Education in South America

Great strides have been made in education in South America over the past decade. Some of the primary issues still facing many countries there, however, are inequity, affordability, and access, particularly in rural, remote, and indigenous communities. The Earthducation team looks forward to the opportunity to speak with locals in Peru and Chile about their personal educational experiences, both formal and informal. The team will visit schools and speak with teachers and administrators as well as with everyday citizens outside the schools, and share their stories online.

Peru has been deeply involved in the One Laptop Per Child initiative, and preliminary report data from a study on its implementation there is included below. Chile has been facing an ongoing wave of student protests against the costs and inequities found in the education system there, which is also discussed below.

One Laptop Per Child Initiative

South America represents the largest concentration of active One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) projects in the world, with over 1.5 million XO laptops distributed in Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia. Peru alone has distributed 980,000 laptops, according to the OLPC website, with Peru’s government having invested more than $200 million to date in the initiative. Uruguay, another leading participant in the initiative, is the only country worldwide that has achieved true one-to-one saturation, having provided every elementary student and teacher with an XO laptop.

Peru’s distribution of more than 800,000 low-cost laptop computers to children across the country easily ranks as one of the world’s most ambitious efforts to leverage digital technology in the fight against poverty.

Education Week

Reviews of the impact of this mass technology distribution in Peru, which began five years ago, have been mixed to date. Students’ abstract reasoning capabilities, verbal fluency, and processing information speed has reportedly increased since the introduction of the laptops, but the lack of such things as teacher training, an established pedagogy tied to the implementation, access to Internet connectivity (and in some cases, electricity), and access to trained technology specialists who can, for example, fix computer or software issues that arise, have hampered the program’s effectiveness and impact in Peru.

In essence, what we did was deliver the computers without preparing the teachers,” said Sandro Marcone, the Peruvian education official who now runs the program.

Education Week

Students at a school in Chile giving PowerPoint presentations

As lead Earthducation investigator Aaron Doering recently stressed in a Minneapolis StarTribune article about the use of iPads in the classroom in the United States, in any educational technology initiative we need to invest in teachers first. “No matter if it’s the newest iPad, a new interactive whiteboard, or if every student has their own computer, we still need to invest in the people who are going to be using that technology,” Doering said. School districts are “not going to see great improvements until we invest in our people.”

As the Earthducation team talks with locals in low-income communities outside Lima and in remote communities within the Amazon Rainforest, we look forward to learning whether the laptop initiative has been implemented in these communities, and if so, what impacts it may have had there.

Educational Conflict and Reform in Chile

There have been an ongoing series of protests taking place in Chile demanding nationwide educational reform. Photo credit: Flickr elibertaria

The 2010–2012 Chilean protests — known as the Chilean Winter or the Chilean Education Conflict — are a series of ongoing student-led protests across Chile demanding a new framework for education in the country, including more direct state participation in secondary education and an end to the existence of profit in higher education. Currently, only 45% of Chilean high school students study in traditional public schools, and most universities are also private. No new public universities have been built since the end of the Pinochet era (1990), even though the number of university students has swelled. Protests have included massive nonviolent marches, but there has also been some violence on the part of select protestors as well as riot police.

In 1981, the Pinochet regime dismantled free public education. Primary and secondary education is paid for by a vouchers system, which involves the government paying private sector providers to educate the young. Higher education is dominated by private professional and technical colleges, which cost up to £530 a month to attend. The state exists primarily as a regulator rather than a provider. As a result, working-class Chileans often receive at best a poor education, and students end up burdened with debts.

Richard Seymour, The Guardian

In September 2012, in response to the ongoing student protests, President Sebastián Piñera signed a controversial tax reform into law. The bill will increase the top corporate tax rate to 20 percent and allocate $1.23 billion to education spending. Many of the student protestors are unsatisfied with the bill, however, believing it does not go far enough toward reforming educational inequalities. The students have been calling for free high-quality education for all, and leaders of the movement have vowed to continue protests until their demands are better met.

Addressing the wealth inequality in Chile is vital to improve access to quality education. Despite Chile’s positive image as an economic model in Latin America it was ranked as the OECD member-state with the highest inequality.

Olivia Crellin, Americas Quarterly

In October 2012, two of the leading student protest leaders, Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman, were awarded the 2012 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). This award honors the memory of Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean diplomat and director of the IPS’s Transnational Institute, and Ronni Karpen Moffitt, an IPS development associate, who were killed by agents of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1976 in Washington, DC. According the IPS website, the award recognizes “new heroes of the human rights movement from the United States and the Americas.”