the proposals derived from the
evaluation of the EFA Plans launched in the Latin American region by
each country (EFA 1997, 1998 and 1999), which seek to achieve the
aspirations exposed in the previous section as key issues in today’s
education, as chart I shows:
FOR EDUCATIONAL ACTION IN THE EFA PLANS[iv]
a conclusion to the contents of the chart but also to all the previous
sections, which have shown the state of the question from a discursive
and an official point of view, the current aspirations pursue goals that
are more realistic and sensible towards their own socio-educational
reality. Only from this perspective can we appreciate that the
educational policies directed towards combating illiteracy remain the
most extended -judging by the latest results of the reports on `Education
For All´ elaborated by the countries- followed by policies on
dignification and professionalisation of the teaching staff, and
strategies to reach basic schooling and to combat school absenteeism.
Yet they neither forget those who seemed forgotten by education reforms:
indigenous and rural communities, as also linguistic minorities, which
are now the subject of preferable policies. The latter comes to
corroborate thus the interest and attention deserved by people (boys and
girls, families, teachers, indigenous, linguistic minorities, etc) in
order to continue the fight against the spectrum of poverty in a
strategic way, but effective as well.
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[i] Even though social expenditure increases in the region during the
nineties, from 10.4% to 13.1% of GNP, there do not exist real fiscal
policies that allow a social redistribution of income. The countries
showing higher social expenditure are Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica,
Panama and Uruguay. The opposite one are for cases of: El Salvador,
Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Dominican Republic.
[ii] The average expenditure in education, as a percentage of GNP, in
1990-91, is 2.9%. In countries: Argentina, 3.3; Brazil, 3.7; Chile, 2.6; Colombia, 3.2;
Costa Rica, 3.8; Guatemala, 1.6; Honduras, 4.3; Mexico, 2.6;
Nicaragua, 5.0; Panama, 4.7; Paraguay, 1.2; Peru, 1.3; Dominican
Republic, 1.2; Uruguay, 2.5; Venezuela, 3.5. In 1998-99 there is an increase of 3.9%. In
countries: Argentina, 4.7; Brazil, 3.9; Chile, 3.9; Colombia, 4.7;
Costa Rica, 4.4; Guatemala, 2.3; Honduras, 4.1; Mexico, 3.8;
Nicaragua, 5.7; Panama, 6.0; Paraguay, 3.7; Peru, 2.2; Dominican
Republic, 2.8; Uruguay, 3.3; Venezuela, 3.8. Differences on public expenditure strengthen inequality
as they concentrate disproportionately on higher education, as
indicated by the PREAL. In this sense, despite the poor coverage and
quality of primary and secondary education, the major portion of the
resources concentrate on superior education, which clearly
discriminates the poor that will never make it to university (PREAL,
2001, p. 10).
Obviously, regional heterogeneity is high, so we find countries with
high and upper-intermediate expenditure rates, between
1000 $ and 550 $ annual per
capita (Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Panama and Costa
Rica), countries with intermediate expenditure rates, 300 to 400$
annual per capita (Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela), and finally, countries
with low rates, between 50 and 175$ (Peru, Paraguay, El Salvador,
Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) (ECLAC,
1998, p. 101). The global increase of the percentage directed to
education is narrowly related to the process of education reforms
orientated towards increasing quality and equity; even so, regional
differences remain evident among the countries.
ARTICLE RECORD / FICHA DEL ARTÍCULO
Martínez Usarralde, María Jesús (2003). Rhetoric, best wishes and reality: education in Latin America. The challenge of equity and quality. Revista ELectrónica de Investigación y EValuación Educativa, v. 9, n. 2. http://www.uv.es/RELIEVE/v9n2/RELIEVEv9n2_2.htm. Consultado en (poner fecha).
Title / Título
best wishes and reality: education in Latin America. The challenge
of equity and quality.
buenos deseos y realidad: educación en Latinoamérica. El desafío de la
equidad y la calidad
Authors / Autores
María Jesús Martínez Usarralde
Revista ELectrónica de Investigación y EValuación Educativa (RELIEVE), v. 9, n. 2
Publication date /
Fecha de publicación
2003 (Reception Date: 2001 Oct. 25; Approval Date: 2003 June 20; Publication Date: 2003 July 11 )
The present article analyses the strategic role played by the educational vector in the alleviation of poverty at the present time. For that purpose, it articulates in three sections: in the first one, it analyses the most significant actions undertaken by international organizations on the fight against poverty. Secondly, it reviews the discourses of educational reforms during the 1990’s, and the emerging topics of attention and interest within the latter.
Finally, in the third section, it offers an overview of the state of the question regarding poverty in Latin America and how this is affecting education, social expenditure cuttings, the situation of subemployment; while socio-cultural and family origin prove to be strong determinants. In view of this results, the conclusion deals with educational proposals, which react critically and pursue a higher degree of awareness and sensibilisation towards these problems, coinciding with the evaluation guidelines of the ´Education For All´ plans.
El presente artículo analiza el rol estratégico que juega el vector educativo en el alivio de la pobreza en el escenario actual. Para ello se articula en tres apartados: en primer lugar analiza cuáles son las acciones que surgen desde los organismos internacionales más significativos en la lucha contra la pobreza para pasar, en segundo, a revisar cuáles han sido, durante en la década de los años noventa, los discursos subyacentes a las reformas educativas, así como los tópicos emergentes de atención e interés dentro de las mismas.
Finalmente, en la tercera parte, se plantea cuál es el estado de la cuestión que gira en torno a la pobreza en Latinoamérica y cómo está afectando a la educación, al recorte en gastos sociales, a la situación de un creciente subempleo, a la vez que el origen sociocultural y familiar supone un fuerte condicionante. A la vista de estos resultados, la conclusión aborda las propuestas educativas que reaccionan críticamente y se encaminan a una mayor sensibilización y concienciación sobre estos últimos problemas, coincidiendo con las directrices de evaluación de los planes de `Educación para Todos´.
Education, poverty, educational reform, international organism, equity
Educación, pobreza, reforma educativa, organismos internacionales, igualdad
Universidad de Valencia (España)
Publication site /
Language / Idioma
English (Title, abstract and keywords in español )
Volumen 9, n.2
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