Despite significant progress and the implementation of widespread reforms in Latin America to improve the access, quality and management of its educational systems, countries in the region are ranked among the lowest performing in the 2009 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results. When regions of the world are compared in terms of long run economic growth, Latin America ranks at the bottom along with Sub-Saharan Africa. Stanford University Senior Fellow Eric Hanushek argues that slow economic growth is directly related to the poor quality of education plaguing school systems and suggests that the long-term growth prospects would improve significantly if this were to change.
New technologies can play a critical role in dramatically improving education quality in Latin America and in turn help catalyze economic growth. Knowledge democratization is the single most important movement sweeping across the globe. The capacity of the edtech market to make a real impact on society in Latin America is irrefutable and a series of startups are capitalizing on the potential of technology applied to learning.
The rise of social media in Latin America has been applied to a wide range of industries and sectors, including improving access to and interest in, quality education. Platforms like YouTube and Vimeo allow students to access content and teachers to upload it, and social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter help universities to engage with staff, students and applicants. Chilean entrepreneur Carlos Ortiz, founder of web-based reading comprehension platform KalaKai says that "The biggest opportunity [technology] gives us is to recognize the diversity of learning styles, and put the student back at the center of teaching and learning. In this sense, technology is a catalyst for the democratization of education."
Under the umbrella of knowledge democratization, three important learning trends should be highlighted: online/blended, mobile and personalized learning.
The continued growth of online courses indicates a serious transformation in the education universe. Enova, the company I co-founded, offers access to blended learning courses to improve the academic and vocational skills of Mexicans at the bottom of the pyramid by providing access to computer-based courses in our 95 learning centers and more than 400,000 users. Quality and incentive based content combined with the support of well-trained facilitators generates opportunities to grow their knowledge which in turn can be applied in schools, jobs and across their communities.
Other Latin American online learning solutions ranging from language education services like Open English to tech-focused libraries such as Oja.la are also revolutionizing the industry. Jessie Woolley-Wilson CEO, DreamBox Learning rightly points out that this type of system "is democratizing learning: it doesn't matter what zip code you're from or what language you speak." Teachers across Latin America who all receive the same training, regardless of aptitude, will also benefit greatly. Collaborative virtual platforms will be able to support their ongoing professional development, provide content for courses and also help build an interactive networking community.
The rise of online learning introduces the importance of content personalization, which allows each student to progress at his or her level. Personalized learning includes a wide range of applications that can be designed around each user's goals and particularly interesting are its adaptive learning uses. Companies like Knewton, a prominent adaptive learning company, provides a differentiated approach using complex algorithms to create student-inferred data in order to make relevant recommendations for its users. Learning analytics is likely to be the education sector's approach to big data and can be used to inform key decisions much in the way analysts use consumer data to target potential customers.
Mobile learning is the third and final most important trend that will impact learning in Latin America. In Mexico marketers are coining this "the year of the smartphone," with the number of users in 2013 alone estimated to grow by 48.5 percent and strong double-digit growth rates through 2017. Mobile is, by far the most talked-about technological trend today and the base of many innovations already being developed, particularly in the field of language learning with companies like Duolingo taking off.
In order to move forward in connecting Latin America's education system to the technological revolution it is vital that the broader community become involved in reform. Government entities can no longer be expected to be the source of a comprehensive solution, instead disruptive innovation will also have to come from entrepreneurs, business and philanthropic interests, and parents. According to a recent Brookings report "Investment in Global Education: A Strategic Imperative for Business" argues, "While governments and international aid donors must be pushed to do more, new actors are clearly needed to advance the status of education." The Clinton Global Initiative is already taking the lead by engaging the right stakeholders from a wide range of sectors to raise awareness of the problems and help generate fresh solutions.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Clinton Global Initiative, in conjunction with the latter's 2013 meeting of CGI Latin America (Dec. 8-10 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). At the CGI Latin America meeting, international leaders from business, government and NGOs join President Bill Clinton to explore how to carry the region's social and economic progress into the future. CGI members worldwide have already made more than 250 Commitments to Action specifically designed to improve lives in Brazil and across Latin America. To read all the posts in this series, click here, and visit CGI's blog here.