In my previous three blogs, I looked at social protection targeting education in Latin American countries, including Mexico, and Brazil. In this blog, I will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of various programme approaches of the systems discussed previously in an effort to extrapolate lessons going forward.
With respect to successful public education systems, Cuba is a stand out case. Their mass mobilisation of 280,000 social workers to educate hundreds of thousands of Cubans has allowed the country to achieve exceptionally high literacy rates. The comprehensive system of teacher training, involving on-site training and thorough university training for teachers, has also been shown to be effective.
Cuba makes efforts in international cooperation to support health and education: MEDICC is a non-profit organisation that supports cooperation between the United States (US) and Cuba on teaching and education, having educated over 1,000 US students and over 1,125 various executives, policy makers, officials, and journalists. By improving public health approaches they advance the quest for health equity and universal health at large.
Mexico’s strengths include it’s conditional cash transfer programme, Prospera, targeting the poorest households. Transfers go to the female head of the family given that there is evidence that they spend it more effectively; namely on health and education. The grant is contingent on satisfying health and education requirements: In primary school the grant starts with approximately US$10.50 a month, slowly growing to over US$50.
Brazil’s also enjoys an innovative public education system: Its universities guarantee seats for a minimum of 50% public school students and the national programme for rural education allocates specialised resources for rural areas. Brazil’s technical education is also impressive relative to much of Latin America: The National Industry of Service Training has over a 60 year history, having trained 55 million students.
In Latin America, a major weakness in the delivery of education is that most of the methods used to distribute social protection are either inefficient, or corrupt, or both. For example, in Mexico, 30% of Prospera programme funds do not actually reach the intended recipients. In this regard, infrastructure and coordination present inherent challenges due to the region’s expansive terrain and poor coordination.
A further problem in Latin American is the lack of political popularity of social protection policies and programmes among those with more conservative or middle class views. In an increasingly middle class Latin America, social protection is seen less as a benefit to society and more as a drain to the economy. This has been seen in Mexico, resulting in Prospera being replaced with a far more limited social protection programme, motivated primarily by political interests.
A further challenge for social protection is that some programmes assume a quantity over quality approach. For example, in Cuba, out of 60 universities only one ranks above the top 50 in the whole of Latin America. This has the potential to aggravate social divides, by giving those who cannot afford to attend a private university a substandard tertiary education. This can also undermine the pursuit of training in other sectors where people may have better utilised their skills.
The difference in public and private education across Latin America is troublesome and a persistent problem for a region that encounters high rates of socio-economic inequality. In 2015, in Brazil, International Student Assessment tests were conducted and found that the gap between scores for public and privately educated children was around three times the normal rate.
More comprehensive systems and secured funding for social protection would serve as some of the most effective improvements in Latin America, however, this is somewhat unlikely. Therefore we need to ascertain ways to improve social protection with limited fiscal space. Voluntary community based mobilisation of teachers or social workers, in a similar style to Cuba, could be an effective approach.
Equally, improved coordination using state supported cooperation between various educational departments would boost efficiency. Given the different specialisations of the various countries; Brazil’s innovative cash transfer, Mexico’s fight for equality, and Cuba’s cooperative specialisation, regional knowledge exchange is equally relevant. This could serve to improve technical specialisation as each country has an expertise to share. The challenge for Latin America in captialising on its existing expertise and generating political will for expanding and upgrading social protection and allocating the requisite fiscal space to facilitate this.
Social protection targeting education has had commendable and far reaching impacts on the region; lifting people out of poverty, empowering livelihoods, and generating an established middle-class. It can be said that the region and its social protection approaches need to recalibrate in line with the progress that has been achieved to meet emerging and future challenges.
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