Undoubtedly, what is urgent and important today is investing in public health. But what about investing related to education? It is also urgent and important. That it does not have the same press is, perhaps, because the effects of low investment will not be felt now, but its consequences will be seen in a few years and the impact will be on the quality of our lives.
The magnitude of the crisis during and after the pandemic makes it impossible for any level, sector or area of education systems to be safe from its effect now or later. Furthermore, the (ir)resolution of each problem will impact the structure that this period leaves to us.
The pedagogical and emotional issues were the most absorbing in the first months: basically, how to continue with something similar to teaching and a school experience. After a few weeks, you can already see the different emerging factors that have been appearing and that will surely put pressure on the educational systems, their financing and, therefore, their own government. In other words, how they will impact our future as a society.
In principle, these are some of the factors that will demand attention from the public budget or that will affect the financing of the sector:
- Private education. The shrinking of this sector due to the impoverishment of families and the closure of their schools will lead to a significant and unexpected demand for vacancies in the public systems. A priori, it does not seem that there will be space to receive those new students or, at least, not in its entirety. Private universities will also face similar problems, due to late payments or emigration of their students.
- Teacher training. In times of crisis, due to its potential as stable employment, many young people saw teaching as a safe haven from uncertainty. If this were to be repeated in the current circumstances, there will be pressure on the teacher training system. Parallelly, budgetary restrictions will surely prevent new enrollment.
- Socio-educational policies. Among others, they comprise a wide range of measures that include scholarships, school meals, supplies, and textbooks. If the issue of equity was peremptory even before the crisis, with the increase in poverty and unemployment it has become more critical than ever.
- Families’ spending on education will also decrease. If the state’s offer does not expand at the rate of the passage of students from the private to the public circuit, this item will contribute to the inevitable global drop in financing for the sector.
- Health and infrastructure issues. In the short-term, schools will have to be prepared for reopening; in the medium and long-term, the main pending tasks will be the space adaptation and the available school network expansion.
- Technology and digital resources. The crisis highlighted the lack of devices and access to the Internet, mainly by the lower-income households. This deficit was one of the most mentioned in social networks and the media.
- Increase of local masters and doctorates. For as long as circulation between countries continues to be restricted and family income (and scholarships) continue dropping, there will be demand for this locally made educational offer. In terms of postgraduate studies, the foreseeable alternative is a kind of “living with what is ours”.
- Teacher salaries. This is the most political of the impending budgetary pressures. The unique situation of each case will guide the result, since the forces that are pressuring to keep them stable and those that could influence their increase seem to be balanced.
- General impact. In 2008, during the economic crisis, educational investment in the region was counter-cyclical or, in the worst case, only suffered a slight decrease. But, while the trigger for that crisis was purely economic, the trigger for the current one has been health, with greater social consequences that will make the different sectors compete for the already depleted public resources.
- There will be a greater gap in educational investment between countries. According to calculations by the Inter-American Development Bank, the difference between those who invest the most in education in the most developed educational systems and those who dedicate the least to the sector at the primary level in Latin America is 17 times. It can be expected that the distance will increase, since the economies that allocate more to education will be able to maintain that level while the others will follow the fate of the economic and fiscal impact. In the long term this will imply a possible loss of competitiveness of some countries with respect to others.
As can be seen, there is no aspect of educational systems that can be safe from the impacts of this pandemic. It is not easy to imagine how the process will continue; however, some decisions must be made to guide the desired results. That is why the decision of governments and societies is so important to urgently face these two lines of action: a) the participation and accompaniment of civil society to put the issue on the public agenda (advocacy) and b) the analysis and search for further resources and a better allocation of investment in education.
Regarding the first, any insistence on the cost of not educating will be low. The consequence of inaction or inertia will not be the status quo, but a greater exclusion and deterioration of the social and productive fabric.
As for the second, the political decision is crucial. It is imperative to look for ways to increase educational funding. It is not the first time that our countries experience recessions considered terminal, followed by periods of economic growth. With proper measures, it is possible that their educational systems can “appropriate” a part of the growing fiscal resources that will eventually manifest.
It is essential that the issue of educational investment be placed on the agenda and discussed. If we don’t, the fate of education, without (increased) resources, will depend on what schools, their teachers and their students can do on their own. In a context of gigantic inequalities like the one we have in Latin America and the Caribbean; this could compromise the future of a large part of the children and youth of the region.