Reading ahead

COVID-19 hit literacy rates in Latin America children but can EdTech help them catchup?

The COVID-19 pandemic had a disastrous effect on Latin America’s educational progress after years of improvements in literacy rates which led the region to achieve a 94.45% literacy rate in 2020. Although the percentage of the population that can read and write in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, and Ecuador is over 99%, Central American countries like El Salvador and Honduras show percentages below 90%.

To catch up with the disruptions caused by school closures during the pandemic, which could lead to a lost decade of educational gains, a September 2022 report prepared by UNESCO, UNICEF and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean identified some of the warning signs of the evolution of education indicators. This included a stagnation in the number of out-of-school population in primary and secondary education, which has remained at an estimated 10.4 million since 2015.

To reverse these figures, UNICEF recommends that governments take an integrated approach which includes participation from educational institutions and policy-makers. Local administrations need to strengthen their systems to identify students who have dropped out of school and reengage them. This can be done by designing a preventive strategy mechanism for teachers and school administrators to implement retention methodologies.

As in the early 1980s, when government expenditure cuts, due to a rampaging debt crisis, impacted school enrolment rates and student achievements, COVID-19 school disruptions have mostly affected lower-income families, including indigenous communities.

A public sector educator in the Caribbean confirmed, “Some children dropped out of school due to the digital divide and a lack of internet connectivity. There is a stark contrast between urban and rural communities as well as low and middle to upper income communities.”

“Some children dropped out of school due to the digital divide and a lack of internet connectivity.”

Public sector educator, Caribbean

To combat this, an educational consultant in the Caribbean explained, “Three types of action are required, especially in rural areas: support for technical assistance to teachers, a channel for attention to the socio-emotional problems that they will face, and clear and determined support for innovative teacher teams that exist throughout the country, often working silently and without support.”

“There have been regional efforts to consider the integration of education tech but only in a post-COVID environment, only recently.”

Former analyst SUNEDU, Peru

Looking to the future, Latin American education stakeholders face new challenges of building new models for education, integrating new digital skills. A former analyst at Peru’s National Superintendency of Higher University Education (“SUNEDU”) commented, “During the pandemic there was no time to develop policies or train teachers. Everyone was forced to act immediately and use what they had, everyone was playing catch up. Subsequently, there have been regional efforts to consider the integration of education tech but only in a post-COVID environment, only recently. There is an urgent need to grow the ed tech capacity of the region’s teachers.”

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