The aim of this chapter is to show how the Latin American countries have addressed their educational needs through the delivery of distance education programmes, using a variety of approaches and technologies. It also presents a current view of this discipline in the region, addressing the question of whether or not the institutions and practitioners are ready for the adoption of new information and communication technologies, as the twenty-first century approaches.
Distance education has been assimilated in to the contemporary life of Latin American countries as a major innovation expected to contribute to filling the gap between the increasing learning needs of the adult population, and the inadequate provision from the traditional education systems. Increasing educational coverage and educational equity are primary and permanent goals of distance education programmes in the region. Another important goal is to improve quality of education through innovative technologies and methods. The chapter discusses here the extent to which it can be claimed that these goals are fulfilled.
As any social process exists within a context, this particular chapter deals also with the related theme of the professional associations dedicated to distance education in Latin America, the staff development programmes for this sector, and the organisations dedicated to promoting international cooperation in the field. All these aspects form part of an interesting scenario characterised by growth and maturity.
Looking back over sixty years, it is clear that distance education in Latin America has evolved in relation to technology shifts; programmes have changed in accordance with developments in communication technology. To some degree, changes have also been influenced by variations in clientele of programmes. However, these changes are not clear-cut, because the old technologies do not completely disappear when a new technology becomes dominant; in fact, some of the less technically advanced programmes continue to