Education in Latin America

I find few interesting articles about Latin America and the Caribbean in either The New York Times, or The Washington Post on a daily/weekly basis. From my perspective, the latter does a better job covering the region and it is less sensationalistic than the former. Today, the Post published a very good article. In most of the countries of this important region of the world, technical instruction is absent in the education system. Individuals lack basic knowledge and training. Few have engineering degrees or come from a hard sciences background, and quality of education is poor. In fact, students across the region score low in performance tests. Low levels of education and poor quality affect a country’s competitiveness. Without well educated workers, businesses can’t work efficiently and innovation is highly limited.

To deal with this issue, the article reports that a Brazilian mining company – Vale – developed its own curriculum. Vale has schools in Brazil to train potential employees. There, students receive ample technical training and a salary. According to the Post’s article, almost 70% of the students are offered a job once they finish the course. There is no mention of the remaining 30%. However, one can assume that this group would find jobs in a similar company/industry thanks to Vale’s training. The company’s training is a positive externality. By training their potential employees, Vale is improving its competitiveness while bringing about positive effects to the economy.

In other countries of the region, entrepreneurs are working to improve the quality of education. In Colombia, Fundación Empresarios por la Educación works individually and with the government towards that goal. In Guatemala, the Colombian example led the business community to start a similar project.

Vale’s training example, and efforts to improve quality of education in Colombia and Guatemala share a similar rationale. Without well trained and well educated individuals, with high quality education, businesses cannot compete effectively. In a broader sense, well educated people make better decisions and are more likely to have an active political culture. These examples are not only good for competitiveness in the short/medium term but for democracy in the long term, amidst the program’s limited impact. 

(Revista Perspectiva published a dossier on education in its fifth edition. You can read it here in Spanish)

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