Access to education is not sufficient: the key is learning
October 17, 2007 - from World Bank Report

Washington, DC, October 17, 2007—Most countries in Latin American and the Caribbean have achieved almost universal primary school coverage and boosted enrollment rates in secondary and tertiary education. Average spending on education reached 4.3 percent of GDP in 2003, up from 2.7 percent in 1990.

But some countries in the region trail far behind comparable nations in other areas of the world. In 1960, Latin America, East Asia, Scandinavia, and Spain had similar levels of school attainment. By 2005, however, Latin America had fallen behind, as measured by the number of children completing 12 years of education. Moreover, the countries of the region are now among the lowest performers in international assessments of student skills, with a high share of students scoring below the minimum threshold in all subjects.

According to a new World Bank report—Raising Student Learning in Latin America: The Challenge of the 21st Century––suggests that in their quest for universal enrollment many countries in the region overlooked the goals of improving the quality of teaching and raising educational achievement. The oversight has proved unfortunate because the quality of education may have a greater bearing than years of schooling on economic growth, and because differences in educational quality can reinforce inequality in society.

The report reveals wide disparities in the educational achievement of students of different backgrounds in several of the region’s countries: poor and minority students in the region score lower on international tests than do their peers of higher socioeconomic status. But even students from the region’s privileged groups score lower on the same tests than do students from the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The latter finding dispels the myth that the region offers top-quality education for students of means. The fact is that quality and achievement are problems in most countries of the region and across all levels of society.

“Latin America has relatively standard inequality levels in education, along with high income inequality,” said Pamela Cox, World Bank Vice-President for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Although the countries in the region have expanded educational coverage and provide equitable access to learning opportunities for most children, income inequalities, underdevelopment, and poverty are persistent.”

Raising Student Learning in Latin America: The Challenge of the 21st Century marshals evidence that quality of education, not quantity, may be responsible for perpetuating income inequality. Fortunately, the converse is also true: education of good quality can help to shrink inequality, pointing to potential rewards for policies that raise quality.

But even where education of high quality is available, it will translate into higher incomes for individuals and greater economic growth only in the presence of a conducive national macroeconomic framework and a labor market that encourages hiring and job mobility.