Agency and structure in Latin America: Addressing educational disparities in Brazil, Mexico and Peru


 Presenter (s) Daniela Gamboa, Stanford University; Salome Aguilar, Stanford University; Hugo Chaves, Stanford University

Latin American countries are extremely diverse in culture; nonetheless, they share socioeconomic, historical and geographical traits that require them to deal with income and educational inequalities. One common fact for Brazil, Mexico and Peru is their appearance on the list of the 40 most unequal countries, based on the latest information provided by the World Bank in its GINI Index. Furthermore, PISA’s results situate all three countries in the below average list, ranking them at the bottom-15 countries in educational scores (OECD, 2015).

Educational disparities come in many forms: from access to quality. A large number of empirical studies collaborate to the understanding of educational inequality, providing specific information about how Latin American countries fight it and stretching the knowledge over the effect of policies on educational quality. The first step towards resolving educational disparities is to provide universal access to basic education; in the 21st century Brazil, Mexico and Peru followed this trend as average years of schooling increased between one and two years (Unesco, 2019). However, does enrolment and completion translates into learning, or do educational disparities prevail even with greater access to education? As referred earlier, PISA results of these countries show not only low international average outcomes, but also a great variability within countries, which suggests poor quality and high disparity in education.

Therefore, these countries have moved towards developing strategies to assess and improve their educational system quality by designing interventions that aim to enhance the inputs of education. The three studies presented in the panel offer complementary perspectives about educational interventions in Latin America, as they approach topics of access, teaching quality and school choice from distinctive points of view.

Daniela Gamboa’s work explores the boundaries of Peruvian education policies concerning teacher professional development with the results of national teachers’ assessments; Hugo Chaves’ purpose is to seek a correlation between Brazil’s expansion of pre-schooling with increases in test scores in the early years of Elementary Education. Both of these studies can be characterized as more Structural efforts of research as they are focusing on the consequences of public policies on educational systems. However, it is also crucial to grasp an individual’s preferences assuming its power of choice inside a social structure, and Salome Aguilar’s study explores the factors or characteristics students and their families consider when they choose a school and if these factors vary across individuals from different socioeconomic status, different regions of the country, or diverse levels of school achievement.

This panel will, therefore, contribute to the acknowledgment of specific factors associated with social constraints and individual options inside three different societies that share historical backgrounds of income and educational inequalities. Teachers’ training, pre-school expansion and school’s choice all relate to the phenomenon of test scores which are the most predominant way of addressing school’s quality on contemporary agenda; thus, we hope to contribute to the field with our research.