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After the World’s Longest School Closings, Latin America Can Lead an Educational Renaissance

Posted: Monday, March 14, 2022. 10:57 am CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Mauricio Claver-Carone – President of the Washington, DC-based Inter-American Development Bank, the leading source of climate finance for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The pandemic has been devastating to students in Latin America in the Caribbean, who suffered the longest school closings of any region—231 days.

But that unfortunate world record comes with a silver lining. It shattered the inertia that has impeded serious educational reform for decades.

Countries are embracing new teaching methods, investing in hybrid learning, and striving to connect students who had never been online. The pandemic also gave voice to an entire generation of families who are now clamoring for educational reform.

Educators see this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform schools to better meet the needs of youth from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Teachers say it is a “now or never” moment for reforms needed to help students, including 168 million kids who dropped out of school during the pandemic.

A growing number of governments are determined to seize this opportunity and are working with the Inter-American Development Bank on innovative reforms not just to get kids back in school but to improve educational experiences for future generations.

Each country has unique needs and priorities, but our research at the IDB indicates that three reforms stand the greatest chance of leading an educational renaissance that improves access and outcomes.

First, countries must ensure that schools reopen safely and enable productive learning.

Schools in wealthy nations worry little about sanitary conditions, but in Latin America guaranteeing access to things as simple as clean water is critical. Ensuring that students and teachers have access to vaccines and that schools can identify and isolate those infected is also key.

Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay have accelerated the return to class by doing exactly this.

Second, schools should help the most vulnerable by identifying dropouts and giving them incentives to return. Expanding school meal programs for low-income students, as Haiti is doing, is essential to getting students back—and retaining them.

Teachers must also evaluate the extent of each student’s “learning loss” and provide plans to help them recover foundational skills. Models such as Teaching at the Right Level can effectively remediate losses for kids, while also benefiting their peers.

The IDB is working with Belize to train teachers in similar methods that allow students to acquire skills at their respective levels, despite pandemic setbacks.

These reforms should include preschoolers, many of whom are not ready for first grade. In Peru, the IDB worked with the Education Ministry to create an interactive mathematics program, MateWasi, that is transmitted by radio during summer breaks. The program includes phone coaching for parents who can work with their kids to reinforce concepts during and after broadcasts. This program alone helped kids recover the equivalent of 25% of a full year of preschool.

At the secondary level, countries should promote personalized remote tutoring, which is one of the most cost-effective ways to help students compensate for missed classes. For just $100 per person, remote tutoring can help students recover a year’s worth of math classes.

The IDB is helping five countries do related pilot programs. The IDB is also helping El Salvador and Uruguay ensure that students who return to school don’t drop out again, by implementing systems that track progress and send alerts if students begin to struggle.

Finally, countries should use the recovery to accelerate a transition to hybrid learning systems that eliminate inequities and prepare youth to prosper, compete, and innovate in the digital era.

To do this—and overcome online connectivity gaps—governments should forge more ambitious private-sector partnerships to guarantee broadband to schools in low-income areas. Experiences in Costa Rica, Argentina, and Jamaica show this can be done quickly and affordably with so-called “zero rating” policies that offer free internet access to education platforms.

Digitalizing education doesn’t mean replacing critical in-person interactions. It means adding value to them and creating additional forms of personalized learning that enable even more engagement between students and teachers.

Abundant evidence shows how this can work. Uruguay’s Plan Ceibal initiative transformed the education system by giving laptops to kids and creating a wide range of new educational opportunities, including new online libraries. Panama is now adapting a Colombian literacy remediation program that uses personalized evaluation and materials to improve reading and comprehension. And Peru recently scaled up its Conecta Ideas platform, which uses gamification to enhance math learning. 

Governments can pursue reforms more efficiently if they cement innovative private-sector partnerships. In El Salvador, for example, the IDB is helping to design development impact bonds, where investors provide capital for education programs and get repaid based on predetermined achievement outcomes.

Students, teachers, and parents are demanding reforms like never before—and the IDB is ready to finance them.

Countries just need to seize the opportunity. If they do, the entire region will benefit not just now, but far into the future.


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