Implementing the Education Agreements of the Santiago Summit

Jeffrey M. Puryear – PREAL

OAS – 7 November 2000

I. I want to make three main points regarding the education recommendations of the Santiago Summit.

  1. The education recommendations of the Miami and Santiago summit were weak.

1994 Miami Summit set 3 goals:

    1. Provide for universal access to and completion of quality primary education for 100 percent of the children by the year 2010.
    2. Provide access for at least 75 percent of young people to quality secondary education with an increasing percentage of young people who complete secondary education by 2010, and
    3. Assume responsibility for providing the general population with opportunities for life-long learning.

To achieve these objectives, governments committed themselves (in Brasilia right after the Santiago Summit) to 11 actions:

1. Implement targeted and inter-sectoral policies and develop programs that focus on groups at a disadvantage.

2.Establish or strengthen systems to evaluate the quality of education and give "special attention" to standards for reading, writing, mathematics, and science.

3.Develop programs to improve and increase the level of professionalism among teachers.

4. Strengthen education management and decentralization and promote better forms of community and family involvement.

5. Strengthen preparation, education, and training for the world of work.

6. Establish or improve educational strategies relevant for multicultural societies.

7. Develop within and outside the schools educational strategies that foster the development of values, with special attention to the inclusion of democratic principles, human rights, gender issues, peace, tolerance, and respect for the environment and natural resources.

8. Promote access to and use of the most effective information and communication technologies in education systems.

9. Make efforts to increase the availability of teaching materials.

10. Seek to use technology to link schools and communities as a way of establishing ties in the Hemisphere.

11. Further scholarship and exchange programs for students, researchers, teachers, and educational administrators.

The three summit goals established in Miami and reaffirmed in Santiago plus the 11 recommended actions approved at the Brasilia meeting

go too far in trying to address the multitude of issues related to education.

It is hard to imagine having the resources necessary to make significant progress on so many topics.

Their sheer number makes it hard to keep track of whether countries are meeting their commitments.

By spreading their efforts so thinly, the ministers made the implementation process more difficult and less likely to bear fruit.

But at the same time, the summit goals and recommended actions do not go far enough.

This problem has at least three dimensions:

First, few target the most important problems.

The summit goals principally target enrollments and say almost nothing about quality, equity, and efficiency, which are by far the more serious problems in most countries. Promoting 100-percent completion of primary school is of little use if the education those children receive is of poor quality — and if most of the children who receive poor quality education are from poor families.

To be sure, the goals specify "quality" primary and secondary education but include no indication of how quality might be defined and measured.

The 11 recommended actions approved in Brasilia are somewhat better in this regard, mentioning evaluation, standards, and decentralization.

However, their mention does not go very far.

They recommend establishing and strengthening evaluation systems but fail to urge a common, regional system that will enable cross-national comparisons.

They urge "special attention" to education standards but fail to say that all countries should establish them.

And key changes — for example, in government spending — are not mentioned.

Second, the summit goals and recommended actions establish very few benchmarks, making progress toward meeting them hard to assess.

Aside from primary and secondary enrollments, they do not include measurable targets.

When the recommendation is to "provide opportunities for life-long learning" or to "focus on groups at a disadvantage" or to "increase the professionalism among teachers," it is difficult to define implementation and to determine who is and who is not making progress.

Not all targets need to be quantifiable. The broad, open-ended recommendations confer a collective blessing on general directions, support the efforts of national leaders, and may help rally international resources. But measurable targets can be very useful and could have been established in a few of these areas.

Finally, the goals and recommended actions do not take advantage of opportunities for genuine collective action in education.

The summit, after all, is a collective exercise, and countries can sometimes do things together that they could not or would not do separately.

By establishing clear and measurable goals and working together to meet them, summits can energize governments to overcome national obstacles that they would not otherwise take on.

This includes initiatives that can only be carried out at the regional level,

such as establishing regionwide standards in mathematics or a common, regional examination system to measure and compare student achievement.

It also includes national initiatives,

such as reaching specified levels of student achievement, spending targets, or equity measures, that might be energized if backed by a region-wide agreement.

None of these were recommended.

It may be, of course, that governments are simply not ready to deal with many of these issues collectively. Their absence from the agenda makes it harder to mount a vigorous implementation process and to attract funding for doing so.

We don’t know who developed these recommendations (and of course, perhaps they presented very good recommendations to the heads of state, and had them rejected) but the result is an unimpressive set of recommendations.

2. The second point: Most LAC countries will not meet the education goals set in Miami and Brasilia.

They will fall short of the summit goals of universal primary enrollment and completion, and 75% secondary enrollment by 2010.

Will countries meet these goals: A review of the statistics being provided by each country, suggests that many will not.


Goal 1: Provide for universal access to and completion of quality primary education for 100 percent of the children by the year 2010.

Current trends in primary enrollment rates suggest that Latin America as a region will fall short.

To be sure, Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago have already reached the 100-percent net primary enrollment target set for 2010 at the Miami and Santiago Summits, and many other countries are within striking distance. Net primary enrollment rates are already over 90 percent in most countries. Only in Nicaragua and Guatemala are those figures less than 80 percent (see Figure 1).

Nonetheless, several countries still face significant primary enrollment gaps.

Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Guatemala all have met net enrollment rates that are below 85 percent, and none will reach 100 percent enrollment by the 2010 Summit deadline if current growth rates continue.

Furthermore, recent projections suggest that those countries whose rates are among the lowest today (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala) will have the largest school-age populations 10 years from now. These countries, therefore, will have to continue investing significant resources just to keep primary enrollment rates from declining.

However, enrollment rates are only part of the goal. Countries have also committed to reaching 100-percent primary completion rates by 2010.

Unfortunately, in half the countries for which data is available, a quarter or more of students who enter primary school do not even reach the fifth grade (see Table 1). In Guatemala and Nicaragua, barely half do so.

In most countries, primary education consists of between six and eight years. With such a high percentage failing to reach even the fifth grade in so many countries, the region is unlikely to achieve the summit objective of universal primary completion by 2010.


Goal 2. Provide access for at least 75 percent of young people to quality secondary education with an increasing percentage of young people who complete secondary education by 2010.

At the secondary level, gross enrollment rates drop off sharply. Although secondary rates have risen over the last decade, their present level — just over 56 percent — is far from the 75 percent target for 2010 set by the Miami and Santiago Summits (see Figure 2).

Moreover, secondary enrollments in the region have increased by only 6 percentage points in 10 years, compared to increases of 20 percentage points for Eastern Asia and nearly 11 percentage points for Southern Asia. The countries of Eastern Asia, well behind Latin America in 1985, had surpassed the region by 1995, with a secondary enrollment rate of over 61 percent. Only sub-Saharan Africa grew more slowly than Latin America during this period.

Assuming that secondary enrollments in Latin America continue to grow at the same slow rate as they have over the past decade, by 2010 the gross enrollment rate will only reach 66 percent, well below the 75 percent summit goal. And since gross enrollments include a large number of overage or repeating students, actual access to secondary education (that is, net enrollments) will be much lower. A recent projection by the World Bank based on net enrollments (Figure 3) estimates that secondary enrollments will have to double between 1998 and 2010 to reach the summit goal.

Secondary enrollments, of course, vary widely by country. Controlling for overage students, only three countries in the hemisphere (Canada, the United States, and Cuba) had secondary enrollments (net rates) in 1995 that met or exceeded the 75 percent goal set at the Summit (Figure 2).

Cuba, at 82 percent, approaches rates of the more developed regions.

Only six other countries (Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Panama) had rates that exceeded 50 percent.

For 8 of the 20 countries reporting data, less than one-third of secondary-age children were actually enrolled in secondary schools. The region’s largest country, Brazil, has the lowest percentage, with a rate of only 19 percent.

As with primary education, the summit goal for secondary schooling includes not only access but increasing the number of secondary school graduates in each country. Unfortunately, the wording does not specify a specific target for secondary completion, and, even if it did, data on secondary graduation rates over time is scarce. Nonetheless, it is difficult to believe that with so few students enrolled in secondary education, countries will see significant gains in the number of secondary graduates any time soon.

The available statistics do not tell an encouraging story. Barring an all-out crusade — involving substantial new investments — the 75 percent net secondary enrollment target is not going to be reached.


Goals 1 and 2: Quality education.

Goals 1 and 2 target not only higher enrollment and completion rates, but also better quality education.

All available indicators, however, suggest that the quality of education is poor.

Using diverse testing and scoring methods, most Latin American countries report similarly troubling indicators of student achievement.

In Argentina, students could answer only 50 percent of test questions correctly, based on minimum competency levels.7 The Jamaican Ministry of Education and Culture reports that approximately 45 percent of children in grades 7-9 are reading at two levels or more below grade level.8 In El Salvador, scores on national achievement tests averaged 45 percent in mathematics and 48 percent for language.9 Similarly, exams in Brazil and Colombia show student achievement levels to be much lower than target levels. And, discouragingly, students in Costa Rica and in Mexico score lower as they advance through the system.10

Likewise, the few times that Latin America has participated in international tests, its performance has been poor.

Only two Latin American countries — Mexico and Colombia — participated in the 1995 Third International Mathematics and Science study (TIMSS), which is the world’s largest international study of student achievement.

Mexico refused to make its test scores public, and Colombia finished next-to-last in eighth grade mathematics among the 41 countries that participated.

To be sure, the summit goals neither define quality of education nor suggest how improvements in quality should be monitored. The available information suggests that quality is low and provides no indication that improvement is underway.


Goal 3. Assume responsibility for providing the general population with opportunities for life-long learning.

It is extremely difficult to assess progress toward meeting this goal. Neither the heads of state nor the coordinating group has established an operational definition or quantitative targets. Relevant data are not generally available and would need to be gathered on a country-by-country basis.

Overall, current trends in primary and secondary enrollment rates suggest that Latin America will fall short of the summit goals of universal primary enrollment and completion and 75 percent secondary enrollment by 2010.

The enrollment gap, according to a recent World Bank projection, will total some 24 million students.

Achieving the Summit goals will require a significant change in government policy and considerable financial investment — especially by those countries with the lowest access figures.

Even so, many countries are unlikely to reach secondary enrollment targets unless they first improve their low primary completion rates. And there is no indication that the quality of education is improving.


  1. The third point I want to mention: Most Latin American government are not genuinely interested in working together to improve education

They are not willing to commit publicly and collectively to doing the most important things.

Their priorities lie elsewhere.

Although many governments are independently pursuing education reform, there is little indication that they have given the work of the summit coordinating group high priority.

Ministers have not sought to use the coordinating group as a resource or as a multi-national mechanism for promoting national policy reform.

Governments, for the most part, have not put significant funding into the work of the coordinating group, waiting instead for international organizations to do so.

There is no sense of direct, high-level interest regarding activities and results.

This suggests that governments do not assign high priority to the group’s work and makes it unlikely that the deliberations will have a significant impact on national policy.

All evidence suggests that, with respect to education, the formal summit follow-up process has been of marginal concern to the heads of state.

The result is an emphasis on appearing to support education reform, but avoiding any commitment to collective actions that really would lead to reform.

III. Recommendations

The value-added aspects of summits lie in their capacity to chart the way forward, support the efforts of national leaders, and set good goals.

We would like to offer two recommendations aimed at strengthening the summit process and helping countries make significant progress toward improving the education of their people:

  1. Governments should commit to establishing region-wide standards in mathematics, science and language, and
  2. Governments should establish a region-wide testing system that can measure progress toward achieving those standards, and compare countries with each other.
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