Experts and youths talk about the right to education in Latin America and the Caribbean

March 16, 2020

Por: Thais Iervolino

Adolescents and youths participation, political will, transparency, autonomy, early childhood and human rights education were some of the topics standing out during the virtual conversation held by CLADE

“The Education We Need for the World We Want: views from adolescents and youths in Latin America and the Caribbean” was the title of the virtual conversation held by the Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE), with the participation of youths and authorities from Latin America and the Caribbean, who stressed challenges and proposals to ensure the right to education in this region.

The event held last Tuesday (March 10) happenend as part of “The Education We Need for the World We Want” campaign, which, since October 2019, has been gathering and disseminating voices, opinions, suggestions and challenges from adolescents and youths from the region on their right to education, through videos, photographs, texts, poems and drawings, among other formats. 

In the occasion of the virtual conversation, a documentary film and a virtual report with suggestions and testimonies from adolescents and youths on their right to education were released. In addition, youths from the region shared and detailed their demands, challenges and contributions. 

Who participated: Luis Ernesto Pedernera, president of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and Francisco George de Lima Beserra, expert at the Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), side by side with youths Alexander Guevara (Nicaragua), Angélica Hidalit (Mexico), Felipe Urbas (Argentina), Gabriel Villarpando (Bolivia), Jazmin Elena (El Salvador) and Laura Victoria Kiknath (Colombia). Camilla Croso, CLADE’s general coordinator, hosted and facilitated the event. 

Below we present some of the thoughts and ideas that were highlighted in this virtual conversation.

Political will and teacher appreciation

How to extinguish the false correlation between life experience and capacity that makes the cooperation between youths and experts so difficult? This was the first question presented by Argentinian student Felipe Urbas to the authorities participating in this dialogue. 

Felipe understands this correlation is one of the main barriers for a collective work between decision-making bodies and youth communities, be them of students or of people with no formal education. 

“It is believed that the laws operate magically on reality. (…) Mediocre, good and not so good legislative reforms were made, but the laws remained there”.

In his intervention, the student also presented some challenges for education in Argentina, such as the existence of laws that ensure the right to education, but are not put in practice due to a lack of political will; and the fact that teachers are not appreciated.

In response to the first question from the Argentinian student, Francisco George de Lima Beserra affirmed that: “the right is not only the participation of children and adolescents and their voices being heard, but its content also includes the right to be informed. Effective participation only happens if the child or adolescent receives information that allows them to make this participation effective”. 

Analyzing Felipe’s comment on the lack of political will, Luis Ernesto Pedernera affirmed it is necessary to go beyond the law. “It is believed that the laws operate magically on reality. (…) Mediocre, good and not so good legislative reforms were made, but the laws remained there. I always remember a document written in the 1990s on the Andran population, saying that the laws could not be dead letter. This is one of the challenges that has to drive the authorities who are on the front line of policies in order to change reality. Only making speeches to say children have rights is not enough, if these are not directly put into operation in reality”.

Transparency, autonomy and participation

To the student from Nicaragua Alexander Guevara, one of the main challenges on education in his country is the lack of transparency in regards to the official data on the education sector. 

“One of the issues is not being able to count on statistics telling how education is, how enrollment is, how school retention is, the problem of the [school] access of the rural communities in our country…”, explicó. 

He also highlighted the invisibility of students’ protests and the gender issue in education as other challenges.

“Progressive autonomy is necessary, allowing everyone to participate in the decision-making process”

To Luis Ernesto Pedernera, the absence of data is indeed a serious issue. “There is no data to conceive the public policy. A serious State need data to plan, project and evaluate. Without it, it is impossible to think”, he underlined. 

In turn, young university student Gabriel Villarpando, from Bolivia, highlighted the lack of autonomy and participation of adolescents and youths. “How can we keep our autonomy and participation within education centers?”, he asked, relating this challenge to the present political moment of his country. “In Bolivia, we are passing through a period of great tension. There were [recently] two changes of ministers of Education”, he added.

Answering the student, Francisco George de Lima Beserra highlighted the importance of implementing the principle of progressive autonomy. “Progressive autonomy is necessary, allowing everyone to participate in the decision-making process. It is not so well established yet that adolescents can utilize it. It is a task to the States to develop processes towards this”.

Early childhood and human rights education

In her presentation, student Laura Victoria Kiknath, from Colombia, emphasized the topic of children and their rights. “How to break the limitations of the [youngest] children who are not strong enough to defend their rights? How to address, in the global context, the relation betweem parents quality of life and and their childrens’”, were some of her questions. 

“To say that children have a voice does not mean to do everything a child says, but to bring to the table a voice that was missing. This is something us adults must learn”, answered Luis Ernesto Pedernera. 

Laura Victoria also raised the point of human rights education. “Should the instruction on universal rights be cross-cutting to all areas of knowledge, or should it be part of a specific area of human rights education?”, she asked. 

To Francisco George de Lima Beserra, these two kinds of human rights education are important. “It should be coss-cutting, since all carriers should know human rights, but it also must be part of the curriculum, because sometimes a subject is so cross-cutting it does not become a real thematic”, he explained.

Integrating education to other social policies

According to student Angélica Hidalit, from México, education is a multi-dimension act of responsibility and conscience. In her question, she approached the challenge of integrating education to other social policies. 

“If education does not dialogue with health, if it does not dialogue with social security, if it does not dialogue with housing, not much can be done”

“It is not possible to leave the resposibility for education only to the schools, but certainly these organs have a strong leadership in recognizing and guarantteeing education. It is necessary that schools strenghten students critical capacity, so they can go out of school and see the world through liberating, critical eyes”, answered Francisco George de Lima Beserra.

According to Luis Ernesto Pedernera, education is not an island and girls, boys and adolescents must be understood in a comprehensive way. “Other pressing issue is migration and the rights of migrant boys and girls. We have some examples showing that children, just for arriving to the countries [they migrate to], are denied their basic rights. The [UN] Committe [on the rights of the Child] calls permanently the States to provide training on the rights of the child as a continuous and permanent process”, he explained. 

In regards to the relation between education field and other social policies fields, he underscored that “If education does not dialogue with health, if it does not dialogue with social security, if it does not dialogue with housing, not much can be done. This is why public policies coordination is necessary, because all these issues end up affecting education matters”, he added.

Gender and Education

The subjects of “gender and education” and “comprehensive sexuality education” were also highlighted on the virtual conversation.

“[School] dropping out, caused by a void in regards to sexuality education is a serious issue in our region. Sexuality education continues to be a great taboo on the schools curricula and as the counterpart of such a void on the education curriculum – what, for the Committee must not be solely teaching its biological aspects, but a holistic perspective on what sexuality means – is adolescent pregnancy and less possibilities that adolescent mothers or the pregnant ones will participate in education processes. By different reasons, they end up leaving education systems, directly expelled”, affirmed Luis Ernesto Pedernera.

See the video recording of this virtual conversation (in Spanish):

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