November 22, 2006âDeveloping countries in Latin America and East Asia may be a world apart, but both regions are locked in a similar struggle to educate their young people, a new World Bank book says. Â While most children in each region get a basic education in primary school, a much smaller percentage goes on to secondary school and attains the kind of knowledge and skills needed to succeed in an increasingly competitive and high-tech world, according to Meeting the Challenges of Secondary Education in Latin America and East Asia.
The book revealsÂ developing countries in Latin America and East Asia face a similarly broad range of challenges, such as: providing greater access to secondary education while improving the quality of the teaching and learning processes; and reducing disparities between income groups and urban and rural areas.
Both regions include countries that vary greatly in economic and social development, ranging from upper or middleÂ income countries such as Korea, Malaysia, Mexico and Chile, to lower-income countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Bolivia.
Cash Transfers in Mexico
Many poor families in Latin America don't have enough money to send their children to secondary school, or to forgo the income their children would otherwise earn outside of school.
The result is many poor children fail to get more than a basic primary education and stand less chance of escaping poverty.
Mexico's Oportunidades program confronts this problem with a financial scheme known as "conditional cash transfers"âpayments in the form of scholarships and food aid to poor households that keep their children in school and regularly visit health clinics.
The program, which served some 5 million families in 2005, provides more money as children enter higher grades, slightly favoring girls at the lower secondary level.
The idea is to compensate families for the income their children would have earned outside of school, while offering young people a chance to escape chronic, intergenerational poverty through education, according to Meeting the Challenges of Secondary Education in Latin America and East Asia.
Between 2000 and 2002, secondary school enrollments grew by 6 percent annually, up from 2 percent prior to 2000.
The program is credited with increasing attendance rates by 8.4 percent, transition to secondary school by 20 percent, and grade attainment by 10 percent, according to the book.
And the program's subsidies for health and nutrition also delivered healthier and better nourished children to schools, studies showed.
"Oportunidades is not inexpensive, but the net benefit is substantial," says World Bank Senior Development Economist Emanuela di Gropello.
She says conditional cash transfer programs like Oportunidades can be successful when there is well designed conditionality, such as making school attendance a condition of the payments, as well as strong monitoring and evaluation systems, reliable geographic and household targeting criteria, and services of acceptable quality.
More children could go to better secondary schools if countries mobilized more resources and increased efficiency, says Emanuela di Gropello, senior development economist and editor of the book.
âMost countries have a lot of room to improve efficiency of delivery,â says di Gropello. âThey could achieve better outcomes with a fairly similar level of resources.â
She adds thatÂ âcountries often thought there was some kind of tradeoffâfor more coverage, there would be less qualityâthat you canât do both.
âBut with the right combination of policies, they can achieve both and some have done that. Latin America and East Asia can learn a lot from each other on effective policy options to address the trade-off.â
Korea, a newly industrialized country, used a combination of public control of the education system, high standards, and public-private partnerships in financing and delivery to drive enrollment and achievement, notes the book. Today, Koreaâs schools are among the best performing in Asia, with 90 percent of boys and girls attending secondary school and high achievers from all socio-economic groups.
Vietnam, Mexico and Brazil are making strides toward improving both coverage and quality of educationâtwo factors that should go hand in hand for secondary education to be a driver of economic growth, says di Gropello.
While most nations in the regions spend less than half of what industrialized nations spend per student on education, they can stretch tight budgets with innovative public-private partnerships and financing schemes.
Vietnam and China, for instance, have used effective school self-financing strategiesâincluding renting facilities and school-run businessâto fund education at the local level. Such innovations, if complementary to governmentâs efforts, can help address financing constraints, di Gropello says.
On the other hand, Mexico and Brazil have introduced innovative schemes to support the poor. Their conditional cash transfers programs for poor families are by now internationally well known, she says.Â Â Â
Educational problems arenât all owing to lack of money, says di Gropello.Â Low accountability of service delivery, including few incentives for teachers at the secondary level, and low relevance of the curriculum, have led to low quality and discouraged attendance, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Chile, El Salvador, Colombia, Korea, Singapore and Malaysia are all moving to gear secondary education toward skills and knowledge sought in the workplace, thereby improving curriculum relevance.
The educational gap between rich and poor, urban and rural, is the focus of a World Bank project in El Salvador that aims to improve coverage and quality by providing scholarships to public and private schools, offering distance education, and seeking to build general educational skills and encourage students to go on to university or higher technical training.