The covid-19 pandemic puts Latin America at serious risk of losing the progress the region has made in recent decades in education.
According to Unicef, 97 percent of children are out of the classroom in a region where social mobility from education is already low and where equal opportunities is rare. But Today’s generation of school-age children may, and especially in low-income, less educated households, face a rather dark future with what would be the worst levels of educational attainment since the 1960s.
(You can also read: Will universities also return to presence?).
Going back in education is not just bad for affected children. The future of Latin America could see losses in economic growth and further political polarization as a result.
While schools close their doors to children of all socioeconomic backgrounds, their ability to continue learning clearly depends on their parents’ income and educational level.
As in other regions of the world, parents with higher education have better access to the internet and to computers, tablets, etc., as well as the knowledge and non-cognitive skills to support your children’s homeschooling.
They also have the financial resources to hire tutors and shop for the best online options for course materials. Conversely, Children from households with low parental education may have difficulties, if not impossibilities, in continuing their education at home due to the lack of adequate equipment, connectivity and, above all, individual training.
(We suggest: ‘In Wikipedia we learned to write about things we did not know’).
Just as an example of such inequalities, internet coverage for households whose head has less than secondary school in Bolivia, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua is around 30 percent, while it is above 90 percent in families, within the same country, headed by adults with more than secondary education.
The probability of completing high school for people with parents with little education is considerably lower in the post-pandemic stage
Children from disadvantaged households will end up with lower levels of learning and many may drop out of school altogether. This will result in less social mobility and greater inequality of opportunity in the future. Governments in the region have implemented a number of measures, the scale of which varies significantly between countries, such as television, radio, print and online learning programs, as well as income support programs.
But these mitigation policies are simply not enough. Our projections, which are based on simulation exercises that we explain in our next article on the intergenerational effects of COVID-19 in Latin America, estimate that the probability that today’s students complete secondary education in Latin America could soon drop from a regional average of 61 percent to 46 percent. (The document will be published soon by the Institute for Commitment to Equity).
(You may be interested in: Everything you need to know about alternating back to school).
This average, however, hides notable differences between countries and socioeconomic groups. While the impact of people from highly educated families is hardly affected, the probability of completing high school for people with poorly educated parents is considerably lower in the post-pandemic stage, decreasing by almost 20 percentage points, from 52 percent to 32 percent.
This low level of educational attainment for children from low-educational families was reported in Latin America for cohorts born in the 1960s. The steepest decline is estimated in Brazil: 32 percentage points; the least dramatic, for Uruguay: 9 percentage points. In Guatemala and Honduras, the probability that individuals from families with a lower level of education will complete secondary school could even fall below 10 percent. The gap in the probability of completing high school between children from low-educated families and children from high-educated families, which was already high before the pandemic, could increase significantly.
Possible solutions, big challenges
Can anything be done? To alleviate the negative impact of school closings on children, governments are experimenting with epidemiologically prudent ways to reopen them. The reopening of schools, however, is not enough now and it will not be enough in the post-pandemic period. Losses will need to be compensated by increasing both the quantity and quality of learning time once COVID-19 is tamed.
School systems should consider extended hours, summer and after-school programs, and more personalized instruction. Efforts must also be geared towards develop free online and offline resources available and expand connectivity to schools and elsewhere so that resources can be downloaded at no cost. Attention must focus on the most vulnerable children. That is, children from homes with a low educational level, since they are the ones who have probably lost the most instructional time.
(We recommend: Ministry of Education explains the class model during 2021).
Corrective actions and rescue operations will require resources, especially financial resources. A key recommendation is that governments do not cut spending on education when faced with the inevitable need to control fiscal deficits (deficits increased during the pandemic). In fact, the fiscal resources devoted to education may need to increase.
The challenge is so overwhelming that too help from non-state actors will be needed. Private philanthropy, the for-profit sector and community organizations, together with governments, must launch a crusade to prevent the next generation of vulnerable children from being left behind.
NORA LUSTIG *, GUIDO NEIDHÖFER ** AND MARIANO TOMMASI ***
Americas Quarterly* Lustig (@noralustig) is a professor of Latin American Economics and director of the Institute for Commitment to Equity at the University of Tulane; non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Center for Global Development and the Inter-American Dialogue; and president emeritus of the Economic Association of Latin America and the Caribbean.
** Neidhöfer (@GNeidhofer) is an advanced researcher at ZEW – Leibniz Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim, Germany.
*** Tommasi is a professor of economics and director of the Center for Human Development Studies at the University of San Andrés in Argentina and a member of the Econometric Society.
In two months, 56 thousand children stopped studying in Colombia
The case in Colombia is no less worrying. In the midst of difficulties of different kinds, near 158,000 children and adolescents interrupted their studies as a result of this crisis, according to the Minister of Education, María Victoria Angulo.
This global figure, which covers from March to December 2020, accounts for an increase of 56,000 minors who suspended school in less than two months, therefore, By the end of October, the desertion was 102,000 minors of the 9’395,000 registered in the Registration System (Simat).
“This is a low dropout compared to other years and with the goals of this year, but at no time are we unaware, and we have to work for the return,” said Maria Victoria Angulo, Minister of Education, during the ‘State de la Nación: What’s next for Colombia in 2021? ‘, carried out by the Universidad del Rosario and EL TIEMPO.
(Further: BOCAS interview with Juan Luís Mejía, the outgoing rector of Eafit).
The Minister added that the main challenge of the education sector for this year will be the safe return to the classroom through the alternation model, which combines face-to-face sessions with work at home, with the application of biosecurity protocols.
The current dropout figure corresponds to 1.3 percent, a number that, although lower than the annual forecasts, is still worrying, since historically a significant dropout level is reflected at the turn of the year, so it would be necessary to see what the impact will be in the face of the enrollment period in 2021.
“For 2021 we have a budget that for the third year is the highest of all sectors. This must be accompanied by teamwork with governors, mayors and teachers, ”said Angulo.
The other challenge to which the official referred corresponds to academics. Well the closure of schools due to covid-19 has caused delays in the information and learning process of children, according to international organizations such as UNESCO and Unicef have warned.
“It is clear that gaps were generated in the learning processes. Therefore we created a system called ‘Assess to Advance’, which ranges from 3rd to 11th grade and seeks to detect these gaps and accompany the children ”, he explained.
To this must be added the socio-emotional problems that isolation caused in the children, which, among other things, was one of the reasons why international organizations called for the reopening of schools.
(Keep reading: In this interconnected world, what role will the teacher play?).
“We have the Solidarity Fund to be able to connect with families and students, in addition, we have had to work hand in hand with the Ministry of Finance, because In addition to having the maximum budget, there were an additional 1.7 billion to attend the emergency, including the preparation of biosafety protocols (…). The resources are already in the regions and we are waiting for mayors and governors to incorporate them ”, concluded the Minister.