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Learning Can't Wait: The Urgency of Accelerating Investments and Results in Education

Development challenge 

In Latin America and the Caribbean, most students do not acquire the knowledge or skills essential for thriving in the 21st century. Low levels of learning constrain the region's sustainable growth.  

  • According to the results of PISA 2022, three out of every four 15-year-old students in the region exhibit low performance in mathematics, and half lack basic reading skills.  
  • This results in a schooling lag of five years behind the average student in OECD countries.  
  • Moreover, learning outcomes are highly unequal: on average, 88% of the poorest students demonstrate low performance in mathematics, compared to 55% among the wealthiest. 

In addition, challenges persist in terms of increasing graduation rates due to high dropout levels.  

  • Four out of 10 young people fail to complete secondary education.  
  • The region lags the OECD by 15 percentage points in secondary-school completion. 

Investment in education is both low and inequitable, and there is room for improving efficiency. 

  • On average, OECD countries invest three times more than Latin America and the Caribbean per student throughout their educational trajectory. 
  • The basic resources for learning – such as quality teachers, books, connectivity or technological devices – are distributed unevenly. Instead of compensating for inequalities, schools end up exacerbating them, which impacts the learning outcomes of the most vulnerable students. 
  • The performance of educational systems falls below expectations; considering the investment made, they could achieve better outcomes. 


Solution examples 

To ensure that students learn at the pace they need to, countries are implementing solutions both inside and outside the classroom, with special focus on the most vulnerable students. 

  • Inside the classroom, with solutions that promote the development of basic skills such as literacy, mathematics and science: In Colombia, for example, after five years of intervention with the Aprendamos Todos a Leer [ATAL] (“Let’s All Learn to Read”) program, students improved their reading skills by 30% in standardized tests. In Panama, indigenous students who received mathematics classes through the JADENKÄ bilingual intercultural education program achieved improvements equivalent to more than half a school year, without requiring additional instruction time. 
  • Outside the classroom, with short-term strategies for accelerating learning, such as remote tutoring: In Latin America and the Caribbean, students who receive tutoring learn 30% faster, and for every $100 invested in eight sessions over two months, 40% of a school year's of learning in basic skills is achieved. 


To ensure comprehensive educational trajectories, educational systems in the region are bolstering platforms to identify students at risk of dropping out. This, combined with solutions that address the underlying causes, enables timely intervention. 

  • In Uruguay, the IDB supported the development of a solution that uses information systems and machine learning to foresee which students are potentially at risk of dropping out. 
  • To address the number-one cause of dropout, namely, the family’s economic situation, we endorse school feeding programs and scholarships. In Haiti, since 2015, these solutions have been instrumental in motivating students and families to remain in school, even amid natural disasters and political instability. In addition to having an impact on attendance and academic performance, these solutions can yield a return of up to $9 for every dollar invested. Ongoing operations in Argentina and Paraguay similarly incorporate school feeding components, with a focus on scalability, enhancing nutritional value, and reinforcing delivery and monitoring mechanisms. 


Investing more is not sufficient; we must also spend better, with a smart spending approach that promotes efficiency, equity and tangible results. 

  • Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Guyana and Costa Rica are developing educational funding formulas aimed at fostering equity and efficiency in the allocation of educational resources. 
  • Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are designing digital and transparent mechanisms to allocate teachers more equitably, i.e., to ensure that the best teachers are assigned to the most vulnerable schools. 
  • In 14 countries, 24 national and subnational educational systems are enhancing the management of educational processes through the implementation of Educational Information and Management Systems (or SIGED, its Spanish acronym), which furnish decision-making tools. 
  • At the school level, more and more principals are receiving support to manage resources efficiently. With support from the IDB, Pernambuco (Brazil) promoted training for principals on spending efficiency. Chile and Costa Rica are developing cost systems for monitoring school spending, and Jamaica is creating a platform for principals to visualize and monitor resources. 



Accelerating learning: 

  • Aprendamos Todos a Leer (ATAL): Developed by the IDB and partners in Colombia (initially, the Luker Foundation, and later, the Carvajal Foundation), the program received the Wise Award, one of the most prestigious international awards, for its contribution to boosting basic learning. According to impact evaluations, after five years of this intervention, students improved their reading skills by up to 30%. The initial pilot was carried out in Palmira, Colombia. It was subsequently evaluated and adapted and finally scaled up at the local and national levels, using its own resources and those of other organizations, such as the World Bank. It was also scaled up to other countries, such as Panama and Brazil. To date, more than 1.1 million children and teachers have benefited from it. 
  • Remote tutoring: We provide remote tutoring to accelerate basic learning in a cost-effective manner. Students who received eight tutorials in fundamental math learned 30% faster. In addition, there were proven benefits in socio-emotional skills. Thus far, we have implemented six pilots in Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala and El Salvador. Another six are ongoing in the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Brazil. 

Smart spending: 

  • SIGED (Pernambuco, Brazil): Through an Educational Information and Management System (SIGED) in Pernambuco, we identified that the state was allocating more resources to schools attended by children from higher socioeconomic status and fewer resources to schools attended by poorer children. With this tool, it was possible to redirect spending and make it more equitable. 

Digital transformation: 

  • IDB-World Bank alliance: The challenge of digital transformation to accelerate learning in our region is so significant that we need to move from millions to billions. Our alliance with the World Bank is a decisive step in that direction. In the first stage, we are coordinating actions to maximize the impact of the $512 million in programs already approved. This will benefit 3.5 million students, over 350,000 teachers and 12,000 schools in 16 countries. But we are not satisfied with that; both banks are exploring alternatives to scale up significantly. The idea is to mobilize more capital in the coming years, not only through new projects, but also by incorporating innovative financial instruments to bring digital transformation to all schools in the region. 

Gender and equity: 

  • Decidiendo mi Futuro (“Deciding my Future”): Women continue to be underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Only 14% of all university degrees in the region are STEM-related, and less than 10% of graduates are women. A regional IDB survey found that eight out of 10 young women think they would face discrimination if they pursued a STEM career. This reality can change with simple interventions. For example, in Costa Rica, the Decidiendo mi Futuro program achieved an average increase of 5.9 percentage points in STEM enrollment among girls from low-income households after sending text messages to families with information about their options. 

Other notable points: 

  • Over the past two years, we approved projects that will benefit 1.7 million girls and boys over four years through pedagogical innovations and programs aimed at enhancing and narrowing learning gaps. This represents nearly three times more than four years ago. 
  • In addition, we recognize the significant challenges facing the region in terms of food security and school-dropout rates. Therefore, we have intensified our support to countries with school feeding programs, which have shown positive effects on school attendance and learning outcomes. With operations approved in 2023, we aim to benefit nearly one million boys and girls over the next five years. 
  • Recognizing that teachers are the main factor in driving change in the classroom, a large portion of our efforts are directed towards improving the quality of teachers and professors. With projects approved in the last two years, some 100,000 teachers will undergo training to improve their teaching practices, marking an increase of over 400% compared to four years ago. 

Planes,Maria Soledad

Planes,Maria Soledad
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