Progress has been made in most Latin American countries over the past decade in terms of access to primary education, and, to a lesser extent, in secondary school coverage. Indeed, primary school attendance rates in the 1990s rose to levels above 90 per cent in most countries, and 70 per cent in secondary schools.
Despite this, there are significant deficiencies and delays in education, as a very high proportion of children continue to drop out of the school system early on, and a high percentage of adolescents who transition from the basic cycle to the middle deserted it before completing it, without having achieved the minimum educational capital and the skills required to stay out of poverty during their working lives, thus violating the rights to education enshrined in relevant international declarations.
Education systems in many Latin American countries share the following features to a greater or lesser extent: insufficient coverage of pre-school education, high access to the basic cycle, and low retention capacity at both the primary and secondary levels. Thus, repetition and school delay - phenomena that often precede school dropout - coupled with a low level of learning of the basic contents of education, conspire against exploiting the potential of children from an early age. Their negative effects accumulate throughout the school cycle, affecting very unequally the welfare opportunities, especially among the poorest sectors.
This tends to reproduce the inequality of opportunities from one generation to the next, allowing factors of inscriptive character to gravitate decisively in the future possibilities of well-being. As ECLAC has pointed out in previous editions of the Social Panorama of Latin America, this is perhaps the main obstacle that the region's education systems should save in order to play more fully and effectively their equalizing role of opportunities and social inclusion.
In addition, the gap in access to education “persists among socioeconomic and ethnic groups," said the IDB. While 80% of the most economically proficient students graduate in Latin America, only 30% of young people with lower resources reach the same level. There is also a gap of seven years of schooling among the richest and poorest segments of the population.
More than half of Latin American youth with low incomes and rural areas do not even complete nine years of education. Similarly, there is still a significant learning gap between urban schools and rural schools.
In addition, the most vulnerable groups of the population, such as students with disabilities or indigenous populations, also have high levels of dropout. Students with disabilities face both physical, social and cultural barriers to attending school. For this reason, only between 20% and 30% of children and youth with disabilities in Latin America attend school.
According to UNESCO data, the net enrollment rate in Latin America and the Caribbean in secondary education increased to 76% compared to 49% in 1990. However, it is the permanence in the school and not the access to it that is worrying.
But why do they drop out of school? One might think that the main reasons for school dropout are economic, access, or family problems; however, a high percentage of students between the ages of 13 and 15 who do not go to school say is lack of interest is the main reason. And that lack of interest comes because they are not convinced that today's education will bring them a better future in whatever field they want to develop themselves. And right at this point, it is visible that the Latin American Educational System has not recognized other applicable fields for the real situation we live in, for them to see education as an useful tool.