Written by: Emiliana Vegas
Education is a high-priority issue for the Pacific Alliance. The heads of state of the member countries —Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru — have recognized that investing in education is key to consolidate this platform and work toward the development of their economies. With this conviction in mind, a dialogue has been initiated between these nations and the international community to exchange experiences and identity factors that can assure young men and women’s transition from school to the labor market.
This conversation, formalized in the form of the 1st Education Forum of the Pacific Alliance that took place in Lima last week, could not be more pertinent. According to the results on PISA 2012, students in the top private schools in member countries of the Pacific Alliance have a lower performance that those who attend public schools and come from low socioeconomic status in high-performance countries such as Australia and Japan. This is a symptom of the low levels of learning in the education system of countries in the Pacific Alliance.
Facing this reality is easier said than done. The member countries of the Pacific Alliance have made significant progress to improve the quality of their systems: they have increased public spending in education, expanded access and improved graduation rates from secondary school. Yet, behind these achievements lie profound inequalities between socioeconomic groups.
The member countries are aware of these challenges and have taken important steps to address it. In terms of spending, for example, Chile increased spending in education and has worked to make it more targeted and efficient, introducing weighted funding formulas that assist poorer students. In terms of accountability, Colombia and Chile have worked to publish results at the school level, identifying and supporting those with low-performance . Additionally, the four countries in the Alliance have implemented reforms aimed at improve the quality of their teachers. For instance, in recent years, Mexico and Peru have established evaluation and incentive mechanisms.
Despite efforts in different areas, there remains a major obstacle in the way of improvements in education: high dropout rates. In Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru, the perception among youth of education as an activity with low returns, and the influence of risk factors — such as violence, crime, and teen pregnancy — threaten students’ probabilities to remain in the school system. A key issue of concern in this regard is the high number of NEETs: 1 out of 5 youth aged 15 to 24 in Latin America and the Caribbean is not in education, employment, or training, one of the highest proportions in the world.
In order to ensure that young boys and girls remain in school, it is essential that school curricula remain relevant and adequate to students’ experiences, maintaining high expectations for their learning and improving their options for the future. On the one hand, secondary school programs should prepare students to successfully transition to postsecondary education. On the other, technical and vocational education should be strengthened as a real alternative for those students who choose to enter the labor market, providing them with useful and innovative knowledge that they can apply in a dynamic economy.
The success of this task cannot depend solely on schools and calls for a closer relationship between the labor market and the education system. Through closer partnerships with the labor market we would be able to educate our youth in the knowledge and competencies they need to become productive for society, as well as the abilities they require to continue learning throughout their lives.