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Latin America is experiencing an education crisis. More and more students are entering secondary education, but many across the region show inadequate proficiency in math, language and science, as shown in national and international student examinations. There is also a clear mismatch between the skills they are taught and those that employers seek. Companies consistently report having difficulty finding qualified talent and say that poor education relevance is a major barrier.
Additionally, an alarming number of Latin American students do not complete their secondary studies. Around one in every three students in Latin America do not reach upper secondary education, and of those who do begin this level, only about 45 percent graduate. There is strong evidence to suggest that low education quality and relevance contribute significantly to this phenomenon. Education systems in the region are not adequately preparing youth for work at any level. Dual education can be a powerful tool for bridging the skills gap by making education more relevant to market needs, fostering closer public-private collaboration, and providing youth with concrete skills and work experience.
Dual education is an educational approach that divides an apprentice’s time between an educational institution—whether formal (as in a public school or university) or informal (as in a technical institute)—and a firm which provides work experience and practical training to develop occupational and socioemotional skills. Dual education programs follow a structured learning plan and format, under the guidance of a mentor or supervisor.
The present study seeks to survey at a high level how dual education currently operates in the region in order to identify best practices, as well as key challenges and opportunities to grow and improve dual education programs and infrastructure. This report draws on an analysis of 40 public and private dual education programs in the region—a sample that includes all national-scale programs in countries where they exist, which are typically quite large in scale (e.g. Formare (Brazil), SENA (Colombia), SENESCYT (Ecuador), SENATI (Perú)) and often have dozens of sub-programs (for example in partnership with individual high schools). The analysis is informed by web-based research, direct surveys and interviews with program leaders, as well as relevant literature and interviews with experts on dual education.
This study presents a broad view of dual education in Latin America, followed by a breakdown of seven challenges and opportunities the region must face to improve dual education systems. To conclude the study, the authors propose six recommendations moving forward.
Develop quality standards for apprenticeships while engaging the private sector: Local and sector-level entities, such as industry-specific skills councils, can play an important role in developing guidelines and standards for the training apprentices receive, including by identifying personal, academic, and workplace competencies, and their indicators.
Promote regional knowledge-sharing and collaboration: Given that dual education is a relatively recent education model in Latin America, knowledge-exchange is critical to its success in the region. Between countries, possible actions include 1.) creating spaces for regional discourse and exchange that would allow countries to learn from each other regarding best-practices and shared challenges, and 2.) engaging entities outside the region with expertise on these issues, such as the European bilateral agencies that have already collaborated with countries like Chile and Mexico in the developing and establishing new apprenticeship programs.
Invest in research and data-gathering to inform policy-making: Given the dearth of information on dual education programs in the region, generating empirical knowledge on these programs is critical. In countries where programs are relatively new or small-scale, pilot studies can produce the evidence needed to support public investment in these projects and boost stakeholder interest. In other countries, tracer studies, employer satisfaction surveys, and impact evaluations can help to improve the quality of programs and inform policy decisions.