Great progress has been made in accessing education in the past two decades across Latin America, but most children in the region still do not receive relevant, high-quality education. As a result, many young Latin Americans entering the labor market do not have the skills necessary to find decent work and participate in an increasingly competitive, information-rich and globalized economy. At the same time, employers do not find people qualified enough to fill open positions. This profound incompatibility of human resources suppresses economic growth and perpetuates a system of having and not having. Unequal societies are less efficient in converting their growth into poverty reduction. In Latin America, the education gap reflects the income gap between rich and poor.
The levels of inequality in Latin America are some of the highest in the world. The countries of the region, according to the Gini coefficient, are almost 30% more unequal than the global average (Lustig, IMF, 2015). About 74 million Latin Americans (approximately 12.4% of the region's population) live on less than $ 2 a day. More than half of them are children. And, in Brazil, children in the lower income quintile complete an average of eight years of schooling while more than ten years are completed by children in the upper income quintile.
Education in Latin America needs to undergo systemic change
Latin America is lagging behind other regions of the world in terms of school years and schooling. In 2015, Latin America was, on average, 2.5 years of schooling behind the average of the OECD, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, (IDB, 2015). Asian countries like South Korea had similar, if not worse, educational levels than many Latin American countries 50 years ago. Today, South Korea has more years of schooling and significantly better educational results than any Latin American country.
The score of 15-year-olds in Latin America is precarious mainly in mathematics and science, critical skills in the current job market. Approximately 50% of Mexicans, Colombians and Brazilians lack the skills necessary to solve simple mathematical equations or to explain basic scientific phenomena. On average, in Mexico, students score 81 points below the OECD average (494 points) in mathematics. This amounts to a loss of two years of schooling. In the most recent PISA exam in 2015, this difference increased even more to the equivalent of a three-year loss in schooling.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, only a small percentage (well below 1%) of Latin American students score high on international exams; even high-income students in Latin America perform below students with the same level of education in other countries. Less than 0.1% of students in Brazil have the highest level in science and Brazil's performance has remained unchanged since 2006 (OECD PISA, 2015).
High school dropout rate in Latin America
Children are not staying in school
Primary school completion rates increased 85% in 2001 to 92% in 2013, highlighting the incredible gains in educational access in the region (Brookings, 2015). However, 92% of Latin American children start primary school, but only 41% of Brazilians and 35% of Mexicans graduate high school.
One in five young people aged 15 to 24 in Latin America is out of school and is not working, a phenomenon referred to as “Neither” - short for “neither study nor work”. Although the proportion of young people who are “neither nor” has gradually declined since 1992, it has not happened fast enough to make up for population growth. As a result, the number of “neither nor” in the region has grown two million to 20 million (World Bank, 2016).
It is a fact that dropping out of school results in worse results (physical, mental and economic) compared to young people who remain in school.
Latin America invests badly in education
Despite the increase in recent years, investment in primary education is still low across the region.
Mexico spends $ 27,848 per student between the ages of 6 to 15 years. This expenditure level is 31% of the OECD average, while Mexico's GDP per capita (US $ 17,315) is 44% of the OECD average (OECD, 2015).
Latin American universities, which serve less than 10% of the population, receive a disproportionate share of educational investment in relation to primary education. (In Brazil, public universities have only 2% of all students, but receive 25% of all federal education funds).
Improvements in the educational system require teacher training
An increasing amount of research clearly shows that the quality of a teacher's teaching can have a huge impact on that student's success in school and in life. In other words, the quality of teacher education is one of the main drivers of the quality of education.
Around the world, teachers report a desire to increase their skills through professional development. According to the OECD's International Teaching and Learning Survey, on average worldwide, 55% of teachers want more opportunities for professional development (Talis, 2013).
Mexican and Brazilian teachers are grateful for the opportunity, but unprepared to adequately face the teaching challenges they face. Almost a quarter (24%) of teachers in Mexico report not feeling prepared to do their work, compared to the TALIS average of 7% (OECD, 2013).
Mexico has the lowest proportion of teachers who report having completed a teacher training program (62%) among the countries participating in TALIS (OECD, 2013).
In a 2014 press release the OECD's International Teaching and Learning Survey (TALIS), it appears that more than nine teachers out of ten are satisfied with their jobs. But less than a third believe that being a teacher is a valued profession in society. It is important to note that countries teachers feel valued tend to perform better in PISA.
Educando works to improve the public education system
Progress is certainly happening across Latin America, and Educando is proud to be able to contribute to these improvements. Poverty is still an issue, but with the $ 4 a day poverty line, the region's population living in poverty dropped 45% to 25% between 2000 and 2014 (Brookings, 2016). But Latin American countries are still among the lowest in the world ranking in terms of quality of education. At PISA 2015, Latin America and the Caribbean returned to the bottom positions of the international educational quality ranking. Mexico was 56th in Mathematics and 58th in Science; Brazil did worse: 65th in Mathematics and 63rd in Science. Both Mexico and Brazil achieved results equivalent to three years less schooling than the average recorded by the OECD.
Educando envisions a future in which all children in Latin America receive the education they need to become productive members of society and works every day towards that vision.
We focus on the key area we can have the greatest impact: leadership at the school level. Our mission is to offer high quality training and ongoing support to teachers and principals of underserved schools in Latin America, fundamentally impacting the system the bottom up.
Educando works in partnership with local governments and brings private companies to invest resources and expertise. Since its founding in 2002, Educando has invested more than $ 24 million in educational programs and has trained nearly 8,000 educators in Mexican and Brazilian public schools, reaching more than 4.4 million students.
Educando promotes dialogue between the public and private sectors
America is a vast and nuanced region. But, as neighbors, we owe it to the common global good to come together to support each other in areas crucial to global development and international cooperation. Education in Latin America is being ignored by international funders in the United States. In fact, only a small portion of financing abroad is directed to Latin America. In addition, only a small fraction of international funding is directed towards education, and even less is directed towards K-12 education.
The vast and continuous exchange of citizens, goods and services between the United States and the two largest economies in Latin America, Brazil and Mexico, is a sufficient reason to guarantee an open dialogue in the Americas. Common decency and respect should seal the deal.
At Educando, we are fighting to ensure that students in Latin America do not continue to suffer underfunded education. Your contribution helps to make a difference.