Education is the main mechanism for achieving progress in multiple dimensions of social inclusion: greater equality of opportunity, skills for future social mobility, the formation of an active citizenry respectful of rights, familiarity with various cultural codes and access to the labour market with greater options.
In recent years, ECLAC has focused on analysing the role of education in social inclusion, by monitoring gaps, progress and challenges, and looking in particular at levels of schooling (primary and secondary).
One of the main challenges facing the region is continuing to improve rates of secondary school completion, which is considered a threshold for ensuring people a poverty-free future. In the past few years, the Social Development Division has conducted studies on gaps, inequalities and segmentation in education in the region, recognizing these as being among the key drivers of social inequality.
Women have, on the whole, benefited most from the expansion of access to the education system, both because they had a more disadvantageous starting point and because they have outperformed boys in several indicators (including in further education). Nonetheless, women’s educational achievements are neither reflected nor recognized —whether in youth or adulthood— in their academic results or labour market status, since they remain at a disadvantage in respect of their male peers (in income, leadership positions and quality of employment). This paradox is the result of a range of factors of segregation and discrimination traditionally present in the region’s labour markets and educational processes. This is one of the topics addressed in the Division’s recent research.
The inclusion of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in schools is seen as an opportunity both to reduce inequalities in access to technology and to teach new skills required in the information society. Today, bridging the digital divide is essential for progress towards more equal societies. The Social Development Division has also carried out a range of activities and produced a series of publications on this issue.
Another major challenge that has been insufficiently addressed in the region is early education. From an intergenerational perspective, investment in early childhood is key to reducing inequality. ECLAC has maintained that expanding pre-school education coverage should be a priority on the region’s equality agendas.
Another area of the Division’s work is technical education, which is of vital importance in the region both because it facilitates smooth transitions from education to work and because it accounts for a large proportion of students in secondary and higher education in many countries. It is an area that has been badly overlooked in the region’s education policies in recent decades, however, and needs to be addressed in view of the socioeconomic segregation of students in technical education and the opportunities it offers for social inclusion.