Education and Technology in Latin America

The technology sector is booming in Latin America, but the technology education system has flaws to patch to secure the region's technology growth .

A recent World Bank study revealed that young workers with 2-year degrees in Latin America perform almost just as well on the workplace as most of their peers who hold a BA or Masters degree.

According to Diego Angel Urdinola, senior economist in the Human Development Department of MENA for the World Bank, tech education institutions in Latin America need to create shorter degree programs to efficiently serve specific subsectors of the tech economy. The tech education system in the region needs to be reinvented with shorter programs focused on specific skill sets, and longer programs for in-depth knowledge, research and innovation.

Traditional education flying out the window

The same World Bank report shows that, while access to higher education grew from 21 to 40% from 2000 to 2010, the worker’s productivity remained stagnant. That means Latam countries are not getting a return on their investment, wasting education money in programs that clearly lack alignment with the business world.

According to a 2015 OECD report, “professionals [in Latin America] are underpaid and over-schooled because (1) they don’t access the right type of higher education institution, (2) most institutions have low levels of quality, and (3) they don’t choose the careers that labor industries need.

The Applicant survey of 2016/2017 revealed that Latin Americans genuinely value higher education in general, as they directly link it to quality knowledge and know-how. But a downfall of the free market reforms in Latam was the explosion of for-profit institutions autonomously defining their own quality standards.

Tech-minded new education systems

Technology education now starts much sooner in Latin American countries:

In Argentina, the government-backed aims at helping teachers throughout the country to integrate programming lessons into their program. In Colombia, technology education is promoted through the program Plan Vive Digital that provides a scholarship covering 80% of the tuition of any student following a technology cursus. Education institutions need to take into account that the new generation will be more technology-savvy, making tech 101 less mandatory for example.

Since 2005, El Salvador follows the Megatec program, which aims to constantly realign technical secondary education and higher technological education programs. Chile did the same to a lesser extent with its Redes de Articulación de la Educación Técnica Profesional.

The digitization of education is also a factor that should accelerate access to education programs and training. Cisco signed a partnership with the Latin American Development Bank CAF and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) in 2016. This partnership aims to connect all Latam classrooms to the internet.

Uruguay was already pursuing this goal with its Plan Ceibal that provides a laptop to every primary student, and video conferencing systems for teachers all over the world to teach Uruguayan students.

Startups/SMBs and IT education

The 2017 Global Talent Competitiveness Index showed how low Latin American countries fare in the “war for talents”. The highest-ranked country of the region was Chile (#34), and Venezuela reached rock bottom (#105 out of 118 countries).

According to David Herranz Acebuche, CEO of Adecco Group Latin America, apprenticeship is key to create an ecosystem where students, schools and businesses interact effectively. Global companies created alliances (such as the GAN) to create partnerships with major higher education institutions around apprenticeship programs, thus creating internship and employment opportunities.

However, smaller businesses struggle to build a bridge with technology schools, even though innovation usually erupts from small, startup-like structures. According to a report by the Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean of the UNESCO, micro and small enterprises (MSES) generate 47% of all jobs in Latam countries.

Rosalba Reynoso, CEO of the IT company Blue Trail Software, admits having a hard time building ties with schools in Mexico : “as a smaller player on the Mexican market, we have found it tough to develop long-lasting ties with major IT schools. […] They have little interest in broadening their network to small and midsize operators like us.

Catch me if you can!

According to a 2016 report from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), LATAM companies are often afraid that interns will look for more competitive wages once they got fully-trained. This sometimes lead managers to undervalue the achievement of apprentices to retain them, which in turn creates a feeling of failure or lack of training quality for the apprentices.

It is also hard for students to find an internship opportunity away from the usual suspects (global IT players). A DIY attitude is required to find opportunities in the startup and SMB ecosystem. A few communities exist (Desafio Latam, Digital House) to start digging, but the informal nature of most Latam economies is reflected in its technology sector.

So how about the students? What do you think their role is, if any, in the making of a better functioning tech education in Latin America?