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Inequity sands in the way of 'Education For All' in Latin America
By Gustavo Gonzalez,
Inter Press Service
 
  SANTIAGO, 10 March (IPS) - Access to education at all levels has grown considerably in Latin America in recent years, but the United Nations goal of 'Education For All' people is still a remote dream due to social and economic inequity.
 
  Latin America will provide an overview of its performance in education at the Apr. 26-28 World Education Forum, in Dakar, Senegal, before representatives of some 180 countries who will be brought together by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
 
  The education summit is to assess the progress made worldwide toward the goal of Education For All (EFA), adopted by UNESCO in 1990 in Jomtien, Thailand.
 

  Latin America will participate with a regional action plan, the draft of which -- made available to IPS -- was drawn up at a regional meeting, Feb. 10-12, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The document is currently being studied by governments in the region.

 
  The draft document states that the region has kept up with the global trend of expanding enrolment, especially at the primary school level, while preschool coverage has also grown significantly..
 
   In the past few years, Latin America saw a rise in literacy rates, not only as a consequence of increased grade school enrolment, but of an expansion of adult education programmes as well.
 
  But the document prepared in Santo Domingo stresses the need for equity and diversity in educational policies.
 
  In the 1990s, educational systems in Latin America opened up to a wider range of actors, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), parents' associations and civil society, on the basis of a shared consensus that education is a national and regional priority.
 
  However, comprehensive development among children under the age of four has failed to be adequately addressed, and both dropout and repetition rates at the primary school level remain high, says the report.
 
 Educational levels in the region remain low, as do the levels of professionalism among teachers, who are not valued highly enough, according to the report. Meanwhile, funding for education is growing too slowly and the use of available funds is inefficient, it adds.
 
  The distribution of educational services, in terms of efficiency and quality, is inequitable, says the draft document, which also points to a lack of coordination among the various actors involved in the push for EFA.
 
  Moreover, there is ''a lack of effective mechanisms'' for civil society to contribute to policy-making in the area of education, as well as ''insufficient availability and use of information and communication technologies,'' it underlines.
 
  Whatever its shortcomings, Latin America has kept pace with the global trend of growing access to primary, secondary and higher education in the past decade.
 
  The latest UNESCO figures show that worldwide, between 1990 and 1997, gross enrolment ratios grew from 99.2 to 101.8 percent at the primary school level, 51.8 to 60.1 percent in secondary education, and 13.8 to 17.4 percent in higher education.
 
  The gross enrolment ratio for all three levels, meanwhile, grew from 57.5 percent in 1990 to 63.3 percent in 1997.
 
  Gross enrolment ratios are calculated by comparing the percentage represented by each age group in the population at large with the number of students enroled in schools or centres of higher education.
 
  A ratio can be above 100 percent, as in the case of primary education, because it includes students enrolled early or late in any given grade. Nevertheless, it remains the best measurement of enrollment..
 
  The gross enrolment ratio in Latin America increased from 105 percent in 1990 to 113.6 percent in 1997 at the grade school level, from 50.9 to 62.2 percent for high school, and from 16.8 to 19.4 percent at the tertiary level.
 
  The gross enrolment ratio for all three levels stood at 66.1 percent in 1990 and 72.6 percent in 1997.
 
  Access to education among girls and women was lower than among men in two categories. The gross enrolment ratio in primary school stood at 110.2 percent for girls, compared to 116.9 percent among boys, and in higher education at 18.7 percent for women, compared to 20.1 percent for both sexes.
 
  But at the secondary level, the female gross enrollment ratio was 65.3 percent in 1997 compared to 59.2 percent among males.
 
  Among the main challenges facing Latin America is the formulation of inclusive educational policies and the designing of diversified curricula and models of education to address those excluded due to reasons of gender, language or culture, or simply as a consequence of individual situations.
 
  The Santo Domingo regional plan for the next 15 years stresses that full integration, participation and attendance in basic education must be ensured for all minors, especially indigenous, street, disabled, HIV-positive or working children.
 
This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
 
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