Education Reforms in Latin America
In order to improve coverage and quality, a number of reforms have been carried out in education systems across Latin America —administrative, budgetary and curricular, among others.20. These reforms have brought about changes in management on different levels, from the ministerial or central government levels to that of the schools themselves. They have included reforms in programmes (from programmes of universal coverage to programmes giving total freedom to schools to follow the curriculum that best fits their population and their objectives), reforms in the management of teaching staff (e.g. Selection and incentives), as well as changes in the rules for allocating resources with regard to transparency of information and public accountability, among other areas.
One of the main results of these reforms has been the gradual increase in private- sector participation. In the last two decades the percentage of students enrolled in private educational institutions from pre-school through to secondary school has increased by two percentage points, reaching approximately 20%. For higher education, the percentage of total student enrolment in private institutions is even higher, reaching over 50%.21. This trend reveals a growing role for the state, which has gradually changed from being a supplier to being a regulator in education. In particular, in countries such as Chile and Colombia where the monitoring of tertiary education has been relatively poor since the introduction of reforms in the 1990s, public administrations must ensure that gains in coverage are not accompanied by a loss in quality.
Latin America, Caribbean (9 Countries) & OECD: Public & Private Spending on Education (% of GDP, 2008)
Given their structure and objectives, education systems require strong state involvement to ensure they function properly. The dynamics of current education systems involve diverse actors (students, parents, teachers, administrators) with different objectives, which private suppliers may not be able to meet. These characteristics make active state involvement even more important for two reasons. On the one hand, the returns from education only become visible in the long-term, making it difficult to quantify the cost and benefit of educational services.22. On the other hand, important external factors, such as the role of the household, intervene in the educational process. Education reforms must take these particularities into account.
This section focuses on five aspects of the reforms that have been carried out to varying degrees in many of the countries of the region: decentralisation; tertiary education reforms; a strengthening of evaluation systems; teacher selection, career and assessment policy; and private participation in the education system.
Important initiatives have been taken to improve education, but in order to be effective, they must be accompanied by concrete measures with a long-term vision. As with all investment in knowledge, investing in education does not offer immediate returns. It is therefore important to create the fiscal and policy space for reforms to have a real impact, with mechanisms for periodic adjustments so that the course set can be maintained.23. At the fiscal level, governments must create tools to provide continuity to the programmes and reforms they introduce. Fiscal space must be accompanied by a policy space in which the different actors can reach agreement on the types of measures to be implemented.
“Prioritising” the reforms in education, in order is another key to achieving the desired effects. The sequence in which investments are made, programmes designed and reforms scheduled is important. In the past, Latin American governments often carried out certain reforms without taking into account the implementation sequence. In the case of education, addressing the gap in physical infrastructure is one of the first actions for public institutions. Providing teachers and principals with the necessary pedagogical content knowledge and skills is also important for education
Policy in the region. A subsequent essential step is curriculum reform, which requires continuity. If it is necessary to lengthen the school day to improve learning, which seems to be the growing consensus in the region, the first step must be to invest in the education infrastructure provided for students.
OECD Supports Reforms to Improve Education
Carrying out reform is not easy. The evidence shows that the implementation process is as important as policy design. Even the most logical and best designed policies cannot be implemented if the path to reform is not well prepared. The oecd has developed an innovative approach to strengthen capacity for reforms focused on improving educational achievement among member and partner economies. The approach combines: i) an oecd evaluation to develop an analysis and contextualised recommendations and ii) involvement of stakeholders in the reform process in order to foster consultation and exchange.
Mexico participated in this process. One of the final publications of the project, improving schools: strategies for action in mexico,b presents an action framework for improving the quality of education. Its 15 recommendations offer a framework for education reform that can be used as a reference for other latin american countries:
• Better teachers: i) Define effective teaching through standards; ii) attract the best candidates to teaching; iii) Strengthen initial teacher preparation; iv) improve initial teacher assessment; v) open all posts to competition; vi) create induction/probation periods; vii) improve professional development; viii) evaluate to help improve.
• Better schools: ix) Define effective school leadership; x) Professionalise training and appointment of directors; xi) Build instructional leadership in the schools; xii) enhance school autonomy; xiii) ensure funding for all schools; xiv) Strengthen social participation.
• Implementation: xv) Create an implementation working committee with representation from the different stakeholders involved in the process.
To support reforms and promote genuine capacity-building in Mexico, the OECD also organised the OECD Seminar for Leaders in educational reform, held in Chile and in Canada (in the province of Ontario). Both seminars were attended by 30 high- level policy makers from Mexico, including the Secretary of Public education, national education authorities, parliamentarians, and representatives from the national trade union for education (the SNTE) and civil society organisations. Attendees worked together in teams to extrapolate lessons and design a strategy for education reform.
These seminars are aimed at planting the seeds for reform by facilitating learning among policy makers, analysing international practices, and promoting a process of consultation and contextualisation of recommendations with members economies of the OECD.