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Quality of Education and Quality of Life in Latin America and the Caribbean. An exploration Juan Carlos Navarro. Definitions of education “quality”. As test scores in a few subjects or overall cognitive measurements (linked or not to some notion of compliance with standards)

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quality of education and quality of life in latin america and the caribbean

Quality of Education and Quality of Life in Latin America and the Caribbean

An exploration

Juan Carlos Navarro


Definitions of education “quality”

  • As test scores in a few subjects or overall cognitive measurements (linked or not to some notion of compliance with standards)
  • As value added (mostly, ability to compensate exogenous disadvantages)
  • As labor-market relevant
  • As customer (parent, student, employer) satisfaction
  • As a key source of numerous and highly valued externalities (civic values, caring environments for children, common culture, social cohesion).

PISA Scores on the Reading Scale

OECD Program for International Student Assessment

persistent low quality
Persistent low quality…

Distribution of students by level of proficiency in reading

of young people lacking education
% of young people “lacking” education

Source: author`s estimates using Pritchet`s “lack of education” indicator

what we know
What we know
  • LAC severely and consistently underperforms, relative to OECD and Asian countries.
  • LAC`s performance is lower than what could be expected given GDP per capita and education spending measurements
  • Given demonstrated influence of quality as measured by test scores on growth, low quality of education is an outstanding force undermining growth in the region
  • At the individual level, one standard deviation in math scores is associated with 10 percent income variations over time.

We need to take a closer look

Source: The following analysis follows OECD and UIS standard analysis of

PISA results. See in particular Willms (2006)

gradient analysis
Gradient analysis
  • The level of the gradient tells us that the average score in PISA for Argentinian students is lower accross all levels of SES (socioeconomic status) when compared to OECD`s average.
  • The slope of the gradient suggests that the effect of SES on scores is not unlike the average effect in OECD countries (the expected reading performance increases by 42.6 points for one St.deviation increase in SES).
  • The length or the gradient lines indicate the range within which 90 percent of students lie. In Argentina this range is –2.72 to 1.33, while for the OECD the corresponding range is –1.71 to 1.55.
school profile analysis
School profile analysis
  • More than half of schools in the Argentinian sample are below the bottom 20% of OECD SES scale (-0.82).
  • Above that point, the range from the lowest to the poorest performing schools is about 80 points, similar to OECD variation.
  • Below, variation in scores spans over 300 points, with the majority with very low performance levels.
  • For 15 year-old students performance increases 70 points by each one unit increase in school mean SES.
  • An implication is that in LAC students from low SES background tend to be disadvantaged, but that disadvantage is compounded by the fact that they tend to be highly concentrated into low SES, low performance, schools
what we know1
What we know
  • For PISA, only 7.4% of the variation in reading performance is due to variation among countries. The rest is distributed between differences among children, their background and the characteristics of the schools they attend.
  • The fact that so many low income children are concentrated in a large number of schools is clearly affecting average measurements of quality of education in the region.
  • Given extreme income inequality in Latin America, education systems have a special role in equalizing social and economic opportunities, presumably a major issue in terms of quality of life: two societies with the same income distribution feel very differently depending upon whether winners and losers are always the same or can be expected to rotate according to some kind of meritocratic principle.
what we know2
What we know
  • Since gradients tend to remain parallel along the SES range, even priviledged children in developing countries seem to have a poorer performance than their peers in developed economies. This suggest either measurement issues or systemic quality issues beyond the impact of SES on individual performance.
  • PISA tests children at 15. By then the differences in skills between a child in a poor school and one in a good school, at a given SES level, could be as large as 4 grade levels. There are indications (from PIRLS), that these differences are well under way at grade 4.
what we know3
What we know
  • Schools do have the potential for offsetting socio-economic disadvantage, to a large extent. For a student of a given SES, the difference between being in a good school as opposed to being in a bad school can be in the order of 4 grade levels.
  • The distribution of schools able to do this effectively is not clearly correlated with either the private-public dimension, nor with any other easily observable characteristic of the school.
  • Given the widespread variation in school performance in the region, even within the same SES level, luck with respect to the particular school a child ends up attending is a serious determinant of skill acquisition and individual earning potential over the life time of individuals.

Skill-biased economic change

Economy-wide measures of routine and non-routine task input (US 1959-1998)

Source: Murnane and Levy, 2001

what we know4
What we know
  • Workers with better quality skills are not necessarily able to get and hold jobs or better jobs (the ability of a society to use the human capital it has created is the final arbiter of whether investments in human capital are not wasted).
  • Although skilled workers seem less likely to suffer prolonged unemployment (not being unemployed tends to be considered a major determinant of personal welfare and happiness).
  • Skill premiums are growing: Accelerated and technology-led economic change is rapidly changing the skill set which can be called relevant for workers in the world, LAC included.
  • The ways to acquire such skill set are also changing and are heavily dependent on access to information technology, connectivity and digital media, areas in which the region lags severely behind.
  • Schools and formal education institutions have a hard time adapting to this: relevant learning could be becoming less dependent from the school systems as we know them. The real action in terms of education may be moving somewhere else.
what we know5
What we know
  • Parents in LAC tend to have a good opinion of the schools their children attend.
  • High school students tend to dislike the schools they are enrolled in. They are bored and leave even when they find no employment. More recently, they have become more vocal about it (see Chile`s uprising earlier this year).
  • Employers tend to have low expectations regarding the graduates of the mainstream school system. To a significant extent, they take for granted that the firms will have to re-train them anyway.
just to make things complicated
Just to make things complicated
  • Education quality, whatever the definition, is not easily perceived.
  • Education is a multidimensional product (parents may be looking for something other than good test scores: discipline, warm school climate, safety, social relationships…)
  • There are reasons to believe that education -and education quality- is not equally valued across different national economies and cultures.
what we know6
What we know

Education quality is a major determinant of:

  • Health outcomes (through fertility, mother-child care)
  • Population growth
  • Political participation
  • Migration
  • Overall participation in civil life

A word on universities

Source: Liu and Yeng, 2005.