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Commencement of the Seminar on Education Financing and Management in Latin America and the Caribbean. Thirtieth Session of ECLAC

30 June 2004|Speech



San Juan, Wednesday, 30 June 2004


I would like to begin my extending a most cordial welcome to the senior officials working in the areas of education and finance who are here with us today in this seminar on the financing and management of education in Latin America and the Caribbean. I am confident that the debates to be held during this seminar will provide inputs of the utmost importance for the fulfilment of the commitments made at the World Forum on Education, which were subsequently ratified in the Millennium Development Goals, and at the Regional Project on Education for Latin America and the Caribbean.

This seminar is of particular significance.It has been organized jointly by two United Nations bodies: ECLAC and UNESCO.

Both are concerned about social development in the region and especially about the education of the people of Latin America and the Caribbean. Twelve years ago, at the twenty-fourth session of ECLAC, in Santiago, Chile, these two organizations jointly presented a document entitled  “Education and knowledge: basic pillars of changing production patterns with social equity”. This study focused on the revitalized role of education in a development process based on changing production patterns with social equity, and it served as an inspiration for policies and programmes that were forged in the heat of the educational reforms being carried forward in many countries of the region. Cognizant of this precedent, today we are once again seeking to foster synergies between the two institutions in order to submit a new proposal to the Governments for their consideration.

Experts from both organizations have worked to prepare a document for this meeting entitled “Financing and management of education in Latin America and the Caribbean”. I am confident that the analyses and the agenda set forth in this study will serve to enrich the discussion that will take place here this morning.

For a number of years now, ECLAC has been saying that education is the key to equitable economic growth, especially in an era such as ours, in which information and knowledge are the cornerstone of progress.

ECLAC estimates indicate that, as a regional average, people need to have a minimum of 10 or 11 years of formal education in order to have a strong chance of avoiding or lifting themselves out of poverty.

Education also plays a pivotal role in reversing the intergenerational reproduction of poverty. As has been amply demonstrated, parents’ –and especially mothers’–educational levels have significant implications in terms of their children’s scholastic achievement. Increasing parents’ educational levels can therefore have a positive impact on the educational performance of the boys and girls of future generations and can thus help to break down, or at least diminish, the patterns of the intergenerational reproduction of poverty in our region.

The objectives of education go beyond the concept of “human capital”.

Education is decisive in the development ofdemocracy, of a sound form of citizenship and, in broader terms, of the personal growth of each individual. Democracies are no longer founded solely upon a certain type of economy or network of political institutions but also upon a broader use of knowledge, information and communication, and the ability to use these elements is gained through a quality education.

In our region, democratic systems coexist with poverty and inequality, which undermine our democracies. The paramount challenge is to diminish these regrettable characteristics of our development process with a view to ultimately eliminating them altogether. We must build a society whose members can not only consolidate their public rights, but can also aspire to full civil and social citizenship, and education is a key element in achieving this.

In sum, without education, it is very unlikely that we can break the vicious cycle of poverty and inequality and generate genuine processes of social cohesion and citizenship.

The document that we have prepared in conjunction with UNESCO for this event assesses the progress made, and the areas in which we are lagging behind, in terms of educational coverage by levels. It also looks at the management of the educational system based on the reforms implemented during the past decade and investment in education.

I would not like to let this opportunity go by without also pointing out that, at the start of this decade, more women than men were enrolled in secondary schools and institutions of higher learning. This obviously does not resolve the many problems of inequality that still exist, but it is an important step in that direction.

An analysis of areas of achievement and areas of underperformance indicates that the path which the region must take should combine opportunities for learning-by-doing in the area of management with a greater effort to garner resources for use in this sector.

In short, the task at hand is to give renewed vigour to the countries’ efforts to use education to leverage development.

While it is true that average regional public expenditure on education rose by around 1.1% of GDP during the 1990s, which is quite a large increase in comparison to the rise in spending in the health sector, this still falls short of what is needed to achieve greater equality of opportunity and meet the new demands for information and knowledge associated with productive development in open economies. In the area of management, the reforms have helped bring about a more rational form of expenditure so that the resources will get to where they are supposed to go, namely the schools.