Away with Disparities
gaps in educational access between males and females, literates
and illiterates and urban and rural dwellers in Latin America and the Caribbean have considerably narrowed in the last decade.
number of out-of-school children has halved, from 11.4 million
in 1990 to 4.8 million in 1998, and the gender gap is almost
a thing of the past. However, even though almost 95 per cent
of children in the region now go to school, repetition and drop-out
rates remain high. Adult literacy has reached 88 per cent, but
great disparities lie behind the global figure.
for All goals in the region were established over twenty years
ago: the Major Programme for Education in Latin America and
the Caribbean, drawn up in 1980, had similar objectives to the
subsequent World Declaration on Education for All. From 1990
onwards, the focus shifted to the importance of catering to
basic learning needs and decentralization.
education develops, poverty and inequality will be over-come,”
says Enrique Iglesias, President of the Inter-American Development
Bank. “This is not only an ethical theme but one that makes
economic sense too.” One Latin American in three lives in extreme
poverty. He or she may belong to the over 30 million indigenous
people who form 400 different ethnic and linguistic groups.
In some Latin American countries, poverty and inequality coexist
with the production and traffic of drugs – a great source of
insecurity and a challenge to governments.
educational reforms coupled with a falling birth rate
in Latin America and the Caribbean have had a doubly
beneficial effect on education systems.
1990 and 1998, enrolment in early childhood education
increased: today, a little over half the young children
in the region are in pre-school programmes.
95 per cent of children in Latin America and the Caribbean
are in primary school. But there is a high proportion
of both over-aged children and drop-outs.
and Bolivia are notable exceptions to the overall
regional trends, with over 30 per cent of children
out of school.
the adult literacy rate of 88 per cent masks profound
disparities, ranging from 96 per cent in Uruguay to
21 per cent in Honduras.
Latin America, early childhood education is mainly found in
middle-class, urban areas, although innovative programmes, such
as Wawa Wasi in Peru, operate in shanty-towns and other poor
milieux. Co-ordinated by the education ministry and UNICEF,
the programme trains local women to mind children at home, a
day-care system very popular in Latin America. It has reached
over 700,000 children. Early childhood education thrives in
the Caribbean: 80.3 per cent of 3- to 5-year-olds were preschoolers
in 1997. One programme, Servol, combines early childhood education
with parenting programmes to great effect. Around 60 per cent
of four-year-olds in Trinidad and Tobago are enrolled in Servol
greatest efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean have taken
place in primary education, where enrolment soared from 74.3
million in 1990 to 86.8 million in 1998. “Wake up Brazil, it's
time to go to school!” was an unprecedented mobilization campaign
headed by the country’s president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso,
to create new school places and encourage poorer families to
use them. By 1999, 96 per cent of 7- to 14-year-olds were in
school as opposed to 86 per cent in 1982. Brazil also achieved
over 90 per cent literacy. Another impressive example is Mexico,
which is approaching full primary school enrolment and 100 per
has played a crucial role in improving access. El Salvador’s
EDUCO community education programme has opened up education
for children in rural areas unreached by centralized systems.
Ethnic minorities can learn in their own language when the education
authority is local, and Escuela Nueva in Colombia has been a
remarkable success story in this respect. Pupils progress at
their own pace and even drop out temporarily (for the harvest
or other reasons) without repeating classes. Multigrade teaching
is the norm in Escuela Nueva, where teachers are given educational
material and detailed lesson plans. This approach has spread
throughout the region – Guatemala set up 1,000 community schools
in 1997 and Paraguay and Peru are launching similar initiatives
– and has been adapted as far afield as the Philippines.
For children in rural areas unreached by education systems,
decentralization has played a crucial role in improving access
countries make intensive use of mass media. Brazil and Mexico
favour television, while Guatemala and Ecuador use radio as
a training tool. These programmes also target isolated areas
and indigenous groups.
a result of increasing social exclusion, violence in schools
is rising in many countries of
In the United States, the recent classroom killing of one 6-year-old
by another shows that the worrying increase in school shootings
is not confined to high schools. Alarm video systems and uniformed
guards are now part of many a North American school environment.
verdict of the Caribbean Education for All 2000 Assessment is
that universal access to primary education is available but
many are not participating. Up to 28 per cent of pupils do not
complete primary school and the target of 80 per cent of qualified
teachers has not yet been reached. Yet overall improvements
in learning achievement in the Caribbean are good, with the
exception of Haiti.
educational system has utterly failed for as many as half of
the nation’s children,” says Sheldon Shaeffer of UNICEF. With
classrooms so overcrowded that only one child in four has a
place to sit, it is not surprising that over two-thirds of Haitian
children do not complete primary school, and that the country’s
illiteracy rate of over 55 per cent is the highest in the Americas.
the Caribbean as a whole, girls’ enrolment exceeds that of boys,
and girl pupils are outperforming boys. According to a 17-year–old
youth in the Dominican Republic, many boys perceive academic
achievement as ‘sissy’, ‘effeminate’ or ‘nerdy’. Women’s literacy
rate is an estimated 85 per cent and three-quarters of primary
school teachers are female. Taken with girls’ high achievement,
this sends a clear message about mothers and teachers as positive