Latin America oversatisfied with public education

(en español: Satisfacción excesiva con la educación en América Latina)

"Traditionally, the concept of quality of life has been viewed through objective indicators. Beyond Facts: Understanding Quality of Life looks at quality of life through a new lens, namely, the perceptions of millions of Latin Americans. Using an enhanced version of the recently created Gallup World Poll that incorporates Latin America-specific questions, the Inter-American Development Bank surveyed people from throughout the region and found that perceptions of quality of life are often very different from the reality. These surprising findings have enormous significance for the political economy of the region and provide a wealth of information for policymakers and development practitioners to feast upon."

A pioneer study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which used the 2007 Gallup World Survey (40 thousand people in 24 Latin American countries answered it) revealed that Latin Americans were in general satisfied with their lives and, in particular, with public education.

The distance between realities and perceptions was especially big in the case of education. While Latin America is well known for the low quality of its education and its poor learning outcomes - as revealed by national tests (prepared in each country), regional tests (such as (LLECE) and international tests (such as PISA) - satisfaction with public education is much higher than that of citizens in countries with an overall better schooling and learning situation. 

Over-satisfaction applies also to health, but it is much more prominent in the case of education. People with lower levels of education (generally associated with lower economic status) tend to have a better opinion of educational services than those with more years of schooling (theoretically associated with more critical attitudes). “Do you think the majority of children are getting a good education?" was responded positively by people with primary and incomplete secondary education. Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Honduras and Dominican Republic reported levels of satisfaction similar to those in developed countries. Haiti, Peru and Argentina were the least satisfied.

Is is also known as "aspirations paradox": those who have the least, those who get the education of the lowest quality, are the ones that are most satisfied, those who thank anything they get and, thus, those in the most unfavorable position to identify and demand quality education. The paradox applies to many other fields.
“The majority of Latin Americans are satisfied with their education systems because they value discipline, security and the physical infrastructure of schools more than the academic scores their children get” (Preface, Beyond Facts: Understanding Quality of Life).
Many parents expect the school to do what they cannot: discipline their children. Norms, instructions, schedules, uniforms, homework, rewards and punishment, are part of the disciplinary package.

For the conventional education ideology, 'good teacher' is the disciplinarian. Teachers who are flexible, friendly, innovative, are often misunderstood and questioned by school authorities and by parents. Teachers who acknowledge play and fun as part of the learning experience, who explore with their students other forms of learning, are not welcome by the traditional school culture.

The obsession with discipline brings rigidity to relationships, legitimizes authoritarian behaviors, limits dialogue and reasoning, blocks spontaneity, curiosity, creativity and liberty -- all of them  essential to learning.

Violence and insecurity are high and rising in the region (See: UNDP, Human Development Report for Latin America 2013-2014: Citizen Security with a Human Face: Evidence and proposals for Latin America). Families view the school as a key ally where their children can be safe and taken care of. In contexts of great violence such as the ones characterizing most Latin American cities, preserving life becomes the obvious priority. Learning - often confused with rote learning - has always received little attention by families, and not only among the poor.

Violence is not only outside but increasingly inside the school system. Out of school violence - in the family, in the community, in society - enters school with parents, students and teachers. Bullying has become a major concern and war in most countries. Robbery, assault, drugs, harassment, death, are today part of the school scenario in the world.

Insecurity and fear do not contribute to the development of good education. They lead to shutting mouths, to locking classroom doors, to building high school walls.


Social imagery associates education with school. Teaching and learning come afterwards.

Social and political imagery coincide in the appreciation for infrastructure. Building and inaugurating classrooms and school buildings - the easiest in education - are salient features of the political and electoral culture. Voters are very sensitive to school infrastructure. Politicians know it, give it high visibility, and nurture the idea of education (quality) as infrastructure.

For most people, it is difficult to perceive and even to imagine education without buildings: outdoor education, distance education, self-education, homeschooling, etc. Not everyone is able to accept what abundant research shows all over the world: good education depends much more on good teaching than on a good building; quality learning depends much more on the quality of relationships than on the quality of things.


Over-satisfaction and the "aspiration paradox" in education are found in surveys and studies all over the world, but they are very high in Latin America and the Caribbean. PISA 2012 showed that Latin American 15 year olds are the happiest with their school, even if they get the worst results among PISA participating countries. 

There are those who see the gap between realities and perceptions as a positive cultural sign - optimism, happiness, etc. - and as a blessing vis à vis the ranking culture. However, the gap is a problem. Complacency is an enemy of improvement and change.

Advancing towards a 'better education' or a 'good education' implies addressing and questioning overly "optimistic" perceptions. It implies expanding and elevating the education level of society as a whole and, on the other hand, a systematic information, awareness and citizen education effort: educating people's perceptions, informing their decisions, enhancing their participation, and qualifying their demand for the right to education.

Related texts in OTRA∃DUCACION

» The World Economic Forum and educational quality
» Ecuador: Good bye to community and alternative education
» Lógicas de la política, lógicas de la educación
» Escuelas sin aulas, aulas sin escuelas
» El barrio como espacio pedagógico: Una escuelita itinerante (Brasil)
» La escuela de la maestra Raquel (México)
» La biblioteca como núcleo de desarrollo comunitario (Una experiencia en Córdoba, Argentina)
» Proyecto arquitectónico sin proyecto pedagógico
» "Antes, aquí era Escuela Vieja"
» Pobre la educación de los pobres

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