Oficina Regional de Educación
para América Latina y el Caribe
Developing Educational Equity Indicators
in Latin America1
This paper was developed at the UNESCO Regional Office in Chile under the guidance of Ana Maria
Corvalán, director of SIRI (Sistema Regional de Información), and Professor Gary Orfield from Harvard
University Graduate School of Education.
“The importance of the formal results lies ultimately in
their relevance to normal communication and
to things that people argue about and fight for”
Amartya Sen in On Economic Inequality p. xi, 1996.
Latin America is the region of the world with the highest inequalities of income and
wealth. The region has the countries with the widest income gaps in the world, such as Brazil
and Guatemala, where the top 10% of the population accumulate almost 50% of the national
income, while the bottom 50% has a little more than 10%. This diagnosis is worsened by the
fact that the problem of inequality has shown no sign of improvement over the past 20 years.
In fact, income distribution has become more unequal in the region2.
According to the IDB3, much of the region’s inequality is associated with large wage
differentials, which reflects, among other factors, unequal distribution of the quantity and
quality of schooling. Inequalities in the educational system are often associated with factors
such as, gender, age, race/ethnicity, geography, and class. Being able to detect and
understand the disparities in the educational systems of the region might be the first step in
order to improve the quality and distribution of education.
Educational indicators – or the data that education systems employ to define, describe,
analyze, legitimize and monitor themselves – can be useful tools in the analysis of
educational problems and in shaping educational policy. In the last 20 years, a large number
of indicators were developed to monitor the educational systems in Latin America. These
indicators were mainly associated to access to education and some to the quality of the
services provided. Unfortunately, despite the enormous inequalities of the region, the use of
Facing Up to Inequality in Latin America: Economic and Social Progress in Latin America. 1998-1999 Report.
indicators of educational inequality is a novelty and Latin America is behind less unequal
countries, in developing them4.
This paper aims to contribute to the debate on educational indicators to understand
inequalities in Latin America. The first part of the paper reviews some theoretical
frameworks related to the issues of equity and equality in education. The second section
discusses the importance of educational indicators to understand educational disparities. The
third explores some international concerted experiences in monitoring inequalities in
education. The last part of this paper looks at some challenges for the region in order to
develop a set of indicators to monitor educational disparities.
2. Equality and Equity in Education: Theoretical Approaches
Equality and equity are often used interchangeably in educational policy debate and
literature. According to the terminology employed by the OECD, equality refers to the
“condition of being equal, i.e. equal in quantity or quality, of the same value, sameness.
evenness…like ‘equity’ it is open to widely differing interpretations, and it is often an
umbrella term rather than anything more precise” (p.121).5 The OCDE argues that because in
practical terms both raise very similar concerns, equality and equity can be used as
equivalents. However, in sociological or philosophical tradition they might have different
While equality address the issue of “objective” advantage or disadvantage in terms of
economic, cultural and social capital, equity refers to the normative-ethical issue of the fair
attribution of resources, that is a relative advantage or disadvantage. Thus, sociology usually
deals with the issue of equality while political philosophy deals with the normative issue of
The OECD countries have established an ad hoc committee on equity indicators as part of the INES project.
OECD, Education and Equity in OECD Countries, Paris, 1997.
equity and social justice. It is not the goal of this paper to review all the various theoretical
approaches to both terms developed over the past 30 years, neither the theoretical debate
between the two lines of thought. However, in order to construct indicators of educational
equity it is important to root the discussion on both the normative debate about social justice,
as well as on the findings in sociology which focus on the causes of inequality and its change
over time and space.
Benadusi6 gets around the normative versus descriptive controversy by reviewing the
literature on sociology of education trying to clarify the relationship between equality and
equity. According to him, these approaches are not only characterized by analytical
differences, but also by normative ones, which are not always explicit. The following
theoretical lines of though were adopted from Benadusi’s work:
2.1.The functionalistic approach
This approach relates to Durkheim’s functionalistic theoretical tradition. Inequalities
relate to both differences in social class, gender, ethnic and nationality as well as individual’s
ability and effort. This can be characterized by a meritocratic interpretation of the principle of
equity similar to the more recent idea of “liberal equality of opportunity” formulated by
Rawls. This approach tends to value policies that aim to increase equality of opportunity, that
is equity treatment requires some type of compensatory polices rather than just equality of
educational provision. Thus, a way of measuring equity from this standpoint is to measure the
correlation between public expenditure in education per student and his socioeconomic status
(SES). Social expenditure should be linked to SES, the poorer the student the higher the
Benadusi, L. Equity and Education in In Pursuit of Equity in Education: Using International Indicators to
Compare Equity Polices, mimeo, 2001.
2.2. The social or cultural reproduction theory
Bourdieu, Althuser, Berstein, Bowles and Gintis, are all representatives of this line of
thought. Different from the structural functionalist approach the reproduction theorists
believe that inequalities among groups are produced exclusively by social constraints and not
by genetic endowment or individual choices. Because all inequalities are inextricably
interwoven into the social structure of our society, no educational reform can break this
systemic coercion. Actually, according to this theory schools “reproduce” disparities rather
than ameliorate then since schools inculcate in the student certain beliefs in order to
legitimize social class inequalities.
However, despite this pessimistic view on schooling, Bourdieu, a renowned French
sociologist, developed an important concept – “habitus” or “cultural capital” – very helpful in
the understanding of this reproduction mechanism. According to Bourdieu, individuals
become instruments of the culture of the group to which they belong as well as to the
structurally based hierarchy between dominant and dominated cultures. The concept of
cultural capital allows us to explain a broader range of individual variance in academic
success than it is possible with the conventional SES (income and parent’s education level).
A modern variation of this theory includes the concept of agency, which has
weakened both the reproduction paradigm as well as the functionalist approach. This theory
is characterized by a strong emphasis on agency with respect to the construction of the social
world. That is, it shifts the source of school failure from the characteristics of the students,
their families and culture to the social process, including schooling. Thus, there is an
emphasis in the active role played by social actors in school, mainly teachers and students,
making resistance or change possible, therefore shifting from a reproductivist approach to
one that allows for change. In other words, we observe a tendency to privilege agency and
culture rather than structure, as sources of inequalities among groups. A good indicator of
equity that derivates from this theoretical approach is the rate of intragenerational mobility.
2.3. Cultural Pluralistic Approach
Authors who adhere to this paradigm believe that fairness in education essentially
means differentiated and appropriated curricula for all social groups, that is, equal rights to
reproduce their specific cultures and languages through schooling without any dominance
and interference on the part of any group. This approach leads to the development of
indicators such as: (1) number of minority students that receive bilingual education, (2) how
much the pedagogy practiced in school and its organizational mechanisms manages to cope
with different styles of learning, and (3) how much cultural pluralism is respected. This
approach tends to qualitative indicators of educational processes than quantitative ones.
2.4. Methodological Individualism Approach
This paradigm puts the individual at the center of the analysis, that is, as an
intentional and rational actor whose choices are influenced by social constraints but not
completely determined by them. According to this view, inequalities result from the different
weights that, through strategic planning, people from different social stratifications attribute
to the costs, risks and benefits connected with staying in school instead of going to work.
This approach looks at inequalities as part of a process determined by an individual’s
decisions and subject to influence by external and internal factors. Thus, it is important to
determine the different decision-relevant variables acting on such a process in order to
understand inequalities in education.
The following table briefly summarizes the theoretical approaches presented:
Table 1 Theoretical Approaches in Sociology of Education
Approach Source of Inequality
Functionalism Family cultural deprivation
Reproduction Theory Cultural capital and habitus
Cultural Pluralism Cultural and pedagogic distance between home and
Methodological Individualism Different cost, risks and benefits associated with
individual decisions about school career
Source: Benadusi, 2001
3. Indicators as Tool to Elucidate Educational Inequalities
Indicators are “statistics with strong policy relevance” (Hutmacher, 2001, p.2). They
describe attributes of population using measures of central tendency and/or variation, for
example a mean, a rate, a proportion, a probability or another statistic parameter. Even
though, indicators are not the only approach to analyze educational issues, they are
commonly used as tools for macro-level and/or evidence-based education policies.
Hutmacher 7 argues that statistics and indicators are of particular importance in the case of
issues of equality and equity, because they “provide a more balanced overall picture of the
variety of the experiences and, relations and processes than would otherwise be
Indicators are usually portrayed as neutral statistical tools, when in fact, they represent
a view of the social reality. First of all, the decision to collect and publish data means that
something is important enough to justify the effort. Second, the development of indicators
rests on political decisions about the relevance and importance of the collected information
with respect to major policy issues. According to Hutmacher, the development of statistics
and indicators “lies at the crossroads of scientific research and policy debate”(p.4).
Hutmacher, W. In Pursuit of Equity in Education: Using International Indicators to Compare Equity Polices,
The American experience is quite useful in understanding how these fields can be
highly controversial, particularly in such sensitive areas as equity and equality in economy,
society and education. According to Orfield 8, the inclusion of indicators on poverty and race
in education statistics in the US substantially enriched the ongoing debates about educational
inequalities and possible solutions. He argues that by showing the strong relationships among
poverty, race and education, indicators help in “forcing attention to issues that would not
likely be considered without such information” (p. 165). He explains that before the civil
rights movement, the American government commonly denied that racial and ethnic data
were needed by arguing that they could be used for discriminatory purposes and they claimed
that publishing them would further stigmatize the populations because such data would
disclose sharply unequal educational outcomes. However, the result was quite different.
Policies such as school desegregation and affirmative action – which involve plans to change
educational quality for Blacks as well as produce more interracial schools – have a strong
Orfield calls our attention to the fact that, the absence of, or refusal to collect, data on
basic social cleavage conveys a very important message: “the group that is not counted as a
group does not have the power to see to it that its problems are measured”. Many
governments may fear the consequences of data and probably are not prepared to take action
to alleviate group problems. This is particularly true in Latin America where educational
problems are many. For example, after finding out its score in the Third International Math
and Science Survey (TIMSS), Mexico did not authorized the publication of the country’s
result. Peru also had the same attitude in relation to the standardized student test administered
by UNESCO’s Laboratorio Latinoamericano de Calidad en Educación. Only in January 2001,
Orfield, G. Why Data Collection Matters: The role of race and poverty indicators in American education.
the institution was allowed to disclose the country’s result for the 1997 school year. Juan
Carlos Palafox9, a researcher from Laboratorio, explains that the disclosure of the data was
one of the first Congressional demands after President Fujimori left power. According to him,
the political opposition believed the country’s low score was a reliable picture of the quality
of their educational system. “The former president used to tell the population that Peru had
the best educational system in Latin America. The fact was that their results showed a very
different picture”, explains Palafox.
The Chilean government had the opposite attitude. As one of the Latin American
countries with the best educational indicators in the region, Chile volunteered to take part in
the International Adult Literacy Survey conducted between 1994 and 1998 by the OCDE. As
the only developing country in the sample of 21 countries, Chile scored the lowest in the
literacy survey. Despite its political will to be compared to developing nations as Sweden and
Denmark, Chile did not allowed the publication of the findings relating the level of literacy in
the country with income distribution (Gini Coefficient).
According to Orfield, indicators reflect a societal readiness to look seriously at
difficult problems, to acknowledge trends, to consider the consequences and, perhaps, to act.
How ready are Latin American countries to look at their own wounds and take a step towards
solving the problem? During the last 20 years, most of the countries in the region have
undergone major educational reforms to improve their educational systems. In the 80’s the
reform targeted increasing access to education, while in the 90’s the focus was improving the
quality of the educational service. Countries in the region – with few exceptions – have not
focused their attention in equalizing the opportunities for the poorest, racial minorities, girls
or rural population. As a consequence, data that discloses issues that countries never dealt
with or data that looks beyond averages tend to be feared by most Latin American
Personal interview with Juan Carlos Palafox, May, 2001.
governments. However, it is exactly this type of data which is key to understand disparities in
educational opportunities in the region. For example, in Brazil the average years of education
for the 25-year-old or older is 5.22. However, the difference between the average years of
schooling of the richest 10% (10,53 years) and the poorest 10% (1.98 years) shows that
averages are not necessarily the best picture of the educational system of a country10.
Though statistics cannot force policy changes, “good data can enable a different level
of discussion, permit more effective enforcement of rights, and give awareness and tools to
groups whose claims were dismissed before data were available” (Orfield, 2001, p.166).
4. Experiences in Monitoring Disparities
The examples above emphasize the use of statistics and indicators to highlight and/or
hide policy issues both in the US and in some Latin American countries. This section looks at
concerted efforts around the world to develop both a framework, and a sound system of
indicators that would allow for international comparison as well as constant monitoring of the
performance of the educational systems regarding the issue of equity.
4.1. OECD Countries
Since the late 80’s OECD countries, through the Education Indicators project (INES),
have produced a number of indicators of educational equality and disparity that can be
observed through their publication of Education at Glance, OECD Indicators. Since 1992,
this publication has presented indicators that try to measure dispersion among individuals
(intra group dispersion), differences among various groups (usually age and gender) and
Facing Up to Inequality in Latin America: Economic and Social Progress in Latin America. 1998-1999
occasional data showing differences by group such as income, geographic region, educational
attainment of parents. For example, INES has produced various indicators on disparities in
educational outcomes. The focus of these indicators was typically on the distribution of
outcomes in countries, with emphasis given to relative dispersion of achievement scores or
the proportion of students reaching certain performance levels11.
In 1995, the General Assembly of the OECD Educational Indicators Program
established six priorities area for INES. Equity was among them. The advisory group
recommended that equality issues should be taken into account whenever feasible and that
whenever relevant, statistics and indicators produced within INES should show breakdowns
by gender and age as well as any other relevant social cleavage. However, countries stressed
the need for further conceptual work before the development of a system of indicators.
In 1998, the INES project created an ad hoc group on equity issues. The focus was to
develop a conceptual and methodological framework for a system of equality and equity
indicators. The group was composed by a dozen experts and researchers from 9 OECD
member countries. This group has been trying to develop a system of equity indicators to
OECD member countries taking into account the characteristics of these nations. Their
tentative outline — to be discussed with member countries — is presented in table 2 below.
INES, Overview of INES activities since 1995, Fourth General Assembly of the OECD Education Indicators
Program, Tokyo, 2000.
Table 2: General Outline of a System of Equity Indicators in Education developed by
the OECD ad hoc committee on equity issues12
1. Context 1.1. Social and Cultural Context 1.1.1 Inequalities in social resources
1.1.2 Inequalities of cultural resources
1.2. Political Context 1.2.1. Equity criteria
1.2.2. Judgements about equity of the
2. Process 2.1. Quantity of Education Received 2.1.1. Length of schooling
2.1.2. Spending for education
2.2. Quality of Education Received 2.2.1. Inequalities in conditions of
2.2.2. Inequalities in quality of life
3. Internal Results 3.1. Inequalities among individuals 3.1.1. Disparities in competencies
3.1.2. Proportion below the justice
3.2. Inequalities among categories 3.2.1. Social background (SES)
3.2.2. Educational attainment of parents
3.2.4. Racial, and ethnic minorities
4. External Results 4.1. Individual Consequences of 4.1.1. Economic and social consequences
Educational Inequalities 4.1.2.Non-monetary consequences
4.2. Collective Consequences of 4.2.1. Inequalities to the advantage of
Educational Inequalities everyone or the least favored
4.2.2. Institutional Consequences
4.2. Latin American Countries
Recently, two concurrent efforts in Latin America are developing indicators to
monitor the educational systems of the region. Both these efforts include the issue of equity
among their concerns.
World Education Indicators Project
Building on the OCDE indicators program, eleven developing countries from all
regions of the world, together with UNESCO and the OCDE launched the World Education
Indicators (WEI) project in 1997. At this point, only three Latin American countries took
part: Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. In the second year, seven countries joined the program,
among them Uruguay and Paraguay, amounting to 5 Latin American countries.
The WEI project aims to develop a set of reliable indicators that are internationally
comparable. Equity is among the project’s concerns since “ an important aspect of managing
Hutmacher, W. Towards a System of Equality and Equity Indicators. The INES Compendium. Fourth General
Assembly of the OECD Indicators Program, Tokyo, 2000 p. 276-7.
the growth of educational systems is ensuring that all sections of the population benefit and
that disparities between groups are reduced”(p.13)13. Their 1999 Report argues that countries
present disparities in (1) access to school, (2) school expectancy, and (3) quality of the
education. According to the report “disparities have often been based in gender, income level,
and area of residence (e.g., urban or rural)” (p.71)14.
However, there are no indicators dedicated to the measure these disparities. The report
does not provide the above mentioned breakdowns in the data presented. Gender is the only
exception, since breakdowns are provided in several tables. When analyzing the data, the
report only discusses gender differences in attainment measured by the percentage of women
who has reached the final stage of secondary education and the percentage of woman who
has reached tertiary education for 11 of the 16 participating countries. It is worth noting that
the five Latin American countries included in the report do not present, on average, gender
differences in educational attainment. However, according to a recent study carried out by
UNESCO, when the variable race and income is introduced, gender seems to play a strong
role. Poor indigenous women have less access to education than any other group. Also, they
tend to present high drop out rates15.
The report also introduces the debate related to income disparities and its relationship
to geographic location (urban/rural). However, the report fails in presenting indicators
associated with income differences as they do with gender.
The WEI initiative has provided a lot of technical support to the participating
countries in developing and improving basic indicators. On the other hand, the participating
countries should consider their peculiarities in establishing a set of indicators to monitor their
systems. In other words, they should be cautious not to simply import the OECD
Investing in Education: Analysis of the 1999 World Education Indicators. OECD, 2000.
methodology and framework proper to the developed world. Also, in the urge to create
internationally comparable indicators, equity issues which are linked to specific country
characteristics might be undermined by more general indicators that are less relevant for
individual countries in shaping equity policies.
Education Indicators Regional Project
The Educational Indicators Regional Project (EIRP) is an initiative of the UNESCO
Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean and the Chilean Minister of Education
to develop a set of basic comparable education indicators for the Americas. It succeed the II
Summit of the Americas where the chief of states and governors adopted a plan of action that
included the strengthening of the educational information systems of the member countries
and the establishment of ways to compare some education indicators in the hemisphere16. All
38 Latin American and Caribbean countries accepted the invitation to participate in the
project. Among other things, the project offers technical cooperation between countries with
more developed educational information systems and countries with less developed ones, as
well as the creation of working groups composed of countries’ technicians and implementers.
The EIRP aims to develop five categories of indicators – context, resources, system
performance, quality and social impact – having equality of opportunities as a transversal
theme common to all categories. Despite this intended interest, the first 25 indicators
accorded among countries leave little room for the development of complex equity
measurements given that they are very basic indicators. According to Ana Maria Corvalán,
the project’s executive director, this is due to the fact that some countries in Latin America
and in the Caribbean still do not have basic reliable educational indicators related to
enrollment or even basic data as population by age group. She explains that in order to have a
Messina, G. Estado del arte de la igualdad de genero en la educación básica de América Latina (1990-2000).
Paper presented in the 7th UNESCO- PROMEDLAC, Bolivia, 2001.
Education Indicator Regional Project. January10, 2000. www.unesco.cl
set of comparable indicators all the 40 countries have to be on the same page. As she states:
“This simple task is by itself a big challenge to many Latin American and Caribbean
countries. This is why we spent the first year focusing on building statistical capacity in the
countries of the region through workshops and technical cooperation.”17
This regional initiative is definitely an important first step in the direction of creating
a system of indicators for the region, which includes the issue of equity. On the other hand,
there are many challenges that the region must overcome in order to get there. The next
section deals with some of them.
5. Challenges for Latin America in the Development of Equity Indicators
Despite the advance among the OECD countries in establishing a theoretical
framework for the debate on equity indicators, as well as a series of concerted initiatives
involving Latin American countries, the challenges for the region in the development of
equity indicators are many. The following are some of these challenges:
5.1. Need to equally improve the educational statistics systems of the countries in
The level of development of individual countries’ educational statistics is important in
determining the feasibility of constructing equity indicators. As argued by Orfield 18, in order
to be powerful statistical information must be credible. And in order to be credible, indicators
rely on the level of advancement and sophistication of each country’s education statistics
systems, as well as the country’s technical capacity to properly analyze the collected
Personal interview with Ana Maria Corvalan, April, 2001.
According to a technical study19 carried out in 1997, which examined the status of
educational statistics in the region, there are sharp differences between countries in terms of
their education statistics. While large and sophisticated countries have well-developed
education statistics systems (Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico), poor countries, such as
Bolivia, Guyana and some countries of Central America are lagging badly. The majority of
the countries are “in between”, which means that they had several improvements under way
during the period of the study.
Today, we observe that many countries considered “in between” in that period, such
as Paraguay and Uruguay, have significantly improved their statistical capacity given the
technical assistance they got from the OCDE through the WEI Project. The very poor
countries also advanced in their technical capacity to collect and work with statistical data
since the Education for All (EFA) Indicators, as well the UNESCO’s EIRP have worked with
all countries of the region simultaneously.
However, differences still persist amongst the countries. Thus, in order to develop a
set of regional indicators that can be comparable, it is important to take into account the
limitations that some countries of the region might have in collecting and analyzing data.
This places the EIRP as an strategic project for Latin America since it tries to bridge the gap
between the more developed and the least developed statistics systems of the region.
5.2. Develop a set of equity indicators that respond to the specific needs of the
In developing a set of equity indicators, Latin American countries should consider
that inequalities in the region have different characteristics as in other regions of the world,
Orfield, G. Why Data Collection Matters: The role of race and poverty indicators in American education.
McMeekin,R. “Education Statistics in Latin America and the Caribbean. IDB, 1998.
specially the OECD community. Thus, the region should be cautious in simply adopting the
OECD methodology on equity indicators tailored for the developed world. For example, the
debate on equity indicators among the OECD countries focus mainly on the quality of
education. In Latin America, despite the great increase in enrollment rates in primary and
secondary schooling, access to education is still a problem to be considered and examined,
specially from the point of view of equity. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics
countries such as Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala still have less than 80% of its
primary school-aged children enrolled in primary education. Besides that, by breaking down
the data by race, gender, geography and income level we gain a better view of the inequalities
of the educational systems of these countries. For example, indigenous woman in Guatemala
have on average 0.9 years of education while indigenous man have 1.820.
Also, Latin American countries should take into account their recent history of
ethnical/racial segregation as a source of inequality. Examples as Chiapas in Mexico
involving indigenous population claiming for their rights shows that racial segregation has
not been solved in many of the Latin American countries. Therefore, the debate on
race/ethnicity and education inequalities should not only be in the agenda, but also data on
race/ethnicity should be considered in the development of a set of equity indicators in
Income is concentrated in Latin America more than in any other region of the world.
The relationship between income and education is well known, thus this variable must be
included in the set of equity indicators for the region. Countries should make an effort not
only to collect this data, but also to standardize it in order to make it comparable across
Messina, G. Estado del arte de la igualdad de genero en la educación básica de América Latina (1990-2000).
Paper presented in the 7th UNESCO- PROMEDLAC, Bolivia, 2001.
countries. Also, it is important to consider the amount of the population living under the
poverty line and its relationship to educational opportunity.
Another important characteristic of the educational systems in Latin America relates
to the disparities between the public and the private sector. Despite being small in size
(around 10% of the students in primary and secondary education goes to private schools in
Latin America), the private educational sector concentrates the countries’ economic elite. If
we assume that the top 10% of the population who owns 50% of the region’s income are
concentrated in the private schools of which we know little or nothing about them, it makes a
lot of sense to collect data about this sector.
Also, countries in Latin America should be able to detect emerging categories to
include in their set of indicators. For example, is the dichotomy urban –rural enough to
capture the spatial variety of our region? The rapid industrialization and urbanization of the
region combined with an increase in income inequality might have created a new spatial or
geographic component of the cities. Today, according to Gilbert21, 72 percent of Latin
Americans live in metropolitan areas. The region has cities as large as Mexico City, in
Mexico with 26 million people including the surrounding poor neighborhoods and Sao Paulo,
in Brazil with 20 million people.
In the US, a study found that in the largest American cities, 15% of the children lives
in extremely poor neighborhoods, three times the nation’s average22. Cochrane 23, who studies
economics and demographics in metropolitan areas of the United States, found that “there
are community based patterns of density and economic and demographic changes that are
related to substantially different per-pupil revenues and /or human/social capital resources for
students in metropolitan communities” (p. 368). In other words, students’ educational
Gilbert, A. “World Cities and the Urban Future: the view from Latin America. United Nations, 1998.
In: Cochrane, D. Economics and Demographics in Metropolitan Communities, Mimeo 2001.
outcomes are influenced by these geographical patterns producing hard to solve disparities.
The inclusion of emerging categories, such as metropolitan areas rather than the common
urban/rural dichotomy can help capturing important economic and social clevages of the
5.3.Understand the Politics of Inequalities of Educational Opportunities
While considering inter-group inequalities (age, gender, educational attainment of
parents, spatial location, income, special learning needs, ethnic background, etc) we must
consider the politics of the debate. Indicators are a way to represent the social reality and the
choice to emphasize one group disparity over the other is not merely a technical decision.
Most powerful and organized groups tend to have their issues in the agenda whether least
organized groups might not succeed. For example, gender is the most common breakdown in
educational data not only because it is the easiest to collect, but also because gender as a
category of analysis succeed in establishing itself academically and in society worldwide.
The same is not true in relation to race/ ethnicity in Latin America. If we look at the
available data for the region, we see that racial disparities are much stronger than gender
disparities in many educational indicators. For example, in 1999, the level of illiteracy in
Brazil was the same for both men and women: 13%. However, the illiteracy level among
whites was 8% while among Blacks was 22%24. This breakdown is possible because both
literacy and racial data is collected through Household Surveys. The educational system,
though, do not collect racial data, only gender. Therefore, the debate on the inter group
disparities should take into account the agenda of both the more organized
groups/movements, as well as the less powerful ones.
A Mancha do Analfabetismo in Folha de Sao Paulo, 3/27/2001.
The challenges to develop equity indicators for Latin America are many. They stir
from deep economic, social and cultural problems from technical difficulties in collecting and
processing educational statistics. On the other hand, the series of initiatives to develop
indicators involving Latin American countries are a sign that they are conscious that the
problem of equity in education should be dealt with.
In this process, not only countries should make an effort to collect non aggregated
data in order to disclose educational disparities, but also international agencies which carry
out international comparison projects should be able to enforce the publication of all
In a time of globalization, when countries want to “look good” to compete
internationally, it is not an easy thing to ask. However, the courage to look beyond the
general educational indicators should be a long term concern for the countries of the region.
This is so because only the countries that are able to look and acknowledge the dark side of
their educational systems are the ones which will be able to make a difference in the future.
And making a difference is what competition is all about.