Latin America

The many human rights battles that transformed military dictatorships into democracies represent for this region a ‘lost decade’ and taught a bitter lesson in impoverishment. That regional educational commitments have subsequently been raised to the universal completion of secondary education speaks volumes to the region’s belief in making the right to education a reality.

Much as everywhere else, the cost of for-fee education is expressed in the numbers of children out of school. Much more than elsewhere, this is investigated and documented in Latin America. If charges are levied, the number of children and young people who go to school automatically diminishes.

This finding shifts the spotlight on governmental commitments to make and keep education free. This is reflected in the high degree of correspondence between constitutional guarantees and governmental policies in Latin America. In terms of the right to education, however, the law is uniform throughout the region in guaranteeing free education, with the sole exception of Colombia. Unfortunately, policy and practice do not follow the laws of the country in half of the region.

Human rights correctives have been used in Latin America more than in other regions so as to make education free in all different meanings of this word. One facet is freeing education from financial obstacles; another is ensuring respect of freedom in education. Constitutions earmark the percentage of government funding to be dedicated to education in countries such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Venezuela. Starting from Brazil and Mexico, many Latin American governments provide subsidies to free children from work, so that they can go to school.

Lastly, the Latin American commitment to secondary education promises to remedy a key shortcoming of the MDGs: ‘graduating’ children at the age of 9 or 10 cannot be deemed to constitute successful governmental performance.

The law and policy on free education
in Latin America

“Primary education is an investment with no immediate return
and and is therefore part of public law.”

Katarina Tomasevski - Free or Fee: 2006 Global Report