PISA results show a slight improvement in educational equity in the past decade.12 The PISA test enables us to explore equity in several dimensions: in student performance, in the distribution of resources among schools, and in the distribution of learning opportunities. the variation in performance (estimated as the score total variance in the reading test) by student shows a slight decline (of 3%) between 2000 and 2009 among OECD economies. most countries that improved their performance in the PISA test between 2000 and 2009, including several Latin American countries, also reduced the variation in results. in breaking down the variation in results, we see that PISA results reflect trends related to equity. In contrast to total variation, variation between schools remained constant between 2000 and 2009, implying stable school inclusion throughout the decade.

Economic and socio-cultural status is an important factor affecting access and educational achievement at all levels of education in Latin America. there is a clear correlation in the region between educational achievement and household education level (expressed in parents’ years of education and educational attainment). Only 3.1% of the children of parents that did not complete primary education finish tertiary studies, whereas over 70% of those with parents that completed tertiary education do so.13

Despite the advances in coverage, education systems in Latin America have not become a mechanism to promote social equity, as the low rate of educational achievement of secondary and tertiary education shows. Secondary education coverage in Latin America increased significantly between 1990 and 2006, rising from 27% to 51% of young people between 20 and 24 years of age having completed secondary education. However, the picture is less optimistic if we look at the data by income quintile: in the first quintile (lowest income) the percentage is a little over a quarter of the percentage found in the last quintile (highest income) (see Figure 4.3).14 These differences in educational attainment are even greater at the tertiary level.

Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3. Young People Completing Secondary & Tertiary Education by Income Quintiles, 2008 or most recent year available

Among young people aged 25 to 29, only 8.7% have managed to complete at least 5 years of tertiary education, and there are significant differences by income quintile (0.6% in the lowest quintile vs. 22% in the highest). This illustrates the extent to which the high opportunity cost of remaining in the education system impedes young people in lower income quintiles from completing tertiary education. Differences in income distribution in Latin America and the Caribbean are also reflected in school performance. PISA test results of secondary students distributed by income quartiles show that most students in the first and second quartiles (that is, from the poorest households) perform below level 2. This indicates that they have failed to develop the basic competencies assessed by the test. This seems again to confirm the importance of the socio-economic and cultural status of students’ household of origin in generating differences in education outcomes.15

Figure 4.4

Latin America, Caribbean (9 Countries) & OECD Average: Distribution of Test Score in PISA Reading Tests, According To Socioeconomic & Cultural Household Background Quartiles, 2009

In some countries of the region (especially in Brazil, Chile and Mexico) the transmission of socio-economic inequalities into inequalities in education outcomes has declined in the last decade. Figure 4.5 shows the change in the relationship between socio-economic and cultural status and reading performance between 2000 and 2009. This result contrasts with that found in OECD economies where the relationship has remained constant.

Figure 4.5

Impact of Index of Economic, Social & Cultural Status, 2000-09 (%)

Figure 4.5. Impact Of The Index Of Economic, Social & Cultural Status, 2000-09

Box 4.3

Challenge of Expanding Education Programmes: Pre-School Education & Lengthening School Day

A strategy for equality in education must include the expansion of pre-school education coverage and the introduction of the extended school day in public education. This will help to equalise learning in the early stages of education, a key to performance in subsequent education levels;a meanwhile it will counter differences based on family origin, thus promoting equal educational opportunity. The low performance of Latin America in the PISA test reveals the need to improve students’ cognitive capacities at early ages. In addition, better pre-school coverage and extending the school day mean that adults, above all women, will not have to dedicate as many hours to taking care of their children. This promotes women’s access to the labour market and income for households (above all for those with lower incomes).

Recently, there have been important advances in policies to expand pre-school education programmes in Latin America (0-5 year olds) and —to a lesser extent— extend the school day. However, in most countries these are still outstanding issues. in the countries with greatest coverage, participation in pre-school education accounts for two thirds of the primary-school enrolment rate (except in Uruguay, where it reaches 74%), while it ranges from 20% to less than 50% in other countries in the region.b in regard to extending the school day, in countries such as Chile, Colombia and Uruguay significant efforts have been made, at least in primary education (though also in secondary education in the case of Chile). However, the extended school day exists primarily in private schools and, as a result, depends on the capacity of families to pay. this is an additional factor in the reproduction of inequality, as it is precisely children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds who most need early education programmes.c