“aprendizajes y compromisos hemisféricos por la

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Technical Secretariat of the Inter-American Committee on Education


The information contained in this document will be compared and updated with the contributions forthcoming from the delegations that participate in the V Meeting of Ministers of Education in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, and other official documents of the member States. The final version will be published in May 2009.

1. The overall situation of the Americas

The Americas is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-lingual area of enormous contrasts. Its rich diversity survives amid social and economic inequalities, especially among groups that are marginalized and unprotected.
The global statistics that international organizations have produced portray enormous causes for concerns and differences in equity between and among countries, and even within the same country. According to data published by UNESCO1 for 2006, the total population of the Americas, including Canada, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, is 876,091 million, whereas it was 813,061 as recently as 2001.
The same source also reports that the infant mortality rate among children under the age of one varies between 5 and 11 for every thousand in countries like Canada (5), the United States (7), Chile (8), Costa Rica (10) and Barbados (11), but up to 62 per thousand in Haiti and 56 per thousand in Bolivia. The infant mortality figures for children under the age of 5 also shows enormous disparities, with 6 to 12 per thousand in countries like the United States (6), Canada (8), Chile (10 and Costa Rica (12), but 72 and 68 per thousand in Haiti, Bolivia and Guyana. These figures are sensitive indicators of the state of health, and reflect vast differences among the countries. The contrasts would be even more pronounced if the figures for infant mortality in the interior of these countries were analyzed.
UNESCO’s statistics for the hemisphere show the percentages of children in preschool education in the 3-5 age group, where the range of difference among the countries is minimal, from 49% to 52% attending school. These figures point up the attention being given to that age group, even though the figures for the 0-3 age group are drastically smaller. From the information that is available for that age group, it is apparent that the figures are incomplete or underestimated because of the quality of the statistical data that the countries rely on.

The ECLAC publication titled Social Panorama of Latin America 20062 presents the most recent estimates on the magnitude of poverty as estimated by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). These figures indicate that in 2005, 39.8% of the region’s population lived in poverty (209 million people) and 15.4% of the population (81 million people) lived in extreme poverty or indigence. Forecasts on poverty this year indicate that the numbers of those living in poverty and indigence will drop back down to 205 million and 79 million, respectively.

When comparing these figures with those for 2002, the ECLAC document finds that enormous strides have been made toward reducing poverty, although even greater headway has been made in efforts to reduce indigence. The percentage of those living in poverty declined by 4.2 percentage points, using as a reference the 44.0% figure observed that year. Yet the decline in the percentage of indigent experienced a drop similar to the decline in poverty, i.e., 4.0 percentage points. However, it is clear that the latter of these two changes is more significant when one considers that the percentage observed in 2002 was 19.4%.
On the subject of infant and child morality in the region, ECLAC reports that early-age mortality has declined steadily and substantially in the region over the past 40 years. The infant mortality rate has fallen from 102 per 1,000 live births in the early 1960s to 26 per 1,000 at the present time. Disparities between countries, geographic areas and social groups persist, however, and have even been increasing in the past 15 years. Indigenous people are one of the social groups that still suffer the sharpest inequalities and inequities exist even within urban areas
In terms of the average across Latin America, infant mortality among indigenous

children is 60% higher than among non-indigenous groups: 48 per 1,000 live births compared

with 30 per 1,000 live births. The gap is even larger with respect to the probability of dying

before the age of five, with an excess mortality of 70% for this period. The differences in

indigenous child mortality from one country to another are also substantial: the probability

of dying in infancy and childhood is highest in Paraguay (where the indigenous infant

mortality rate is 72.1 per 1,000 live births) and Bolivia (63.3 per 1,000) and lowest in Chile and

Costa Rica (11.5 per 1,000 for both countries). Early-age mortality varies by indigenous group and national context. Thus, for example, the probability of a Quechua child in Bolivia dying before age 1 is more than five times as high as that of a Quechua child in Chile.

The ECLAC report goes on to say that most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have made substantial investments in early childhood care and education. However, the increase in the number of countries that have enacted legislation making school attendance compulsory for pre-schoolers should be applauded with some degree of caution, since legislating such matters has not always led to an increase in pre-school enrollment.
ECLAC3 also points out that “in the last four years (2003–2006), Latin America has turned in its best economic and social performance of the past 25 years. Progress with poverty reduction, falling unemployment, improving income distribution in several countries and a strong upswing in the number of jobs are the main factors underlying the positive trend in various countries of the region.”

  1. Contributions from studies and research as a frame of reference.

The latest research in the field of neuroscience shows that human development begins at conception. The development of language, the bases of learning and development of the intellect, stimulation for future skills and behaviors that will be used in the process of educating oneself begin in the fetus. The EFA Global Monitoring Report -2007- states that: Learning begins before a child walks through the classroom door. From the earliest age, children’s development and learning are fostered through their interactions with caring human beings in secure, nurturing and stimulating environments.”4

Studies have confirmed the importance of the family’s participation and the influence that the socio-cultural environment has on human development, as well as the relationship between what happens in the first years of life and lifetime social behavior.
Many research studies are finding that comprehensive childhood care programs help the children, the families and the communities. They have the effect of lowering the school dropout rate, fostering greater productivity and promoting more sophisticated degrees of social and emotional skills. They are, therefore, a very effective, low-cost means of strengthening society, while also ensuring that each individual achieves his or her maximum potential.
There is pioneering research, such as that done by the Carnegie Corporation5 of New York, 1994. The findings reported in the Washington Post drew praise from lawmakers and academics alike. They proposed paternity leave for fathers during an infant’s first six months of life and an increase in the budget to expand coverage for poor children from the earliest years (0-4). They discovered that a lack of stimulation can have permanent and irreversible effects on the brain’s development since the brain’s normal organization can be altered. Children born into poverty may suffer irreversible cognitive deficits, according to the Carnegie study. The extreme stress caused by poverty has a negative effect on the brain cells involved in learning and retention of memory.
The development of the brain in the first year of an infant’s life is faster and more extensive; cerebral development is more sensitive to environmental factors; the influence of the external environment at an early age makes an indelible impression. The environment not only affects the number of brain cells, and the number of connections between them, but also the way in which those connections are manifested. There is scientific evidence of the negative impact that stress has on the functioning of the brain.
Another landmark was a special report done by J. Madeleine Nash6, a journalist who interviewed researchers who told her that an infant’s brain cells proliferate rapidly from the very moment of birth. Indeed, newborns begin wiring their brains for a lifetime, and that wiring could shape the course of one’s life. The first three years are critical. The brain begins to work long before it is fully formed. Neuroscientists are discovering that the same processes that wire the brain before birth also drive the explosion of learning that occurs immediately afterward.
The new discoveries about the brain’s development have profound implications for parents and policymakers. The data underscore how important personal contact is to a child’s growth and development, cradling the infant, talking to it and providing it with quality stimulating experiences. Drafts of early childhood development programs are urgently needed to increase the brain power of children born into households in marginal areas. Without such programs, the current plan to lower the costs of social assistance by pressuring mothers of small children to go to work, could be counterproductive.

The gaps between disadvantaged children and others living more comfortable lifestyles can be narrowed by improving the environment in which the child develops. To achieve more just societies, investments must be made in the first years of life, as one way to wipe out social inequalities, while giving children an opportunity, from an early age, to tap into increasingly more complex levels to feel, thank and relate to others and to his or her environment.

Heckman,7 from the University of Chicago and the 2000 Nobel Laureate in Economics, has concluded that the return on every dollar invested in early education is much greater (eight to one) than the return on a dollar invested in secondary and higher education school programs (3 to 1). The earlier a child begins to be educated, the greater the return on the investment. According to Heckman, the greatest investment that countries can make to truly transform society is the investment in early childhood. An investment in early childhood can reverse poverty and reduce inequality, while empowering the individual’s potential for a productive and successful life. In a presentation before the U.S. Congress,8 Heckman stated that “the goods –I think- and there is good news in this body of evidence, is that there is a strong case that early environments can be enriched and that we can offset –at least in part- the powerful consequences of the accident of birth.”

UNESCO calls it Investing in Early Childhood Pays Off9, and writes that “ECCE programmes can thus result in improved health, nutrition and education outcomes, and these persist to some extent in the long term. From an economic perspective, therefore, it is natural to consider these programmes as investments in human capital, and to try to compare their benefits with their costs.”

The four-decade-long longitudinal study done by L. Schweinhart and other collaborators on the Perry Preschool Study10 in Michigan followed 123 children at high risk of school dropout, repetition, and absenteeism, and from very humble socio-economic backgrounds. They analyzed the results produced by proper educational attention during the first six years of life and the future school performance of the child –in high-caliber programs- and pursuing a curriculum of active learning at the preschool level. This meant that the child was very actively involved; the learning program was tailored to the child’s interests and skills. The teachers became facilitators. The study came up with short- and long-term results for children living in poverty and at a high risk of school failure. The experiment divided the children into two groups: the characteristics of the control group were the same as those of the experimental group, the only difference being that the control group did not receive a preschool education.

The study found that children who participated in the early education program saw a significant decrease in the negative effects of their childhood poverty, performed better in the school years and as adults had higher incomes, better paying jobs, had more years of schooling, had fewer arrests for petty crimes and drugs, higher scores on intelligence tests and were better achievers in school. As they got older, the rate of return on the investment increased significantly, up to a ratio of 17.5 to 1. The research also found that investing in early childhood is not enough; the investment processes need sustained and consistent backing through the education levels that follow.

Fraser Mustard,11 a Canadian researcher, states that the brain is a master organ and that early years of experience and brain and biological development can set trajectories in health, behavior, and learning that last throughout the life cycle.

Learning begins even before birth, the point at which families should become involved in human development programs. Mustard’s studies show that stimulation begins when the fetus has been in the womb for three months. The highest point on the curve for the senses comes three months after birth; for language it comes at six months and for the cognitive function at the first two years.

According to Dr. Mustard, 12 full development in the first years of life is decisive in a human being’s later development. It is in these early years that the child’s bio-physiological structures are being formed and maturing, laying the foundation of the personality that takes shape and solidifies in later stages of life. The greater the number of synapses and pre- and post-synaptic neurons, the greater the neurological development. Nevertheless, the number of pre- and post synaptic neurons is not genetically determined; instead, it depends in large part on external stimuli.


There are critical periods in the life of a child during which brain development can be affected, either directly or indirectly, by inadequate nutrition. The child’s brain has already grown to 90% of its maximum size by the time the child is three years old. A protein-calorie deficiency during early childhood irreversibly alters the functioning of the central nervous system, and ultimately weakens the individual’s various vital functions. As a consequence, the individual is more vulnerable to environmental factors, is smaller in both height and weight, more prone to illness, has attention and concentration difficulties, and intellectual poverty, and other problems.

If it is to be effective, child care must be quality attention. The neurosciences have contributed overwhelming empirical evidence of the makings of a quality program. A proper diet, a family environment rich in positive interactions, establishment of strong affective ties, an enriched language, and articulation and consistency among the various sectors and institutions responsible for caring for the child: these are the ingredients of an effective program.

The experience of the Centros de Desarrollo Infantil (CENDI) [Early Childhood Development Centers] in Monterrey, Mexico, shows that a quality education for early childhood involves ongoing specialized training and refresher courses for teachers and other professionals. The Centers point out that democratization of the knowledge shared by civil society in general and by the families in particular is vital to the child’s development and to finding ways to further that development.

Other research studies highlight the importance of the affective and emotional dimension. Daniel Goleman13 of Harvard University contends that the influence of emotional intelligence is critical to a child’s future. He believes that the premises of education have to be completely rethought.

Goleman defines 14 emotional intelligence as the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others for motivating ourselves. There are two types of intelligence: intellectual and emotional. They express the activity in two different parts of the brain. Emotional intelligence is vital to our children’s future, a kind of ticket to high academic achievement. Emotional intelligence can be learned individually and then cultivated by adding emotional skills that will enable one to live in society. Emotional intelligence enables one to be aware of one’s own feelings and understand the feelings of others, to tolerate pressure and frustration in the workplace,15 to cultivate a capacity for teamwork and to adopt an emotional and social attitude that opens up opportunities for personal growth and development..

By their understanding of and responsiveness to their children, parents –mothers in particular- shape their children’s expectations about how, when and whether to share feelings. The research has pointed up how essential the ability to observe, interpret and respond to interpersonal emotional signals will be in social life. Family life is the first school of emotional learning that children attend. Hundreds of studies have found that the way the parents treat their children -with strict discipline, empathetic understanding, indifference or affection- has profound consequences and leaves lasting scars on their children’s emotional lives.
In the same line of studies on the affective and social dimension of behavior, Howard Gardner16 writes about existence of multiple intelligences, two of which are the interpersonal and intrapersonal. Working from his initial classification of the intelligences, he has introduced other typologies of intelligence. Gardner is convinced that no two people –not even identical twins- have the same intelligences; everyone has his or her different intelligence profile. He agrees that each person can have multiple intelligences; the trick is to find which of them is dominant. Gardner writes that children have a very set sensorial system and therefore need to be exposed to a variety of quality experiences. He emphasizes the importance of environment and also observes that children need to know how to live in community, to grow and to respect others, to understand social values, ethics, morality, all of which are learned within the family.

The Lancet is a medical journal founded in 1823 to publish articles on current issues in medical science. After 180 years, the Lancet has evolved into an independent and authoritative voice in the world of medicine. It features articles written by the world’s leading professionals and researchers.

In 2007, following a world meeting of specialists, the figures were analyzed and the Lancet reported that at least 200 million children under the age of 5 fail to reach their development potential because they live in poverty. A series of three studies were published. The text of the studies and their recommendations are summarized below:

“We estimate that this loss of human potential is associated with more than a 20% deficit in adult income and will have implications for national development. … The problem of poor child development will remain unless a substantial effort is made to mount appropriate integrated programmes.

There is increasing evidence that early interventions can help prevent the loss of potential in affected children and improvements can happen rapidly.

In view of the high cost of poor child development, both economically and in terms of equity and individual well-being, and the availability of effective interventions, we can no longer justify inactivity. Existing quality early interventions are believed to reduce the consequences of inadequate childhood development.

Integrated childhood care programs that manage that sustain their intensity and quality, in partnership with health and nutrition services, are the most effect in meeting the needs of disadvantaged small children and families. Providing quality services directly to children and incorporating active parenting methods, as well as a skills development component is a more effective strategy than one that simply delivers information.

For both individuals and nations, education is essential to overcoming poverty. Further progress must be in the area of early interventions and policy to prevent the loss of human potential. Interventions for the sake of child development are investments that pay off and ensure that children are adequately prepared to take advantage of educational and economic opportunities and thus reduce the disparities and accomplish the Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty and hunger, thereby ensuring that children will complete elementary school. The countries can make a commitment for the future to invest in early development programs for all disadvantaged small children, by creating quality integrated programs and development sustainable political and financial mechanisms.

Consulta de San José 2007. Copenhagen Consensus for Latin America and the Caribbean. Solution Paper. One paper states that there are studies, in Bolivia and Guatemala, for example,17 that show that children who were better fed in their first years of life remain in the educational system longer and increased grade attainment (by 1.2 years).

Similarly, between 1998 and 2003, the Family Allowance Program [Programa de Asignación Familiar - PRAF] in Honduras, the Programa Progresa-Opportunidades in Mexico, and the Social Protection Network [Red de Protección Social] in Nicaragua made payments to poor families on condition that their children attend elementary school and the first years of secondary school. The result was that 85% of the children in the three programs attended classes and increased their years of schooling.

  1. The process being followed pursuant to the global and regional policy commitments on the subject of children.

Both globally and in the region, an awareness has gradually emerged concerning the critical importance of the first eight years in a child’s life and of the factors that shape or nurture a child’s growth and development. This awareness has grown by stages and hit milestones when the political agenda began to feature decisions on childhood development, care and education.

This section will review the major political commitments that the member States confirmed and that steered the design and execution of government policies in early childhood development, care and education. The discussion focuses on the trends and basic characteristics of four blocks of time: up to 1979; between 1979 and 1986; between 1987 and 1999, and from 2000 to 2007.
With UNICEF at the helm, the 1970s was an important milestone in this process. For the first time, the situation was diagnosed and evaluated. Also examined during this period were the factors contributing to high rates of grade repetition and elevated school dropout rates, which in turn caused social problems. The latter, combined with the influence of the environment, were shaping the child’s psycho-social development. This study found that the children from marginal areas were not getting adequate child care. Thanks to these measures, UNICEF was able to draw attention to the lack of policies by which to steer the decisions aimed at properly addressing the urgent demands posed by child growth and development. The 1970s was a decade of studies and research.
1979 was “International Year of the Child,” setting the stage to alert governments to the flaws in policies intended to benefit children. Studies moved forward and childcare alternatives were introduced that accented the active involvement of family and community.
In 1984, UNICEF published figures on 8 Latin American countries that revealed how the welfare of children in the areas of education and nutrition had deteriorated. UNICEF sounded the alarm calling for the introduction of immediate changes in social policy to avoid loss of life and/or a deterioration in the mental and physical health of children.
The alarm sounded by UNICEF was echoed and supported by other international and national organizations interested in children’s welfare and set off a drive to formulate and implement policies and decisions intended to honor the commitment made to ensure the permanence, efficacy and relevance of measures in support of children. It also served to bolster and lend added impetus to the efforts that some Latin American and Caribbean countries were making in this field.
As a result of this process, changes were made to the formal administrative structure in the countries between 1979 and 1986. Government divisions or departments of early childhood education were created, coverage expanded and more nonformal alternatives were devised. New non-school approaches and methods were developed to compensate for services that the states did not offer.
Distance education and other non-scholastic alternatives began to create jobs specifically catering to these alternatives, in the fields of curriculum, evaluation and follow-up of the experiences, work with parents, work that combined social sectors. In some countries, the educational systems underwent drastic reforms that influenced changes in the system of early childhood education and non-scholastic forms of education.
Governments and international organizations offered basic financing to conduct pilot experiments, training and community participation.
Between 1989 and 1995, a global political movement like none other in the history of education was triggered with adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, followed by events of other types as described below:

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