High drop out and repetition rates show quality to be a concern in Latin American education systemsParis - An estimated two million primary-age children and 20 million secondary-age children in Latin America don't attend primary or secondary school according to a new report by UNESCO's Institute for Statistics.
In the region's rural areas, two out of every five children fail to finish primary school or are at least two years behind when they finally do so. This compares to one urban child in six.
The Institute's regional report on Latin America and the Caribbean 2001 (Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries), is the first in a series examining the state of education around the world. It presents figures for 19 countries gathered over the 1998 (or 1998 - 1999) school year from national and other sources including the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and covers access and participation of pupils and students from early childhood to tertiary level in both public and private education, teaching staff and education expenditure.
The report shows that overall school enrolment has improved in the region. In all countries surveyed at least 80 percent of primary school-age children are enrolled in primary education. Seven countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru) have already achieved universal primary education, and three others (Costa Rica, Uruguay and Venezuela) have almost reached this goal. Although participation is increasing at secondary level, the report finds that only 54 percent of secondary school-age youth are enrolled, leaving an estimated 20 million "out-of-school" or still in primary classes.
Quality of education remains a major concern for the region, as indicated by high drop out and repetition rates in several countries. In Brazil, for example, 24 percent of primary-school pupils and 18 percent of secondary students are repeaters. For every 100 children who enter primary school in Nicaragua, only 55 reach grade 5. Argentina has the highest "survival rate", with 94 percent of pupils reaching grade 5.
Tertiary education is one of the region's "greatest educational challenges", according to the report. Despite increased enrolment throughout the 90s, only 9.5 million people were enrolled in tertiary education in Latin America in 1998, with Brazil, Mexico and Argentina alone accounting for almost 60 percent of the total. Social sciences, business and law attract the highest proportion of students, for which data was available, except in Cuba where education and health predominate.
The region counts 6.5 million teachers for 143 million pupils and students. Forty-three percent are primary school teachers, and the overwhelming majority (4.5 million) are women. Male teachers outnumber their female counterparts at tertiary level, accounting for some 60 percent of tertiary teachers, however only seven countries provided the necessary
data on this question (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Venezuela).
The main share of public expenditure on educationin most countries goes to primary education. Of the 16 countries for which data was available, four (Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cuba and Panama) devote five percent or more to education and three (the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Uruguay) spend less than three percent.
The report points out that despite the varying levels of development across the region, countries there are committed to the modernization and reform of their education systems. It also notes that a real opportunity to improve is emerging as population growth slows down. The population across the region is increasing by approximately 1.5 percent annually. This means, says the report, that there will be a smaller number of children to educate without necessarily increasing education budgets.
At the same time a shrinking number of young workers will be expected to provide for the growing older generation. "This calls for the extension of educational opportunities in their fullest sense beyond basic schooling and the rapid creation of employment opportunities commensurate with the abilities of these new entrants to the labor market," stresses the report.
Print and PDF versions of the regional report are available in Spanish and English from the
UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
Contact Sue Williams
Tel: (33-1) 45 68 17 06