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Perspectives on Education in Latin America

In the first of our monthly thematic blog posts, we gather together a range of perspectives on education in Latin America from EPPE Network members.

Equity Issues in Latin American Education - Cristian Celedón

Although Latin American countries have achieved important progress in areas such as access (almost universal access in primary and 77% in secondary) and public investment in education (4.9% of total GDP now invested in education), several challenges regarding education quality and equity still remain, mostly among vulnerable students.

For example, 2012 PISA results showed a difference of 2 years of schooling between students scoring in the lowest quintile and their counterparts in the highest quintile. In mathematics, it was possible to observe a difference of 85 points between the same groups. Also, it is possible to observe similar equity issues across the different Latin American education systems in areas such as access to quality teachers in deprived communities, teaching materials, school infrastructure, quality in rural schools, access to quality early childhood education programmes, school socioeconomic segregation and school dropout rates. For example, in Latin America, graduation rates among the poorest quintile in secondary education is 53%, while in the richest quintile it is 82%, showing important discrepancies in the dropout rates among both groups. In fact, according to the InterAmerican Development Bank (BID), in 2008, approximately 35% of students aged 12-14 from vulnerable groups presented risk behaviours linked with early school leaving, such as criminal activity, drug use, domestic violence and teen pregnancy. In this sense, school segregation among students according to background and socioeconomic status is a relevant issue in Latin America, including extreme examples like Chile, which has one of the highest correlations between students’ socioeconomic background and PISA attainment of any OECD country.

Teachers’ Professional Identity and Their Responses to Education Reform in Peru - Angela Bravo Chacon

Angela presenting her work at the recent ChileSeminarsUK event held at the University of Glasgow. Source: EPPE Network

Recent research has highlighted the limits and ineffectiveness of centrally-mandated educational reforms that do not recognise the role of teachers’ personal and professional identities in mediating implementation. Angela Bravo Chacon’s study focused on teachers’ responses to education reforms rolled out by the Ministry of Education in Peru. Focusing on two schools in Apurimac and Puno, her work showed that the policy of providing schools with standardised materials and enforcing monitoring systems had challenged teachers’ autonomy and professional discretion. This created competitive imperatives among teachers that shaped, and ultimately hampered, implementation of the reforms. Unexpected and contradictory responses to the reform emerged, and the use of negative personal strategies such as absenteeism, alienation and apathy was reinforced. As highlighted in Michael Lipsky’s work on Street Level Bureaucrats, the exercise of autonomy and discretion by front-line professionals appeared to be central to the implementation process, for better or for worse.

Teachers’ resistance to reforms was exacerbated by harsh working conditions and the unprofessional practices commonly used to cope with their challenging professional identities. This display of teacher agency further fed discourses about teachers’ de-professionalisation in Peru, creating a vicious circle of mistrust between the Ministry of Education and educators. Crucially, the presumption was made that curriculum, resources and policy approach were not at fault, and that teachers could not be trusted to enact reforms according to their own professional judgement. Teachers reacted to this mistrust by reinforcing their own understanding of professionalism, justifying their unprofessional practices, blaming the Ministry of Education for the poor education quality and presenting themselves as outcasts. When teachers exercise this challenging agency, the study found that they mobilise a complex combination of ‘compliance - resistance’ and ‘mediation - retreatism’ strategies.

First Steps to Censorship in Brazil’s Education System - Ellen Vanderhoven

After far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in the Brazilian presidential race yesterday, there are already troubling signs that universities and education institutions are becoming targets for censorship and division.

In the run up to the election, universities were raided and banners alleged to contain illegal propaganda were removed at the order of electoral courts across the country. This has provoked anger from students and others who say that many of the banners made no partisan references and thus did not break electoral rules. Brazil’s Attorney-General Raquel Dodge has since opened an investigation into ‘exaggerations’ and Rosa Maria Weber, member of the Superior Electoral Court, has suggested that there were “possible excesses” in the raids.

Campagnolo's call to denounce "party-political" teachers. Source: Facebook page of Ana Caroline Campagnolo

Also highly concerning is a campaign to report teachers who express negative feelings about the president-elect’s victory, launched by a recently elected member of Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal party. Students have been encouraged to out “indoctrinator teachers” by secretly filming lessons and sending the ‘evidence’ to State Deputy Ana Campagnolo via WhatsApp.

These first signs of censorship are combined with broader fears for the future of social tolerance in Brazil. Bolsonaro has openly declared his pride at being a homophobe, and fake news stories linked to his campaign branded his rival’s attempt to distribute learning materials as part of a “Schools Without Homophobia” initiative as “gay kits”. Famously, Bolsonaro once told a Congresswoman “I wouldn’t rape you because you do not deserve it”. Together, these incidents paint an alarming picture about the future ability of students and educators to promote tolerance in their classrooms and express dissenting opinions, fuelling fears that Bolsonaro’s victory marks the beginning of a new fascist era in Brazil.


Many thanks to our contributors this week, Cristian, Angela and Ellen. If you have further questions, please get in touch via their individual profile pages.

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