We interviewed Karen Towers from our Latin America and Caribbean Bureau to discuss the state of education in the region.
1) It seems that Latin America and the Caribbean is doing better in education – is that true?
Yes and no. While it is true that access has increased, education quality is still a serious issue. In the early 1960s, one out of every five children in Latin America and the Caribbean was enrolled in the first grade, now 95% of nine years olds are enrolled in school. The problem is that children are not learning. UNESCO tests indicate that more than 1/3 of third graders cannot read at grade level. By the time these students reach the 6th grade, 20% will still be functionally illiterate.
1) Why are these literacy rates so low?
Many factors contribute to the low literacy rates, but primarily disorganized schools and poorly trained teachers. Teachers often only receive the barest guidance on what to teach and little or no training on how to teach it. In addition, there is almost a complete lack of accountability. Often there are no independent evaluations of schools and teachers have no clear standards against which to measure student’s performance. This video from Peru demonstrates some of problems with school performance for an average student in a public school in the region.
2) Why is early-grade literacy important to development in the region?
When children cannot read, it limits their ability to learn other subjects such as math or science and also impacts their ability to participate in society in the long run. Studies have shown a correlation between literacy and voter participation and citizen security. In addition, learning outcomes have a directly impact a country’s economic growth. A 10% increase in the share of students reaching basic literacy translates into a 0.3 percentage point higher annual growth rate for that country.
3) What is USAID doing to improve early-grade literacy rates?
USAID’s new Global Education Strategy has made literacy a top development priority. By 2015, USAID aims to improve reading outcomes for some 100 million children across the globe. USAID programs include helping to develop teacher skills, introducing new technologies that facilitate learning, and improving tools to measure and assess children’s reading skills.
4) Where are USAID’s programs located in LAC?
USAID has education programs in 10 Latin American and Caribbean countries: Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Eastern Caribbean, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru.
5) What are the focus of these programs?
USAID programs are focused on improving reading by improving the 5 T’s:
- Teacher Technique – teaching teachers how to teach reading.
- Time Use – maximizing instructional time in the classroom.
- Texts – put appropriate books in the hands of children.
- Tongue – implement appropriate language policies and provide mother-tongue based instruction.
- Test – measure reading skills against a common standard.