The new poverty in Latin America
The continent will continue to be poor, perhaps even more, unless educational programs are radically transformed.
A new reality demands educational systems that emphasize critical thinking rather than memorization and schools that have the means to make these efforts feasible. Why? Because technology will not wait for anyone to get up to speed and the new wealth is not money, but data.
The stupidity of Latin American bureaucrats has cost their countries dearly. Without a doubt, the implications of technological disruption are at the center of all conversations today.
Almost daily, terms such as digitization, robotization and many other concepts are added to our vocabulary.
It is attractive to think about the consequences of a highly sophisticated technological future, but above all, it is important that those who must define public policies for the development of our countries pay attention to these trends.
While it is difficult to anticipate what the future will be like in a few decades, we know that it will be very different from the current reality and that this will have wide implications.
In a few years, we have seen some industries and occupations disappear practically overnight, and also how certain economic activities have been affected by the emergence of collaborative ventures.
To be fair, it is not the first time this has happened in history. During the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, weaving and other craft occupations experienced major disruptions as a result of the introduction of the steam engine and mechanization. But the speed of the changes is much greater today than in the past, and it is accelerating.
Indeed, according to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 40% of the jobs that today’s students would like to have in the future may disappear in the next 15 years.
This is undoubtedly an issue that public policymakers must address to anticipate a future that will demand different skills.
This new reality demands educational systems that emphasize critical thinking rather than memorization, teachers who are up to the challenge, and schools that have the means to make these efforts feasible.
Moreover, the challenge is not only to adapt educational systems to future needs but also to face the fact that the expectations of the present are not even being met.
According to the World Bank’s Poverty of Learning Indicator, more than half of 10-year-old children in Latin America and the Caribbean can barely read or even understand a simple paragraph.
The challenges associated with the quality of education in the region are also reflected in the OECD PISA tests, which make a standardized comparison of the results in more than 70 countries.
On average, the PISA tests indicate that in Latin America a 15-year-old student is three years behind in math, reading and science when compared to a student of the same age in an OECD country such as Australia, Sweden or U.S.
This is unacceptable if someone dreams of a region capable of adapting to technological changes or, more importantly, if someone wants to eliminate poverty and improve the quality of life.
After all, to raise the quality of life it is necessary to create more jobs and ensure that these jobs pay good wages, something that will only happen when a country has a productive workforce that has the necessary skills and education.
So what is needed to repair educational systems?
- Investing in early education, because by the age of 15, children who did not attend preschool are almost a year behind in their learning compared to those who did.
- Measure learning and innovate in teaching because it is difficult to expect children to become familiar with new technologies if their teachers are not.
- Tackling school dropout through greater flexibility in upper secondary education and an emphasis on socio-emotional skills to improve the learning experience, motivation and employability of students.
- Use best governance practices by incorporating quality guarantees and financing mechanisms.
The challenges ahead are many. But there are also numerous examples of recent improvements, and this should serve as an incentive for policymakers.
In Nicaragua, for example, new reforms of preschool education with a new curriculum ensures that all preschool teachers receive the preparation to teach at that level.
In the Dominican Republic, adaptive technology helps to assess the initial cognitive levels of students, in order to design personalized learning programs.
In Guatemala, useful models to identify the students most likely to drop out of school in sixth grade allows resources to be directed towards those who face this risk.
In Mexico, an administrative reform in the schools was key to helping students have an additional month and a half of annual schooling.
There have also been significant reductions in school dropouts, such as in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, where drop out rates fell from 14% to 2% between 2008 and 2014.
And we have good examples of progress in learning in Peru, where the percentage of second-grade students who reach level two in reading comprehension grew from 16% to 44%.
It is a beginning, but more needs to be done to modify educational systems designed in the 19th century for schools built in the 20th century, if we want to prepare children for the 21st century.