One should start by saying that education in Latin America lags behind the education levels in other regions of the developing south in the education sector, while the majority of students there unless having enough financial resources (are rich) can’t receive top quality education in their countries. In the following essay I will speak about the education and its complexity within income disparity and development in Latin America. I will analyze the current educational situation in some selected Latin American countries, comment on the average figures for the region and point out some deficiencies and areas that need improvement. I will analyze the public and private education in Latin America in order to better understand the pending problems that poor strata of the Latin American society face at present.
The study undertaken by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) showed us that only 33% of all Latin American students get secondary school education, which is much lower than 80% of all Southeast Asian students who get that education (Kane, 194).
Average Latin American workers have on average 5 years of education, which is less than 6 years of education that Southeast Asian laborers obtain. One should remember that in 1960s the two regions had similar problems, yet the Asian region managed to focus more on the education to achieve high school completion rates compared to the Latin American region. The biggest problem in Latin America is the fact that over 60% of students either repeat or drop out of school before completing the 6th grade. Out of those who graduate only about 50% would go on to finish their studies in colleges and universities compared to the 95% of students who do that in Korea or Malaysia.
The greatest challenge for the Latin American education system is the need to reduce high levels of school desertion. The high levels of desertion are linked to the income of students and their families. Thus, out of 100 students that come from the poorest 40% of the population only about 10% ultimately manage to reach the 9th grade in their school. The remaining 90% of students would actually quit schools and start working to help their families get additional income and cash. Only the rich students can afford to attend the school all the time and actually get the needed skills required to enter the universities or colleges (Purcell, 188).
Students in Columbia, Peru, Chile or El Salvador have to both go to school and work. They typically work for over 20 hours per week during normal school hours and about 35 hours per week when they are on holidays. In rural areas of the aforementioned countries students do not attend schools at all during harvest time, while peasant children and teenagers leave their school after five or six years of study to work on farms and return to school the next year. One should remember that the rigid education system present in Latin America does require these students to repeat the year and thus making them abandon the school altogether and join the labor force.
The greatest percentage of school drop outs indeed have not mastered the required skills in math and language and they do not have the required access to training that high paid professions require. As a result these students and school dropouts are most likely doomed to failure in life due to inability to obtain a decent level education and the profession that will allow them to afford to have a family and a decent lifestyle. The greatest challenge for the educational system of Latin America is to develop a flexible system that would allow students to attend schools at the time when they can.
Another problem that should be noted in this essay is the low quality of education in Latin America. As a result poor Latin American people are not less educated only because of a lack of resources to afford that education or time to attend schools but because they also receive education of inferior quality compared to the level of education available in developed nations or the poor Asian nations. It appears that only the poorest African nations have the education of even more inferior quality than the education in Latin America. The market also pays little to no attention to the students’ desire to educate themselves on an individual basis. The poor quality of education teamed up with inadequate access to education especially by the poor strata of the society result in the inability of the poor/lower class students to obtain necessary education to succeed in life (Artiles, 76).
The greatest problems in education in Latin American countries are seen in the public schools which are inferior to the private schools. Public schools survive on meager government financing and besides retaining only those professors who agree to teach for a small salary also require fewer class hours compared to private schools. Private schools on the other hand survive on the payments made by rich students and their families. The private schools have the best teachers on the market and oftentimes invite professors from abroad to teach in these schools. The class hours in these schools are longer and demand greater student involvement. The educational programs in the private schools oftentimes reflect the educational programs of private schools in Europe, and North America and thus provide rich students at the start with much greater educational opportunity.
The private schools provide on average 1000 hours of instruction per annum, conducted by highly professional and high-paid professors to adhere to all modern technology and curriculum updated on a regular basis. The state and public schools on the other hand provide from 500 to 800 hours of instruction per annum, while their programs taught in these schools date back to 1970s or 1980s depending on the school or country and certainly do not accurately reflect the educational needs of students. The low paid instructors oftentimes work several jobs rather than focusing on education and personal development. As a result the qualifications of these instructors decline with time and their ability to teach effectively lowers.
One should also keep in mind that although the teachers’ union continues to remain the most powerful union in Latin America the union demands most of the time are limited to salary increases with only calls for improving quality of education. Overall, the union was more concerned with the increased salaries of its members rather than with some contribution to the society and the education which this union represents. The allocation of government and state resources to education appears to be the core reason for problems. For instance, on average the countries of Latin America spend just about 5% of their GDP on education, while more than 10% to 15% on the military. Mexico, Cuba, Costa Rica and Brazil were the only countries to spend on education 6% of their GDPs, the greatest figure in Latin America. Countries like Peru, Guatemala, or El Salvador spend on average only 2% of their GDP on education, while over 20% of their GDP on the military (defense forces) (Levy, 72).
Most of the presidents in Latin American countries such as Vicente Fox of Mexico or Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil promise great improvements in basic education once given the ability to reign the country. While in the 1980s and 1990s the majority of the Latin American leaders focused on educating small elite groups, the current leaders strive to improve the overall quality of education in the country and to ensure value for all children especially from the poor class of the society (Izquierdo, 51). There is already a national consensus that improving quality and quantity of education in the society is extremely important for the overall economic development in the region, reduction of inequalities and creation of stable democracies. At the past Summit of the Americas, the leaders of the Latin America pledged to have more than 75% of all students in the country complete at least secondary school by the year 2010, yet there seems to be only marginal progress done up to date (Moll, 40).
The Mexican students for instance receive at present on average 7.7 years of education compared to 1.7 years in 1940, while 60% of all Latin American students at present get at least a few years of schooling, a 10% increase from 1980s. Various schemes launched in Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua or Argentina already provide payment to poor families who force their children attend schools regularly. Families whose children do not attend schools regularly are not given that welfare payment. Such schemes are believed to indeed boost attendance in schools yet does not have much impact on the student’s desire to study or actually learn something in these schools. For some reason this scheme works well only in Brazil which for the first several years had managed to achieve universal primary education around the land and moving from lagging Latin American country to the leading educational nation in the area.
Slightly modified Mexican scheme of welfare payment based not only on attendance but also on grades earned in class had proved extremely successful with some economists and social scientists recommending it for use in the USA.
Despite the aforementioned progress achieved in some Latin American countries in education one needs to understand that it was still not adequate enough compared to the education progress made by first world nations who leave Latin America far behind. While the overall enrolment rates indeed seem high, local disparities in each Latin American country still are impressive. For instance, in Mexico, one of the most educationally advanced nations in Latin America illiteracy is still over 21% in rural areas, which is double the rate of illiteracy in urban northern areas bordering the USA. The richest 10% of Mexicans spend 12 years at school, while the poorest 10% spend only 2 years of their life on education (Wit, 132).
The 32-country study undertaken by OECD reflected only marginal access to quality education by poor strata of the society in the countries of Latin America. For instance, the math, science and native language skills as evaluated among various third world countries where the average for the Eastern Europe block, exceeded in Asia (South Korea, Taiwan), yet was certainly lagging behind in Latin America making it only to the bottom of the world class educational assessment.
The leader in education in Latin America was Cuba, which under Fidel Castro spent tremendous sums on education at expense of other human rights. Chile, Argentina and Brazil go next although with much lower scores than that in Cuba. Bolivia, Honduras and Dominican Republic report the worst results.
The current progress is certainly considered poor. The current desire to spend 7% of the GDP on education in Mexico (up from 4.5% in 2003) is still considered to be a miniscule sum compared to the true needs of schools and poor strata of the society. The spending will be directed to remodeling classroom, hiring more teachers and extending the school day.
Disorganized schools and poorly trained professors mean that without structural changes there will be no opportunity for the government to achieve the required flexibility and efficiency yet rather to have the money wasted on such projects (Avalos, 130). By comparison one needs to understand that countries like Poland, Ukraine or Slovakia produce world-class students despite spending only a little bit more than the Latin American Brazil or Mexico. The educational systems work the best only when they are given clear objectives as to what needs to be achieved and what milestones have to be overcome in what degrees. The achievements need to be monitored through independent tests with much administrative freedom regarding how to attain these achievements. The schools in Latin America predominantly are centralized and un-regulated, thus are not given clear objectives regarding what needs to be achieved in education. The teachers in Latin America get only the slightest hint on what they should teach with little to no training on how to teach something. The lack of these clear goals for students in various age groups reflects the notion that teachers in Latin America typically work in the dark, with no proper assessment or motivation system being developed in the area. By comparison the private schools as noted earlier in the essay adhere to the western curriculum and employ high-paying western professors or locals who had studied abroad (Inman, 311).
The lack of accountability in public educational sector in Latin America is another area that contributes the inability of the poor students to achieve the needed competency level. In Latin America there exist not public exams and no independent evaluation of schools at all. Each professor is free to design their own tests for each class and grade them as they will. There is no standard or desire to provide equal opportunity for all students. There is no true pressure for teachers to improve their standards, although many of them engage in private tutoring of students just prior the examination in order to have some students who can pay extra prepared for these exams better. The reason why there is no pressure to improve standards is because there are no standards (Schiefelbein, 247). Failing students are required to repeat the year and thus blocking the educational system for other poor students as it is in Brazil. The limited government funds mean limited number of places for poor students. Having students repeat the year more than once implies that they take up the places that could be taken by other students. It appears that oftentimes the Latin American students do not appreciate the funds the government spends on them and thus prefer to waste them by attending the same class more than once and blocking the place for other students.
Finally I would like to note that such disparity in educational opportunities exists in all countries of Latin America despite various changes and schemes being implemented in the area. The poor as it is true in all countries around the world at all times represent the disadvantaged group which is unable to effectively obtain the needed education and thus is doomed to failure in life and poor status till the rest of their lives. The current education system in most Latin American countries is rigid and thus is made available only to the rich. The poor students either are unable to attend the school all of the time because their labor is needed by their parents or because some of them do not appreciate government spending and see no problem at all attending the same class more than once. The government programs aimed at boosting attendance indeed had increased it in some countries yet had not contributed to increased quality and learning. The countries of Latin America need to engage in a set of reforms by which the quality will be improved and reach the levels of that in countries of east Europe, which spend about the same as the countries of Latin America do.
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