Date: Mon, 14 Dec 1998 16:45:33 -0600 (CST)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: EDUCATION-LATIN AMERICA: Cuba Leads the Way
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Cuba Leads the Way
By Gustavo Gonzalez, IPS, 9 December 1998
SANTIAGO, Dec 9 (IPS) - The quality of education is better in Cuba than in other Latin American nations, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) announced this week, based on a study by its Regional Education Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALC).
That study tested language and mathematics skills among children in the third and fourth year of primary school in 13 Latin American countries. Cuban children scored around 350 points out of a maximum of 500, while those in the other countries achieved scores ranging from 180 to 280 depending on the subject and the class.
The survey covered Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela, as well as two countries whose figures were not included in the final report.
Costa Rica had a change of government and its new authorities did not hand in their data on time, while President Alberto Fujimori did not authorise the release of figures from Peru for the study, which OREALC's Ana Luiza Machado described as unprecedented in the region.
The survey involved tests administered in June-November 1997 to a total of 56,000 students aged nine to 13 in at least 100 schools in each country, as well as teachers, principals, tutors and the parents of students, according to Juan Casassus, coordinator of OREALC's Education Quality Evaluation Laboratory.
The evaluation took demographic differences into account, and it differentiated between megacities with more than a million inhabitants, cities with fewer than a million residents and rural areas, and between public and private school systems.
The pioneering survey will be complemented in June 1999 by a second study that will explain its results and, in December 1991, by a document on education policies in the surveyed countries, based on the first two reports.
"This study will help decision-makers," said Machado. "More than a range of comparisons, what it provides is information for the countries to use to improve their education systems."
Practically all Latin American countries are carrying out educational reform projects as part of a strategy backed by the so-called Inter-American system from which Cuba has been excluded since 1963.
"There is one country which is far ahead of the others," Casassus said, referring to Cuba. He added that there were no major differences between the others, although Argentina, Chile, Brazil and, to some extent Colombia, were somewhat ahead of the rest.
"In all the countries, private education is of a better quality than public education, but there is one public education which is better than all," added the UNESCO expert, in another reference to Cuba, where there is no private education.
Generally, the education system in Latin America is more efficient in big cities than elsewhere, except in Chile, where students in medium-sized towns tend to perform better.
Another finding, according to Casassus, is that as a result of Colombia's Nueva Escuela (New School) programme, carried out in rural areas, the quality of education in the countryside tends to be better than in towns.
Throughout Latin America, education in language-related subjects such as writing and comprehension is better than in mathematics.
And data from Bolivia and Paraguay - where many people speak indigenous languages - and Mexico and Honduras, where this is also true but to a smaller extent, indicates that the education quality is lower in multicultural and bilingual situations. This shows that there are equity problems that have to be resolved, said the UNESCO experts.
The preparation and harmonisation of the tests took two and a half years, during which experts worked out terms and parameters acceptable to the 13 countries.
Of the 11 countries for which results are available, Cuba places ninth in terms of per capita gross domestic product (GDP) yet it outstrips the others where the quality of its language and mathematics education is concerned.
"GDP explains a little but it does not explain everything," said Machado, noting that only in a few of the countries was there a correlation between education and GDP rankings.
Chile has the highest GDP among the 11, followed by Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Cuba, Bolivia and Honduras in that order.
The rankings in terms of quality of fourth-grade education were as follows, in descending order:
Language: Cuba, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Venezuela, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Bolivia and Honduras.
Mathematics: Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Honduras.
Origin: Rome/EDUCATION-LATIN AMERICA/
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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