Due to historical, geographical, economic, and political reasons, compared to the European and the United States educational systems, the South American one is still “very young” and is a hybrid system composed of elements from both.
It has been estimated that the educational system of South American countries is 2 years on average behind than educational systems of OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries and, despite the recent great progress which has been made, education remains a big challenge for most of the South American countries.
This hybrid system varies greatly from country to country. While some countries are more advanced and have achieved some elements of excellence, others have still a long way to go. For example, Chile and Uruguay continue to lead as the best educational systems in South America and are, on average, 3 years ahead of Bolivia. These differences are the reason why talking about a South American educational system as a whole presents a challenge. Talking about average one cannot be any more wrong and right at the same time.
The educational system is very much characterized by inconsistencies and largely correlates to the economy of the countries in South America.
Namely, while in the capitals of South American countries, big cities not any less developed than any other metropolis worldwide, school and educations systems are appropriately developed, the situation tends to be very different in undeveloped rural areas. Education and economy are chicken and egg for South American countries and go in line one with another.
However, improving the quality and the coverage of the education system is the only way that South America will be able to truly reduce the inequalities that exist. The economic inequality is the largest hindrance to South American sustainable growth and is the area where a lot of work has been done and is planned for in the future.
South America is the world region where education privatization has experienced the greatest and most consistent growth over the last two decades, exhibiting the highest rate of enrolment in private primary education.
However, the discrepancies are great. While, on one hand, there are premium top tier schools present in some areas, with swimming pools and science labs, implementing the most advanced curriculums, there are also schools in other areas that are still struggling. Due to financial obstacles that they face, they often have a problem with providing even the basics, such as a direct water supply, to their students. While there are schools that have 35 students per class there are schools with only 15 students per class within the same educational system within the same country and the same city.
Although, education coverage, highly dependent on the financial constraints, is an important factor and the responsibility of the government, the quality of education in South America is an issue which also needs to be addressed and developed.
My own experience has shown that even the most advanced schools of the region fail is to instil in children the appropriate mindset and fundamentals such as:
- Encouragement – We need to teach our children to learn, to seek independently and find the knowledge and skills that they need in all of life’s situations rather than insist on filling their heads with facts that will be long outdated when they come to make use of them. To do this, children must develop a love of learning, an enthusiasm for enquiry that spills over from school into all aspects of their lives.
- Motivation – We need to teach our children to work on tasks until perfection is attained and to do always more than is expected rather than wanting to be the best and get the top grades.
- Growth – We need to teach our children that they can succeed if they work hard and not to believe that their capabilities are static.
- Positive relations – We need to teach our children about the importance of friendship and sharing, respect for all and tolerance for the differences present in each of us.
Last year has been a very different and challenging year for the whole world, South America included. Currently, South America is struggling in combatting the coronavirus pandemic and this has widened the existing gaps in the educational system even more. With the closures of schools, the already existing differences in different countries of South America – ranging from the preparedness of schools to go digital, to the availability of steady internet connections in households, and the reliable support provided by the parents, have been exacerbated.
South American countries need to urgently address these issues and implement a set of actions to prevent further widening of the present gap, an obstacle to long-term sustainable development.
By Misa Tomasevic, General Manager, Chartwell International School