Best education system in Latin America

Latin America's wake-up call on global school tests

Image caption Chile is the top-performing Latin American country in both OECD and Unesco school tests

There have been concerns that the quality of education has been stagnant in too many countries across Latin America.

This is a major problem in a globalised economy, where rewards go to the most highly-skilled and most productive workers, and where there is more importance than ever attached to high-quality education.

But how do we measure the quality of education in Latin America against global standards if there is an unwillingness to take part in international tests? How can would-be reformers compare results across international borders?

Among the most widely recognised international comparisons are the Pisa tests - the Programme for International Student Assessment - conducted every three years by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In Latin America, the regional rankings of these international tests taken by 15 year olds in maths, reading and science, are headed by diminutive Chile, ahead of economic powerhouses like Brazil and Mexico.

But most countries remain off the ranking completely.

Missing the tests

Part of the reluctance for many Latin American countries might be a fear of being compared with world leaders in education like Finland and Japan.

Even Chile, the highest ranking country in the region, is considerably below the global average for these tests, with the average in the Pisa tests being countries such as the UK and France.

Latin America: Countries in Pisa tests
Chile 51st (out of 65 countries and regional education systems)
Mexico 53rd
Uruguay 55th
Costa Rica 56th
Brazil 58th
Argentina 59th
Colombia 62nd
Peru 65th
Source: OECD

But the Pisa exam has also generated significant controversy over its methodology and design, leading to concerns - common to many standardised tests - that it does not adequately measure the quality of instruction. Or that it does not truly capture the diversity of contexts facing such different school systems.

These concerns are reflected in the fact that fewer than half of Latin American countries currently participate.

But there are other tests that can provide a global scale for measurement. Unesco's Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (TERCE) covers a much larger part of the region.

This has evaluated 15 countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia, as well as smaller participants such as Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay.

Image caption Unesco's tests measure pupils in countries such as Guatemala against international standards
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