Number of the week

Latin America’s education woes to deepen in 2021

80 percent of students in Latin America are being kept away from school due to the pandemic, deepening existing inequality in the region

education latin america
School in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo: Nowaczyk/Shutterstock

Welcome to “Number of the Week,” where we choose a single figure that helps us understand what is going on in Brazil. For this week’s number, we look at Latin America’s education gap, and how it is set to deepen inequality this year:

114 million students without in-person classes

Access to education has always been a challenge in Latin America, and the pandemic only made matters worse. Unicef published a report this week showing that over 114 million students in Latin America and the Caribbean — 80 percent of the total — are still prevented from attending in-person classes. That is not only a problem for individual students, it could hinder the region’s growth for years to come.

Learning curves. A World Bank report says the current pandemic scenario not only discourages students already in the educational system, but could also prevent 71 percent of children at learning age from developing reading skills. The bank says this phenomenon, known as “learning poverty,” could set students’ progress back by 1.7 years.

Mental health. Being away from school and locked down at home is not just an economic problem. A survey of 8,444 Latin American students aged between 13 and 29 showed that 27 percent became more anxious and 15 percent developed symptoms of depression.

Food insecurity. School lunches are frequently the main — sometimes the only — daily meal for millions of children from low-income families. Unicef estimates that 85 million children are at risk of malnutrition due to school closures.

No signal. Only half of Latin American children in public schools are able to access quality remote learning systems due to factors including poverty, power outages, or the lack of telecommunication infrastructure in remote areas. The rate jumps to 75 percent among those in private institutions.

  • In Panama, for example, 75 percent of public school students don’t have access to the internet. In Chile, one of Latin America’s richest countries, 96 percent of kids use YouTube as a learning channel.
  • Bernt Aase, Unicef’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said “for those without computers, without internet, or even without a place to study, learning from home has become a daunting challenge.”

Impacts. Recently-launched by the World Bank, the 2020 Human Capital Index showed that Latin American youths were only 56 percent as productive as they could be if they had full access to healthcare and education.

What now? “These huge costs can be mitigated if governments act now to continue improving the effectiveness of distance schooling and make sure schools are ready to reopen. Continuing to improve the reach, uptake, and quality of remote learning is essential,” says the World Bank.