Opening by Roberto Domecq, presenter
During the last 30 years we have witnessed a significant change in the conception of education: Until the 1970s, investments in education were thought as necessary economic losses. Studies carried out in developed countries during those years started to change that misconception, and, from that moment, education started to be perceived as a form of investment, a way to produce benefits in the future: Investing in education proved to produce benefits several times greater than the initial investment in terms of people’s productivity and development. Starting from this basis, it is not surprising that in developed countries there is a strong correlation between income and education.
The change in the conception of education, and of the value of people, brought about a great rise in investments related to health, education, etc. Studies carried out during the 80’s showed that, in developed countries, spendings on these fields were bigger than the total capital investments. This evidence shows that developed societies started paying attention to the idea of social capital. This concept represents the value of existing links between people, institutions, mutual trust, capacity of association between people, etc.
Social capital has a very strong correlation with economic performance of the countries. It is not only necessary to have skillful, trained people, but also to create the conditions for their association, a field that is also essential.
Guillermo Jaim Etcheverry
In Argentina, there is a worrying paradox that characterizes our age: We claim to live in the “society of science and knowledge”, but knowledge is decreasing in average.
Some figures about Latin America:
- An average of 40 percent of adults have not accomplished primary education
- Approximately 30 percent of young people have abandoned school
- More than 50 percent of the people between 25 and 64 years old have not finished secondary school
- Even between the educated sectors, there are strong inequalities between socioeconomic classes: Educated people belonging to sector with higher incomes (the top 20 percent) have completed an average of 11 years of education, while people belonging to the sector with lower incomes (20 percent) have accomplished 3 years in average. This is an evidence of the existing great social inequalities in Latin America, and Argentina follows this tendency.
- Almost a million of people under 25 in Argentina do not study or work.
- Social inequality also influences the possibility of completing formal education: While 95% of the higher income people finish secondary school, only 8% of the poorer sectors are able to do so.
- Less than 1 percent of young people in Argentina have strong knowledge of science, mathematics and reading skills. Most parents do not perceive this.
These figures bring about consequences: The scientific production of Latin America is less than 3 percent of the total. Science is perceived as something that has a cultural value, not a strategic value.
To sum up, education is the key to development and social equality. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento expressed this during the 1870’s, saying “Your palaces are far too sumptuous, and they are surrounded by too humble houses. The abyss between them is usually filled by revolutions with blood. But it can also be filled by education”. He also said “If you do not want to educate children out of mere charity, do it for fear, because the remaining time is short”.
Social entrepreneurs are people who see opportunity where others see only issues. We at Ashoka seek to promote a systemic social change. We are looking for real social entrepreneurs, people “who do not want to give people fish nor teach them fishing, but who want to begin a revolution in the fishing industry”. We are looking for people who are willing to change societies completely.
One of the main issues in Argentina nowadays is that there is not a clear vision of the kind of country we want to be, but separated, fragmented conceptions that do not connect with each other. This is due to the existing lack of dialogue and trust between sectors (government, private companies, and social institutions). The government tends to perceive all other parts as mere executors of a plan, and not as strategic allies in the conception and development of that plan.
Some examples of Ashoka’s fellows are:
- Gustavo Genusso, a nuclear engineer from Bariloche that developed an integral plan to promote development of the region through education, microenterprises, and a health plan
- Dario Funes, a teacher from Camarones, Chubut, who developed a plan to promote the development of the city, including industries, schools, etc.
- Elena Duron, from Bariloche, who carried out an extensive task to prevent child labor and reinsert them in the educational system.
The common aspect between them is that they are people who have looked for systemic solutions, attacking the social problems from different sides: Education, health, creation of microenterprises, etc.
On the other hand, the existence of social entrepreneurs is not enough per se. Social entrepreneurs have to be helped by changemakers: People who help to develop the change, who think strategically and promote the implementation of the new ideas. We, as a society, need changemakers who help us to modify the existing reality. It is essential to invest in this change, to develop a new society based on dialogue, to establish bridges between sectors of the society.
Closure by Roberto Domecq
In our country there are, as it has been shown, urgent problems to be solved. One that is essential is the unclear relationship between the public sector and the private sector, something that is absolutely clear in developed countries. However, no problem can be solved if we do not bear in mind that they have to be followed, accompanied, by our efforts. Most problems are processes, and proposed solutions need to be processes themselves. Thank you very much
Alejandro Garcia Ramirez, Colombia
In Latin American countries, there is a tendency to offer very few opportunities of professional education, and many more for technical education. What is your opinion about that?
GJE: Equilibrium has to be maintained. There is a serious lack of technicians, but we also need scientists, creators. As resources are scarce, they have to be distributed in such a way that equilibrium exists. However, I do think that more resources have to be destined to educational systems in general. Nowadays, most Latin American countries invest less than 6 percent of their GDP in education.
Analia Gomez Vidal, Argentina
What influence do you think other factors, such as health, have in the results obtained from investments in education?
GL: It is not easy to have poorer children in the educational system. It is necessary to train teachers, help parents, etc, as social inclusion is not a straightforward task. There are also many existing prejudices have to be destroyed. Social entrepreneurs need to link with others in order to accomplish this.
GJE: Schools are some of the few public institutions in Argentina that have actually been a link between the State and people during times of crisis. However, their social role has ended up minimizing their natural obligation, that is, to educate people. Schools should not only feed children, they should also teach them.
Another key aspect of the schools’ role in the past was to be a place where social integration took part. Children from all socioeconomic levels studied together, getting in touch with each other’s reality. That has also been lost in Argentina, social integration only occurs, in some cases, at University. This is an issue to worry about, and something that should be analyzed and solved.