NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Education Reform in Asia and Latin America

May 5, 2003

The message of the Asian experience is clear: Good universal basic education makes most people more productive and satisfied with their own lives, more adaptable to changing circumstances, and better qualified to contribute to their own and national development, according to William Ratliff.

Reforming Asian countries have already taken long strides toward participating effectively in the modern world, he says, while most Latin American countries are hopping in that direction when they are not stumbling and falling back. Latin America's growth has been intermittent at best, in large part because most of that region's leaders have not promoted serious and systematic reforms that would allow the people to break out of the prison of traditional ways.

Latin America's implementation of substantive reforms, or failure to do so, is of direct interest to the United States:

  • The failure of these countries to provide universal basic education will make it difficult for them to develop stable and productive economies.
  • Without strong internal markets and economies, the countries themselves will not prosper and the already enormous and potentially greater U.S. trade and investment in the hemisphere will be threatened.
  • Also, the failure to develop substantially will mean a continuation of the cycles of frustration among Latin Americans and make inevitable excessive migration to the United States.

What is more, failing economies promote Latin Americans, from peasants to businesspeople to politicians, to become involved in the production and peddling of narcotics and the violence that follows.

Finally, Americans wish to see their southern neighbors able to participate actively in the unfolding of their own futures, in large part through higher standards of health and education. Thus the United States should promote education reform among Latin Americans, bilaterally and multilaterally, and support serious efforts when they are made.

Source: William Ratliff, "Doing It Wrong and Doing It Right: Education in Latin America and Asia," Essays In Public Policy, March 2003, Hoover Institution.


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