The Inter-American Dialogue’s Education Program aims to improve the quality of learning and skills development across Latin America. We do so by partnering with public and private organizations throughout the hemisphere to promote informed debate on education policy, identify and disseminate best practices, and monitor progress toward improvement. Our cutting-edge analysis of education policy and broad network of policymakers, education experts, business leaders, academics, and journalists have made it the strongest private voice on education in the region.

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The International Month of Women and Girls in Science is an opportunity not only to reflect on the state of their participation in scientific studies but to promote social awareness about the importance of achieving equal access for women to decent work in an industry such as STEM, with enormous demands nowadays.

According to the United Nations, women only represent 28 percent of engineering graduates and 40 percent of IT and computing professionals, which are most of the fields driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In emerging areas like artificial intelligence, only one in five professionals is a woman. Additionally, Coursera's 2022 Global Skills report highlighted that despite increases in women enrollment rates in STEM courses in Latin America since 2019, they remain overrepresented within human competency fields ("business psychology" or "human management"). At the same time, fields with less female representation coincide with those emerging and highly demanded technological skills ("operating systems" or machine learning), areas with a high potential for job returns and fewer risks of automation.

Women were one of the most affected demographics by the pandemic, which also magnified the gaps within the most vulnerable groups, especially in rural and marginal urban areas. Young women were one of the groups most affected by the labor market demand drop through high unemployment, job informality, and overwhelming care-based demands. In 2020, for example, the female participation rate in Latin America and the Caribbean was 47 percent. Compared to 2019, these figures presented an unprecedented decline of five percentage points. This meant a significant setback in female labor participation which had increased from 41 percent in the early nineties to 52.3 percent in 2019.

Although gender gaps in STEM remain significant, the pandemic has highlighted the power of technologies to leverage greater democratization of opportunities. The emergency has become a catalyst for innovations, a large-scale experiment in educational practice transformations. For example, from 2020 to 2021, female enrollment on Coursera increased significantly - accelerating a trend and making Latin America the region with the highest percentage of learners on the platform without a college degree (46 percent). Through online learning, more women can have access to new skills and knowledge, which directly impact their long-term personal, economic, and social development.

Given the post-pandemic multisectoral efforts to recover learning and regional governments’ interests in promoting knowledge-based, inclusive, and sustainable economies, the STEM sector has become an attractive market for the insertion of new professional profiles and career development. This industry can be considered a gateway to new job opportunities leveraged by remote and flexible work, strengthening skills through online learning and transnational digital communities.

To explore these challenges and frameworks to address them, the Inter-American Dialogue, in collaboration with Coursera, hosted a webinar on The Future of Women in STEM – Challenges and Opportunities in LAC. The event brought regional leaders such as Kira Gidrón (CEO of Lumni), Mariana Costa (CEO and co-founder of Laboratoria), Nicole Amaral (Coursera's Skills Transformation Leader for Latin America and the Caribbean), and Genaro Hurtado (CEO of Brivé Solutions). We introduce eight recommendations below based on the event’s discussions. We believe these are contributions to a public debate as part of a larger collective effort to reduce gender gaps and magnify the future of women in the region.

Pre-tertiary education: The inaccurate approach at this stage of the educational process can alienate and cause a lack of self-confidence in women. It is essential to invest in an integral and holistic education model that eradicates prejudices and stereotypes, thus deconstructing gender-based roles and norms.

1. Misinformation and home culture are limiting factors in early childhood development. The parenting practices that girls traditionally receive could be conditioned and immersed in a culture of stereotypes reproduced by parents and caregivers. This directly affects their expectations and long-term life projects, making working with families and caregivers essential. An example is that 38.5 percent of toy advertisements reproduce feminine archetypes of beauty, including roles as caretakers, mothers, and wives (Instituto de la Mujer, 2020).

2. Educational policies can address cultural changes and gender stereotypes within educational institutions. With the support of families and caregivers, projects to raise gender-biased awareness, promote STEM studies, and strengthen teachers' and students' socio-emotional skills with a gender perspective contribute to cultural transformations. For example, the NiñaSTEM Pueden program, a collaboration between the Secretariat of Public Education (SEDU) of the State of Coahuila (Mexico) and the OECD, established an initiative for STEM preparation, mentoring, and leadership for girls in different educational cycles. As a result, the program introduced innovative areas of study and careers to girls, contributing to a redefinition of gender roles and opening new paths for women in STEM.

Higher education: The belief in a "natural" division of labor between men and women reinforces gender-based stereotypes that frame some careers as more "feminine" than others. This social preconception distances women from the positions of prestige and responsibility they could reach in IT. In the same way, it alienates women from the highest decision-making spheres, leadership positions in the academic and research world, and other STEM-related activities.

3. Women's representation at each stage of their trajectory is essential. Exposure to role models and their trajectory is a critical factor for their success in STEM. According to the International Finance Corporation, women are more likely to enroll in courses with at least one female instructor, and these instructors are better evaluated.

4. Support networks among women contribute to the success and permanence of women in STEM education. Networks support bonds of sorority and solidarity, resources, knowledge, opportunity exchanges, cooperation, and comprehensive understandings of women’s needs. Examples of these are the teachers and instructors of initiatives such as Laboratoria, as well as regional and global networks such as Geek Girls Latam and Women Who Code.

Finally, the labor market must be explicit and affirmative in its support for women, offering incentives and networks throughout processes – from recruitment to promotion.

5. IT businesses must ensure the creation of work cultures that promote and value diversity, inclusion, and equity. These can be done by intentionally monitoring goals and gender indicators that allow for the measure of businesses' progress in gender equality. An example of such an initiative is Accenture's Getting to Equal strategy, which seeks equality and parity in scenarios such as female boards of directors, business units (marketing, sales, development), new hires, and promotions.

6. Support for women must be made explicit in the publication of job opportunities. Inclusive language is an affirmative and effective tool to avoid the self-exclusion of women. For example, the recruitment and selection process of Orange S.A includes a breakdown by gender of the candidacies and the mandatory nature of female applications.

7. Partnerships between the public sector and civil society are crucial to reducing the impacts of the care economy on women's training, placement, permanence, and labor promotion. An example is the District Care System of Bogota. Its objectives are to recognize care work, redistribute it between men and women, and reduce unpaid care work times, offering the possibility of developing skills or accessing training.

8. The creation of leadership-oriented programs for women in different STEM areas helps to break the glass ceiling in this sector. A few of these initiatives include Women Will from Google and Women in Science (WiSci) from Girl Up and Intel.


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Argentina has an important challenge ahead: avoiding an escalation of the current economic crisis leading to a major social and political turmoil under the government of the Frente de Todos (FDT), the incumbent coalition led by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK).
A 90 percent yearly inflation rate expected for 2022, public finances in disarray, and an unpleasant monetary arithmetic turn price dynamics highly volatile. Inflation may easily accelerate well beyond current levels, and the resurgence of wage and price indexation is turning the clock back to the high inflation regime of the 1980s. Disarming the chronic inflation trap is an even more complex technical and political challenge than addressing the moderate high inflation regime that prevailed in recent years (20-40 percent range). The economic scene could be explosive with nearly zero net foreign reserves and short-term peso-denominated government debt moving on an unstable path that makes roll-over increasingly difficult. All this is taking place under the umbrella of an IMF agreement that needs to be renewed periodically. While the agreement is widely considered to be quite soft in its demands, the government is under pressure to comply with the agreed conditions, creating growing political tensions within its coalition. The Fund, however, is likely to concede despite deviations, avoiding by all means a default and waiting for better days after the 2023 elections.
Why is Sergio Massa (SM), president of the lower chamber of parliament, a shrewd politician with no technical background or expertise in economics, taking on the super risky challenge of managing the Argentine economy? The current political standing of Massa is very weak, and his electoral potential has diluted in recent years. Head of the Partido Renovador, created in 2013 as a splinter of the Partido Justicialista, now part of the government in power, SM had 21 percent of the votes in the presidential elections of 2015 won by Mauricio Macri, taking the third position. Under the present circumstances, his political future is strongly endangered, and if the ‘Super Minister’ adventure fails, he will be in the same situation as today. On the other hand, if the low probability miracle happens, his bet may turn him into a good contender for the 2023 presidential elections. The virtuous model for this scenario would be Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC), Minister of Economics under President Itamar Franco in Brazil during the 1990s, who launched the Plan Real leading to a successful economic stabilization, and who served two consecutive terms as president. How far is SM from FHC? Pretty far ex-ante in the political arena, as well as in the economic conditions for success. For further discussion on the comparison, we can reconvene.
The probability of SM successfully reverting the high inflation scenario is very slim. Initially, bad news is inevitable- a strong adjustment in public finance is needed for sustainable disinflation thereafter. In the current political conditions, we do not see much leeway on the expenditure front. Raising taxes in a significant manner is not a viable option, and the only lever in the short run is reducing energy subsidies, that amount to over 3 percent of GDP. However, a significant reduction in the latter will translate into sharp tariff increases for part of the population. The result will be a supply shock and higher inflation in the first months. Beyond inevitable social dissatisfaction, massive energy subsidies have been a recurrent policy of Cristina Kirchner’s administrations and her economic advocates in the government coalition. Political instability in the political front, with opposition of certain groups loyal to CFK and other outsiders, may be hard to manage in the transition to a second phase of a stabilization program. If the Massa team survives this initial turmoil and once key prices of the economy are aligned (including the exchange rate), as well as consistent fiscal and monetary policies put in place, the government could engage in a second phase of a gradual or shock strategy for disinflation. The less gradual the stabilization plan, if designed to be sustainable, the bigger and quicker the initial fiscal adjustment required.
However, if Massa plays a silver bullet to capture a competitive position for the primary election in 2023, time will be short, implying that gradual disinflation is not an option. He would thus need to launch a policy shock 'à la Real' as in Brazil in the 1990s, or of the sort of the successful Israeli Shekel and the failed Austral in Argentina, both in the 1980s. These types of stabilization strategies need very complex engineering and super competent teams. If phase 1 is difficult to sail and phase 2 is extremely demanding, the script of sharp disinflation and regime change to boost an unstoppable candidacy seems, as of today, highly improbable. At first sight, beyond comparative history, politics, economics and personality, SM’s destiny seems far from FHC’s.
Thus, the best Sergio may hope for is arriving at the end of the presidential term without an explosive economic and social crisis. To avoid the worst-case scenario, swift fiscal and foreign exchange policies are mandatory. For this greyish script, there are good and bad signals as well. His success in appointing a new head for the Energy Secretariat (until now a fortress under the control of close allies of CFK) is good news giving him a lever to improve public accounts even partially, and consequently gain certain control of monetary policy. On the other hand, a convincing economic program has not yet been announced, and Massa has had a hard time setting up a consistent economic team so far, including a ten-day imbroglio to appoint a vice minister that could bring much needed technical credibility to lead the economics of the 'Super Minister.'
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The Strengthening School Leaders Working Group, convened within the framework of the Leadership for Change Regional Program of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Teach For All, and the Inter-American Dialogue, has published the "Declaration on Strengthening School Leaders" to empower the voices of educators in policy debates regarding leadership competencies and horizontal or shared leadership, with the objective of promoting a common vision of leadership within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This blog post consists of an interview with working group member Elvira Mendoza, director of the Rosedal Educational Institution in Colombia, and David Velázquez, researcher at the Universidad Nacional de Villarrica del Espíritu Santo in Paraguay.

We start with Elvira Mendoza’s responses.

Question (Q): Could you tell us a little about the Declaration and its creation process?

Response (R): The Declaration is a collective construction of affirmations describing the pertinent actions that educational institutions can take in response to post-pandemic needs. It is a document that condenses the views and consensus among educational leaders from ten countries, as well as the contributions of over a thousand teachers and school administrators which describe the common and unique situations found across schools and culminating in the definition of a proposal of five detailed recommendations that respond to the challenges and key messages identified.

(Q): What have we learned about school leadership during the pandemic, and particularly about horizontal or shared leadership? How did we observe these challenges before Covid-19 and how have they worsened in the last two years?

(R): There are positive examples and lessons that we can reclaim from the experiences of the pandemic. One of the most palpable lessons was the horizontality that emerged in leadership, as well as the sudden transfer of daily learning spaces to the home, changes, and adjustments in school dynamics, and new ways of organizing and sharing responsibilities. Parents also took the lead in teaching and, together with teachers and principals, suddenly found themselves orchestrating the teaching and learning processes. Additionally, as students developed autonomy, self-evaluation became the main form of assessment. Virtual spaces became real spaces where the much sought-after collaborative work flowed naturally -- spaces where listening, negotiation, agreements, and maximizing each person's abilities were absolutely necessary, "the only way to keep moving."

(Q): As the leader of an educational institution, what key message from the Declaration do you think is most important to highlight?

(R): Each of the key messages in the Declaration forms part of a whole, which ultimately fits together to form a solid structure of five fundamental tenets, but if one is removed, the proposal loses its soundness. Even so, in my particular role, I emphasize how school autonomy is key for decision-making. I think that leaders committed to change and the progress of the educational system have long realized the urgency of bringing about an educational transformation. The pandemic pushed us to the limit, putting us face to face with the urgent need for shared leadership and curricular flexibility. We had been talking about how imperative it is for our teachers to acquire competencies to take advantage of technological tools, and the pandemic led us to address this issue very quickly. We had already been setting the issue of socioemotional competencies on the table, and it was resonating in school environments. So, I think that what we have been missing is being able to make decisions more freely in the pedagogical and administrative aspects. There are many things that limit us and it would be essential to be able to have and assign autonomy in decision-making processes.

(Q): What are the importance of the Declaration and its recommendations in your work?

(R): It has allowed me to contemplate the bigger picture for all educators and educational managers after the pandemic, as well as to know that these are not isolated situations only happening to one specific country or community. Having a global interpretation is very important and has allowed me to communicate with teachers, parents, and students. This prevents everyone from making conjectures and subjective interpretations of the situations that arise, and it prevents them from making judgments and assigning blame. I have had the opportunity to transfer a vision to the educational community of what is happening, and from there to summon everyone to share responsibilities, always insisting that the first step for overall improvement is to identify what needs to be adjusted. I have told everyone, "as always, if we are all together strategically addressing each reality, inevitably things will improve."

Therefore, the Declaration has allowed me to train my community, as well as to mobilize, motivate, reassure, and create consensus with everyone. 

Now, David Velázquez shares his responses.

(Q): Could you tell us a little about the Declaration and its creation process?

(R): The Declaration is an integrated and systematic set of ideas based on the centrality of management and teacher leadership in Latin American schools. It proposes how to strengthen educational systems and make them more effective in the face of new challenges, such as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on education. 

The Declaration was the product of dialogue among 37 participants - hailing from the teaching profession, academia, civil society and the governments of ten countries in the region. It was articulated in three virtual sessions and several additional online exchanges. It's important to point out that all discussions contributed diverse and enriching ideas and initiatives, and that the Declaration's five pillars reflect that broadest consensus. I would also like to emphasize that discussions are also a repository of ideas that may eventually be taken up by many of the meetings' participants. 

Pandemic school closures represented the longest closure in history, and even by the end of March 2022, 23 countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, kept their schools shut down. As the pandemic is not yet fully under control, it's important to keep talking about it in the present tense. The consequences of Covid-19 and containment measures severely affect education systems around the world, and it's not easy to determine how long it will take to improve education quality indicators. What is quite clear is that education systems can't continue to function in the same way, proving ineffective in the face of scenarios such as the pandemic. 

(Q): What have we learned about school leadership during the pandemic, and particularly about horizontal or shared leadership? How did we observe these challenges before Covid-19 and how have they worsened in the last two years?

(R): The most effective responses to the crisis created by the Covid-19 pandemic are driven by horizontal school leadership among principals and teachers, who involve their educational communities and other social and community actors in developing strategies tailored to their environments.

These strategies are often developed against strongly centralized curricular, legal, and institutional educational frameworks. Through dialogue, a proper reading of reality, a strong commitment to education, initiative, and creativity, several schools were able to sustain basic educational standards during the two years of school closures, despite the precariousness of resources.

Educational institutionalism in most of the region remains centralized and rigid, giving schools very little room to react effectively in times of crisis and establish recovery measures. Therefore, one of the main lessons learned has to do with promoting measures that make legal norms and curricula more flexible and temporary to launch educational recovery efforts. 

(Q): What is the most urgent recommendation you would prioritize in your context and why?

(R) To the extent that the Declaration's five tenets reflect essential standards necessary to transform education in the wake of the pandemic and were conceived as a coherent and systematic whole, it's necessary to adopt all the measures together, tailored to national and local realities.

(Q): What is the importance of the Declaration and its recommendations in your work?

(R) The Declaration is of great importance. It defines possible relevant milestones on the road to a transformation of education, and not to a "new normal," as it's usually called. 

The Declaration attempts to show how the pandemic not only deepens education systems' specific flaws, but also shows the ineffectiveness across countries of the institutional articulation between the education system and other systems, such as healthcare, emergency management, and the economy. 

The Declaration demonstrates once again that additional efforts are imperative to guarantee the right to education, given that its violation affects other fundamental rights, such as dignified employment and healthcare. Ultimately, it also negatively compromises the opportunities available to children and youth, and subsequently, societal development. 

The Covid-19 crisis makes it clear that there is an urgent need for access to technology and connectivity resources that were already necessary before the pandemic to improve learning. It also highlights the neglect of key dimensions, such as the mental health and well-being of teachers and students, which cannot be ignored in the long term. It's imperative for us to think about the importance of research and the systematization of experiences of this nature as a basis for future decision-making in educational public policy. Finally, just as the Declaration has been a collective and horizontal exercise conceived across diverse national and regional realities and developed by a plurality of actors, the document also highlights the importance of horizontal cooperation on educational thinking down the line. 

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