Latin American countries do not have the necessary educational platform to succeed in a knowledge economy. Given the government’s inability to solve this crisis, what is the role of the private and social sectors.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests 15 year olds in math, science and reading. In its 2009 evaluation, all Latin American countries that participated (Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Peru) performed significantly below the OECD average. Beyond statistics, the picture depicted by the test is shocking: Many 15 year olds cannot access, interpret or evaluate the information they read.
In Mexico, organizations like Mexicanos Primero have embarked on an important mission: raising public awareness on the educational crisis. A typical housewife has more information on the state of education than 15 years ago. Informal evaluations have become front-page news. Citizens are increasingly upset at teacher unions who block roads because they refuse to be evaluated before being hired. Nonetheless, there is a risk in this approach: antagonism and pessimism can lead to paralysis. To succeed, we all need to roll up our sleeves and create the necessary conditions for kids and teenagers to learn. And we need to do it quickly.
Insufficient educational infrastructure poses a significant challenge. Although Latin American countries have sophisticated financial mechanisms to partner with the private sector for building and financing roads or dams, these are seldom used for creating schools. Furthermore, the private sector’s participation can be controversial: the student protests in Chile can lead public leaders to think that government should conduct all aspects of education. But can governments be efficient builders of schools? Install computer labs? Create good educational content? Can they even purchase those goods and services from the private sector in a transparent, timely and cost-efficient manner? Many failed Latin American examples (Digital Abilities for All in Mexico and One Laptop per Child in Peru) show that they can’t.
I’m a firm believer in public, social and private alliances for education. To work, they need to meet three conditions: focus on the relative strengths of each sector, evaluate results with honesty and precession, and aim for systemic change. The government’s role is to define public policy, pay for the provision of educational services and supervising quality. Civil organizations must ensure that the social mission of the project is fulfilled, and can build alliances that are unavailable to the government or business. Companies are responsible for building infrastructure on time and within budget, and that services are provided with a high standard. The Red de Innovación y Aprendizaje (Learning and Innovation Network), a network of 70 blended learning centers in low-income communities in the State of Mexico, is an example of the strengths of this model.
The World Economic Forum is an ideal venue to bring together public officials, financiers, social entrepreneurs and education experts to design pragmatic solutions. Collaboration is the only way out of this crisis.
Moís Cherem is the CEO and a cofounder of Enova, a social enterprise that creates innovative learning models and spaces. In three years Enova created 70 schools that have served over 245,000 members.