A New Conversation on Education and Innovation in Latin America

Guest Blogger: Gabriel Sánchez Zinny, founder of http://www.kuepa.com; blogger for the Huffington Post and co-author of “Educación 3.0 The Struggle for Talent in Latin America.”

OECD-PISAIn the coming months, the PISA exam (Program for International Student Assessment) will test a sampling of 15-year-old students from over 70 nations, including several Latin American countries (although their number remains quite low). This exam, conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), analyzes student performance every three years and generates a standardized student assessment at an international level.

The design, methodology and implementation of the PISA exam has generated a great deal of controversy although it is undeniable that it has sparked a much-needed debate among countries about the quality of education. In Latin America, the exam has raised awareness among governments, community leaders and private institutions about the importance of focusing efforts on improving education systems, especially in the most vulnerable schools. It is from this unequal access to good education that the region’s persistent social disparities arise.

In turn, these international assessments have not only produced debate among those in leadership; it also appears that they are generating greater awareness among individuals and society at large of the low quality of education in these countries. This is very positive because it is only through greater demand that long-term and sustainable educational reforms will be achieved.

Innovation EducationIt is a positive development that several countries in the region are now participating in PISA; we need to encourage more to do the same. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, marked by expanding industrial automation and integration of technologies in the labor market, the search for talent has become very competitive and global. A student from the Dominican Republic is now competing for jobs with students in Poland, Singapore or Chile and other countries around the world. Companies and organizations today seek out potential talent across borders; the search is no longer reduced to the region or locality where the companies operate.

According to UNESCO, the number of highly qualified immigrants nearly doubled in the past decade, going from 12 to 20 million people, most of these coming from developing countries. The countries that are most rapidly developing understand that competitiveness derives mostly from human capital. In Latin America, we need to introduce policies that will incite the most   talented people to remain in their respective countries and prevent a brain drain.

In this global and competitive world, Latin America, according to the latest PISA exam (2012), is lagging behind with respect to its education levels. It is essential to look at other countries in the region, as well as other nations around the world, to better understand what areas need improvement and which policies are working well. In recent years, we have learned that increased investment alone cannot improve the quality of education. All countries in the region have increased spending on education; some are spending as much as 6 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) – more than the average amount spent in developed countries. More investment in education is a positive step forward, but still not sufficient.

education latin americaIn Latin America, we need a new conversation that will accelerate the formulation of new ideas for improving the quality of education. A conservative, gradual approach will only lead to more generations of young people being left behind, with poor skills and little capacity to adapt to the demands of this century’s global labor market. It is urgent to inject innovation into educational systems, as well as new players such as social entrepreneurs, foundations and private sector businesses. Innovation is essential, but especially in the area of new technology.

But it will not be possible to implement these new reforms without greater education leadership. There seems to be significant consensus in the region on the need for reform but there are very few examples of where such reform has been implemented. Cities like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro have benefitted from education leaders like Esteban Bullrich and Claudia Contín, who have figured out how to align these different stakeholders in a new educational system and implement changes that are already showing results. Gloria Vidal in Ecuador and Gina Parody in Colombia have done the same.

Nov-2011-Innovation-in-Education-1170x434The new conversation on education also requires rethinking how to attract more talent to the education system, not just in terms of teachers but also directors and other management authorities. As we say in our recently published book, Educación 3.0 The Struggle for Talent in Latin America, “There is a need for more leaders in the education sector that can work with the different players in the system, from the entrepreneurial sector to labor groups, and who understand that politics are fundamental for obtaining results that will impact the quality of learning among young people.”

Innovation and leadership are what is most needed to improve the quality of Latin America’s education standards. We have before us the opportunity to place these issues on the education agenda and to initiate public debates in order to bring about the change we want in Latin America.

Follow Gabriel on Twitter @gzinny

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