Can education be improved by a decree?

Can education be improved by a decree?

Gádor Manzano 1 febrero 2012 Comments

United States president, Barack Obama, believes so. Or at least he believes that the law is an effective tool for increasing the rate of high school graduations. President Obama has called for compulsory school attendance until students either graduate or turn 18.

The debate is at the table. Supporters of this proposal indicate that this type of measures increase the number of students who graduate from high school, reduces violence, and above all offers many advantages to young people when it comes to entering the labor market. Naturally, the idea also has detractors. They say that forcing students to attend schools lowers the quality of education, can cause overcrowding and it is also an expensive proposal. The more students the more need to invest in education.

A recent study, partly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, states that up to 25% of students remain in school mainly because the law requires them to. The study also shows that at states were students can drop out of school by age 16, more students that age decide to leave it compared with students from states where they have to stay in school until the age of 18.

What is the situation in Latin America?  At a regional level, 55% of students complete the first cycle of secondary education, but more than half of the adolescents from low-income and rural areas do not achieve nine years of education; considered the threshold to acquire the necessary skills for productive adulthood. These young people are highly likely to have jobs with low pay, with high informality and greater likelihood of not breaking the poverty cycle.

If secondary education were mandatory, would students graduate more? It is difficult to know. However, the following figure suggests that there is a correlation between the years of compulsory education and the number of students who complete 9 years of education in Latin America.

Everything seems to suggest that making secondary education mandatory is not a magic formula (an important connection between dropouts and the socio-economic conditions of students has been found). But this measure along with an increase in the quality of education in the region could be an important tool to help stop this dangerous epidemic of school dropouts that seems to be stuck with the less privileged sectors of Latin America.

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