The Future of Education in Latin America and the Caribbean

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In the past two decades, countries across the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region have significantly expanded access to education, yet educational quality and relevance remain low at all levels. LAC students consistently perform below their peers from countries with similar income levels, and dropout and repetition rates remain high in most countries. Overall, inefficiency and unequal outcomes plague all levels of the educational system in the region.

Furthermore, education has not proven responsive to labor market demands. Without adequate education and skills training, a large share of LAC’s rich human capital resources remain underdeveloped, contributing to slow economic growth and low productivity in the region. More than half of LAC’s labor force currently works in the informal sector, and the number of young people who are neither working nor studying (called “Ninis,” from the Spanish “Ni estudian ni trabajan”) is on the rise in many countries. Ensuring the quality and relevance of educational policies and outcomes has the power to affirm the human rights of LAC’s citizens, increase growth, and close opportunity gaps throughout the region.

As the new US administration reexamines the country’s relationship with Latin America, the Caribbean and the world, there are opportunities to increase strategic engagement with the region to support high quality and relevant education for all students. This also has the potential to open and expand new markets and support broader goals to increase security, reduce violence and staunch irregular migration within and from the LAC region.

This report from the Education Program analyzes patterns and trends in education policy and outcomes across the region, as well as in the source, type and direction of development assistance and investment. It further identifies spaces for US-LAC, especially via USAID, partnership and pathways for new and continued engagement.

Key recommendations:

  • Review US engagement strategy to align with strategic priorities and maximize impact
    • Consider needs, risks and opportunities to determine in what, where and how to invest
    • Focus on intervention areas and countries where assistance can have the largest impact
  • Adjust investment approach based on explicit engagement strategies
    • Continue to partner directly with local communities and organizations to build capacity
    • Expand investment and reach to include more systemic and institutional actors
  • Define a niche and further differentiate from other agencies
    • Increase programmatic focus on workforce and skills development
    • Expand to broader range of countries, and leverage participation of other actors (e.g. within other sectors of government and private enterprise)


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Failing Grade

The goal of education is to promote learning. Sitting in classrooms is a weak proxy for knowing how to read, do math, and apply science. Latin America needs to worry less about schooling and more about learning.

˙Jeffrey Puryear