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NESTOR MENDEZ, ASSISTANT SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
OPENING REMARKS BY OAS SECRETARY GENERAL LUIS ALMAGRO AT THE NINTH INTER-AMERICAN MEETING OF MINISTERS OF EDUCATION

February 9, 2017 - Nassau, The Bahamas


Latin America and the Caribbean is still the world’s most unequal region and has unacceptably high poverty rates. Having access to quality and inclusive education is essential for expanding economic opportunities for the people of the region, improving social mobility, and ensuring that --“More rights for more people”-- our call of action, becomes a reality.

Dear Friends,

  • It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the Ninth Inter-American Meeting of Ministers of Education in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
  • Let me begin by thanking our hosts, Prime Minister Christie and Minister Fitzgerald, for welcoming us here in Nassau and for their leadership and efforts in the organization of this hemispheric meeting.
  • Since taking office in May 2015, broadening opportunities for all citizens has been a central piece of our strategy, as we repositioned the OAS to become a beacon for the defense of human rights and democracy in the hemisphere.
  • Despite significant progress over the last 15 years, Latin America and the Caribbean still have high poverty rates upwards of 29% (175 million people)(1) and the region remains the world’s most unequal (18% more than Sub-Saharan Africa and 36% more than East Asia-UNDP). Poverty and inequality impede social mobility, lower the quality of life and limit opportunities for too many people, particularly the youth.
  • At this juncture, the region faces a period of economic uncertainty and slow growth –after a contraction of the GDP of 1% in 2016, a modest rebound of 1.3% is expected for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2017.(2)
  • We stand today at a critical point. The gains achieved in the last decade –70 million people lifted out of poverty and a growing middle class— are at risk. Estimates for 2015 show an increase in the poverty and indigence rates; 7 million people became poor and more than 5 million people indigent. This represents the largest increase since the late 1980s.(3)
  • Poverty is not solely the result of earning X dollars per day, no, it is mainly the result of lack of opportunity to progress in society. When children are given access to basic services, such as clean and safe water and sanitation, electricity, housing and basic education, they will certainly be better prepared for their future.
  • But for this to happen, governments, civil society and private sector need to work together to ensure that these basic services are available to all and that nobody is left behind.
  • Today, one in five young people in the region, approximately 30 million people, is a “Nini” –as we say in Spanish– (ni estudia ni trabaja). These young people –76% of whom are women who are engaged in unpaid domestic work– are not in school and don’t have a job. Half do not finish high school. The average labor informality rate among those young people who dropped out of high school is 92%. Most of them come from poor or vulnerable households and their “Nini” status contributes to entrenching intergenerational inequality, while at the same time increasing risky behaviors associated with crime and violence(4)
  • Even though social mobility in the region has improved, it remains very limited, and parents’ education and income levels still substantially influence their children outcomes. We want to make social mobility a reality for all, and education is the best tool we have to achieve it.

Investing in education is therefore essential. This is the most efficient way to provide youth with equality of opportunity. Dear Friends and Colleagues

  • This Ministerial Meeting is an opportunity for OAS member states to take collective action to address the key education challenges we face as a region.
  • In the last decade we have seen great progress in access to primary education, almost reaching universalization, as well as significant improvement in secondary and tertiary education. However, the level of enrollment, years of schooling and dropout rate vary greatly between the poor and the rich, and between the most and the least vulnerable. Expanding access to education at all levels has not come hand in hand with providing quality education.
  • A recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank(5) estimates that the poorer students in our region are two years behind the richest in terms of performance. Not only are the poorer students more likely to go to schools with limited human and financial resources and ill-prepared teachers, they are also malnourished and at a huge disadvantage in their ability to learn. Today where you live determines the type and quality of the education you will receive.
  • Quality education for all, and I insist for ALL, is fundamental. More than half of young Latin Americans enrolled in school do not acquire basic-level proficiency in reading, mathematics and science(6)
  • and less than 1% of Latin American and Caribbean students perform among the highest levels of proficiency in mathematics, reading or science. This presents a major challenge for our countries as we transition into knowledge-based economies, where citizens need to innovate, adapt and leverage advanced human capital.(7)
  • This is why our education systems must prepare our young people for the the challenges of the future, developing their skills in critical thinking, problem solving, use of information technology, adaptability and lifelong learning.
  • In today’s society, diversity and inclusiveness are all essential values for a successful education system, as well as for businesses and the economy. Having ALL the voices, ideas and perspectives represented is a true strength, not a weakness. We must ensure that indigenous communities, people with disabilities, people of African descent, women, the young and the LGBTIQ community have equal access to quality education.
  • Over the past two years and in response to a mandate of the Eighth Inter-American Meeting of Ministers of Education held in Panama in February 2015, ministries of education of the region have worked jointly to elaborate the Inter-American Education Agenda (IEA), a roadmap whose main goal is to strengthen inter-American cooperation and build alliances to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
  • The Inter-American Education Agenda, to be approved here in Nassau, is a document with the full ownership of the education ministries. It defines three main priorities to advance education in the Hemisphere: 1) Quality, inclusive and equitable education; 2) Strengthening of the teacher profession; and 3) Comprehensive early childhood care.
  • The IEA is also a tool to support OAS member states in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • All of us here, Ministers and delegates from Ministries of Education, representatives of international organizations, civil society organizations and the private sector, are innovating and developing new programs, policies, and approaches to achieve quality and inclusive education in the Americas.
  • The Agenda provides the opportunity to share these experiences, to learn from their successes and failures and to work together in the three priorities Ministers have identified.
  • But achieving progress on the implementation of this Agenda cannot happen without collaboration.
  • As I have indicated in various opportunities, supporting education in the Hemisphere is one of the key priorities of my administration. We are highly committed to promoting political dialogue and cooperation. These are the most important mechanisms we have to share knowledge, tools, experience and solutions to the most pressing challenges regarding the right to an equitable, quality and inclusive education for all. At the same time, however, and being ritical on how the regional agenda on education has moved, we need to recognize that there is a lot more to do to integrate the work of the various organizations and agencies in the field of education.
  • Subsequently, and as an element of support, we signed Letter of Intention, along with CAF, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) during the VII Summit of the Americas. The objectives of this Letter, as expressed by those of us who signed it, are aligned with the Agenda. This entails the promotion of a shared agenda to promote “the research and identification of effective public policies and support to countries of the region in the adoption of these policies.” This is a Strategic Initiative that as said is aligned with the Inter American Education Agenda, and above all, aims to provide children and youth of the Americas with quality, equitable and inclusive education.
  • We are facing a scenario of great educational needs and limited resources. This calls for avoiding any duplication and instead focus on each institution’s comparative advantage, while focusing of efforts on the mission we share, ensuring the right to education, quality, inclusive and equitable education for ALL.
  • I would like to thank our partners at the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank, CAF, UNESCO and the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI), for joining forces with the OAS and its member states in supporting the implementation of the Agenda. I would specially like to recognize and thank Jorge Familiar, Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank, for joining us today. I also would like to thank Fundacion Telefonica and all representatives from civil society and the private sector that are joining us today.
  • We have an obligation to ensure that future generations are the architects of their own destiny. All peoples of the Americas, without regard to race, gender, place of birth or who they prefer to love, must have access to quality and inclusive education, in order to be empowered to aspire to quality jobs and more sustainable quality of life.

THANK YOU

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1 OECD, CAF and ECLAC (2016). Latin American Economic Outlook 2017: Youth, Skills and Entrepreneurship. Paris/Santiago: 2016.

2 U.N. ECLAC (2017). World Economic Situation and Prospects 2017. Santiago, Chile: U.N. ECLAC, 17 January.

3 OECD, CAF and ECLAC (2016).

4 Ibíd.

5 Inter-American Development Bank (2014). América Latina en PISA 2012: “Brief #6: ¿Cómo se desempeñan los estudiantes pobres y ricos?” Washington, D.C.: IDB.

6 OECD (2015). Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.

7 OECD, CAF and ECLAC (2016).