Educating for success: students with limited access to education in Latin America sometimes fail to develop cognitive skills needed for success.

Author:Moreno, Alvaro


Education will become one of the main obstacles to competitiveness in Latin America over the next few years. Recent studies by Eric Hanushek at Stanford University show that the difference in students' levels of knowledge has a lot to do with Latin America's slow growth, compared to that of Asia or the Middle East. The problem is more about what students know, and the cognitive skills they acquire, rather than the number of years spent in the classroom.

In Brazil and Peru, for example, only 1 in 10 students is functionally literate by age 20, says Hanushek. That means only 10 percent of those who finished primary school know how to read and write texts that are needed for their work, or everyday life.

Hanushek also found that only 1.2 percent of Latin American students have superior cognitive skills. He adds that failure to take into account what the students know diminishes the importance of the role of human capital formation in economic growth.

Hanushek's disturbing observations sheds new light on the education debate and regional development. The results of the Latin Education Index, carried out by Latin Trade Group and Latin Business Chronicle, is based on five criteria. The Index shows the state of the education in 19 Latin American countries, and helps explore the paths they should follow in order to improve.

Hanushek would no doubt agree that while education coverage is not necessarily the way to measure cognitive skills, it does present local authorities with a very clear goal: to make sure children go to school. That is particularly true of countries such as Guatemala and Ecuador, while education coverage is just over 70 percent, or in Haiti where it is 40 percent. In terms of coverage, Argentina and Uruguay are the region's education stars, with coverage of about...

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