Education expansion at its limit. Comments on basic schooling in Latin America

Wednesday 29 May 2013

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Editorial and Canal: Information System on Education Trends in Latin America (Sistema de información de tendencias educativas en América Latina) (SITEAL).

Type of document: Article.

Language: Spanish.

Subject: Education.

Keywords: Adolescence, Literacy, Right to education, Education, Social programs.

Countries and Regions: Latin America.

The analysis of the Latin American education situation shows evidence of an intense debate climate and of deep changes. In the last twenty years there have been important transformation on the institutionalism ruling and design education practices, which allowed to move forward with a firm step towards the universalization of the access to knowledge. At the same time, the emergence of information and communication technologies, the growing and expressed identity and cultural diversity of students – especially of the medium level – represented a challenge for the education system, demanding from it answers which yet are not enough. These comments try to draw a small balance of the expansion process in basic education during the last decade, with the aim of sketching some of the main outstanding challenges.

On the beginning of the decades of the 90s, the transformation of education systems was marked by the will of the States to install in the region a development model focused on the market laws. Within this context, education was conceived as the space where basic resources might be attained to integrate oneself to the labor market, and then to participate in the production and distribution of the wealth in each society. The decade was initiated with an intense debate on what type of education each country needs to be able to integrate itself, from the productive point of view, into an already globalized world, and resulting from this several countries initiated their education reforms, in most cases through the adoption of new education laws. Within this framework the expansion of the length of compulsory education, the scholarship programs for most backward sectors and other compensatory policies yielded the mass inclusion of children, adolescents and youth in the schools.

In the Report on Social and Education Trends of SITEAL published in 2010, is said that during the decade of the 90s the annual increase of the specific school rates in the region was of 1.7%. That is to say, year after year the schooling rates grew at this rhythm, which, for the decade, means an accrued growth close to 20%. In those age groups in which the expansion process was less generalized, such as those in the elementary level or the secondary level, the rhythm was even greater: schooling for children 5 year old grew to a 4.7% annual, which means that for the whole decade the total is close to 50%, and among adolescents in the age group from 15 to 17 year old the expansion reached a 2.8%, a little above a 30% for the decade (SITEAL, 2010).

The analysis of the social break down of enrollment indicates that the education expansion process favored, in particular, the most left behind sectors in each of the countries, reducing thus the internal disparities. This is due to the fact that socially privileged groups (especially white children and adolescents from urban middle and high class families) already were showing a practically universal Access to education for some decades. As a consequence, if schooling rates of a country grew it was fundamentally due to the education inclusion of indigenous, African descendant population, children and adolescents coming from the poorest sector or living in rural areas.

The whole panorama changes with the beginning of the new century. The exhaustion of a society model centered on the market in many countries of the region installed a political environment paving the way to a new debate on the development model, and as a consequence of the place education should occupy in the society. This facilitated a new wave of reforms which strengthen the concept of education as a right. The coverage of the compulsory education is extended even more until reaching middle level education, thus creating a cycle of 12 or 13 years. Nevertheless, the longitudinal analysis of the schooling rates reveals a disturbing situation: the education expansion rhythm became alarmingly slow.

First of all, the annual increase of the schooling rates for the first decade of this century decreased. The annual increase was reduced to a 0.6%. This entails a drop of a 65% regarding the previous period. The accumulated growth for the first years of the century does not reach 7%, in contrast with the 20% in the decade of the 90s. When one analyzes the educational levels it can be observed that the rhythm of schooling expansion for children 5 year old decreased in a 44%.

That is to say, during the decade of 2000 education expansion was considerable smaller than the one seen in the 90s. This situation does not respond to the fact that we are reaching the goal of universalization. Quite the contrary, this is happening when we still have a long path to cover. Regarding adolescents, for example, there is still a 25% outside of the education system. An article published recently indicates that “the incorporation process of adolescents to schools today reach a ceiling ranging 86.7%. What does this mean? The behavior of facts allow us to forecast that today – taking into consideration the way things are – it is not possible to reach 100% of schooling for adolescents in the region [...] Then it might seems that universalization of the access to school by adolescents is not possible. There are around a 13% of adolescents for whom we do not have, at present, either policies or practices allowing to hold them or re-insert them in the classrooms”(López, 2012). Why education expansion faces the risk of stopping before reaching the goal of a universal schooling? There is no a unique cause, but nevertheless, the deep economic inequalities characterizing countries in the region is one of the main hurdles for schooling. Although during the last decade there has been noticed a generalized improvement in wealth distribution, Latin America continues being the most uneven region in the planet. Even when most of its countries are not poor, in each of them there are an important proportion of their inhabitants which are living under poverty conditions. Schooling for children and adolescents represents a main effort for many families.

To successfully complete the education trajectories of 12 or 13 years, it is necessary to respond to the daily demands schooling entails: to face the expenses it might create, to attach priority to adolescent education over their productive and reproductive responsibilities inside their homes, inter alia. Many of the children and adolescents dropping out from school do so because they have to respond to these demands, or as a result of economic demands of their homes making them getting an early involvement in the labor world or to take responsibilities in the house so that relatives might go out to work. In summary, school education presupposes a wellbeing basis which is not guaranteed for an important share of the family in each of the countries in the region.

Once this is said, it is quite evident that the goal of guaranteeing quality education for all demands to go through the developing model. At present, even States which accept to be guarantors of the right to education show a scarce capacity to guide economic and social processes to make effective this commitment.

In spite of that, the report published by SITEAL in 2008 reveals that almost half of adolescents that are not attending school are not poor. Meaning that among adolescents of age to attend school poverty explains only part of that problem. Why then adolescents stop their studies? A hypothesis is that difficulties encountered by schools to generate a proper labor environment for education practices, ends up being violent and with an expelling nature (SITEAL 2008). Children and adolescents at present have nothing to relate to what they were two or three decades ago. The growing identity and cultural diversity of the students in the classrooms is perhaps the greatest challenge institutions are facing today, and answers for them are still scarce.

Far from promoting links based on the respect and acknowledgment of the other being, in many schools still prevail practices which tend to deny the identity of its students, unleashing a complex fabric of subtle discriminatory practices that end up in an expelling nature for an important share of them.

To the challenge of inequality is added that of diversity. The threat of the end of education expansion leads to a need to move forward in social and education policies that articulate in innovating way redistribution actions, aimed at guaranteeing the required wellbeing basis so that education practices are possible, with other of acknowledgment, which promote in the classroom links based on the respect to identity and non discrimination. This complex task is the one defined by some of the main lines of the education debate in the region.

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