Education in Latin America lags behind that of a large part of the developed world. Part of the problem is that Latin American countries have been slow to introduce technology into schools. According to a report issued in 2007 by the National Center for Education Statistics, United States public schools can boast one computer with Internet access per every 3.8 students. In contrast, one elite private school in Colombia offers just 40 computers in its computer lab to serve a high school of one thousand students. This represents one computer for every 25 students.
Technology is not the only factor relevant to the getting of a decent education in Latin America. The region has suffered from social inequity, violence, poverty and high levels of dropouts for decades. United States educators believe that attempts to introduce new technology into Latin American schools will have little effect on education as long as governments resist tackling the weighty socioeconomic issues that beset the region. The environment is one in which education remains a low priority; with the integration of technology into the educational system being even further on down the totem pole.
According to Luaune Zurlo, the executive director and founder of Worldfund, a charity in the United States dedicated to improving education in Latin America, many schools in Latin America lack even basic necessities, for instance functioning toilets. Zurlo says that schools at the middle school and high school levels hold two or three sessions a day. That means that students are in school for just four to five hours per day.
While Latin American governments have been gradually increasing their expenditures on education, per capita spending on primary education is still just 15 percent of what the United States budgets for this purpose. This estimate comes from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The World Bank issued a report in 2007 entitled, "Raising Student Learning in Latin America: The Challenge for the 21st Century," which stated: "Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean consistently perform poorly in international assessments: Even after controlling for per capita GDP, the region's students perform far below students in OECD and East Asian countries, Performance is not only weak; it is also declining relative to other countries with similar income levels."
According to OECD statistics, 92 percent of Latin American youngsters begin elementary school, yet only 32 percent continue on to secondary school. Fewer still manage to graduate. Forty million Latin American children and teens drop out of school each year. It is very rare for students to continue on to receive a higher education, at least for those students who make it through the public school system.
A second World Bank study, this one undertaken in 2008, "Accessibility and Affordability of Tertiary Education in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru Within a Global Context," found that Latin American families must pay 60 percent of their household incomes to fund a college education per student on an annual basis as compared to 19 percent for those families in wealthier countries. In addition to these facts, the study also found that cost of living expenses for the typical Latin American family averages 29 percent of GDP, compared to 19 percent for those in wealthier countries. Scholarships, grants and loans are few and far between and offer only a small amount toward studies and are difficult to obtain.
Another problem is the poor quality of the teaching staff throughout Latin America. Reports from the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean have demonstrated that students who apply for teaching programs are those with the lowest academic grades. The poorest students become the next generation's teachers.
It is encouraging that collaborative efforts have been somewhat effective in tackling the problems inherent in Latin American education. Some universities (such as Stanford University) and corporations (such as Cisco Systems) have partnered with local schools to help solve educational technology issues. However, the ultimate goal must be a system in which individual schools and school districts become self-sufficient.
One successful effort toward bringing technology to Latin American students is the One Laptop per Child program. Uruguay started a pilot program in Villa Cardal, in the Uruguayan province of Florida. The aim of the plan was to provide a laptop for each elementary school student in Uruguay by the closing of the year 2009. The final laptop was presented to a student at a school in Montevideo on 13 October 2009 by Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez. Maintaining the program will cost $21 per child per year.