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A new GEM regional report, Todos y todas sin excepción, in partnership with the Laboratory of Education, Research and Innovation in Latin America and the Caribbean (SUMMA) and and the Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALC/UNESCO Santiago) looks at inclusion and education in the most unequal region in the world. Societies in Latin America and the Caribbean have come a long way towards healing past injustices related to colonialism, exploitation, oppression and discrimination, but they remain riven with fault lines. Their legislative and policy frameworks have quickly embraced a broad-based concept of inclusion in education and they have led the world in innovative social policies. But there is a lot of ground left to cover. And if there have been recent gains in poverty and inequality reduction, the ramifications of today’s global health crisis risk sending them into reverse.
Education does not exist in a void. Inequality and discrimination in societies impact the distribution of education opportunities and outcomes. Even prior to COVID-19, children from the richest households were five times as likely as the poorest to complete upper secondary school in 21 countries in the region. Learning outcomes were also low before the pandemic. Only half of 15-year-olds achieved minimum proficiency in reading. In Guatemala and Panama, barely 10 disadvantaged 15-year-old students master basic mathematics skills for every 100 of their better-off peers.
In grade 3, students who do not speak the language of the test are three times less likely to reach a minimum level of proficiency in reading. The probability of Afro-descendants completing secondary education was 14% lower than that of non-Afro-descendants in Peru and 24% lower in Uruguay in 2015. Adolescents with disabilities were on average 10 percentage points less likely to attend school than their peers.
As per the global 2020 GEM Report, this regional report includes a set of key recommendations for the decade remaining until the 2030 SDG deadline.
It calls for schools to be more inclusive, which many still are not. Everyday discrimination against migrants, backlashes against progress for gender equality, identity and expression, and false beliefs about the ceiling of potential for people with disabilities is reflected in education systems in the region. Bullying urgently needs to be addressed: LGBTI youth in seven countries being heavily victimized were at least two times as likely to miss school. School infrastructure can leave some students feeling unwelcome as well. A survey of 10% of schools in Jamaica showed only 24% had ramps and 11% had accessible bathrooms.
Better data is needed on those left behind. Practically all countries in the region collect data on ethnicity in their population census to guide policy decisions, a big progress compared to the 1980s. But only 4 of 21 countries in the Caribbean have had a publicly available household survey since 2015 to get granular data on disadvantages. And only country in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic, had taken part in a cross-national learning assessment in the same period.
Training teachers to teach inclusively is also critical. Two-thirds of countries have laws planning for training of teachers on inclusion, but in practice many are still trying to address inequalities without the pedagogies required. In Brazil, Colombia and Mexico over half of teachers reported a high need for training on teaching students with special needs.
Curricula and textbooks must represent all groups fairly and respectfully. Textbooks in various countries tend to present indigenous peoples in stereotyped images and situations, when they are represented at all. Education support is often not provided in the home language, affecting children of migrant background, indigenous communities, and children whose mother tongue is different from the official language of the school, as is typically the case in Caribbean countries. In Suriname, for example, only 4% of children in Sipaliwini district speak the language of instruction, Dutch, at home.
The Report shows that the region is often an example of strong laws and policies that express a will for change, but calls for these to be more adequately implemented. The analysis of the PEER country profiles of laws and policies on inclusion in education shows that 10 of the 19 countries in the world that adopt inclusion for all in their educational laws are in Latin America and the Caribbean.
However, although the laws in only 42% of the countries in the region provide for the education of persons with disabilities in separate settings, many regular primary schools do not serve students with disabilities. In Nicaragua, for example, a third of the approximately 10,000 students with disabilities studied in special schools in 2019. In countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, among others, regulations have not yet been established to guarantee the right to education of refugee boys and girls and migrants from Venezuela, which has led national and international civil society actors to work together to meet their needs.
The Report is the focus of a 2020 Regional Forum on Education Policy – Inclusion and Education in Post-Pandemic Times, 9-12 November with ministry officials and experts in education from across the region. Co-organised by the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), the GEM Report, OREALC/ UNESCO Santiago, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the UNESCO Division of Education 2030 Support and Coordination, it will provide a space for policy makers to develop concrete actions for developing policies to mitigate exclusion in the region.