The Education Imperative

Ban Ki-moon, the former United Nations Secretary-General, once said that education is the “single best investment” countries can make to create equitable, healthy, and prosperous communities. It’s evident that governments in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean understand this, as they spent nearly $450 billion in 2016 on investments in computers and other goods, services, and capital equipment. However, these regions still have a long way to go, with UNESCO even stating that Latin America and the Caribbean are facing an education crisis.

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic added to these issues and, according to UNICEF, has led to the biggest learning disruption in the history of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. By the end of 2021, 71 million children and adolescents in these areas were still being affected by school closures. Though governments made considerable strides to deploy remote learning programs, many young people found themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. 

Yet, this region has been battling a learning crisis long before the pandemic ever arrived. Over one-third of students do not achieve minimum reading proficiency, and a little over half of the students do not meet standards for mathematics. Moreover, nearly 10.4 million students are out of school, thus increasing their risks of abuse, violence, exploitation, and barriers to earning later in life.  

However, there is hope. UNICEF created a campaign to help people understand that the greatest investment opportunity in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean is to focus on the education obtained by the region’s future change makers – young children and adolescents. Given that thirty percent of the population in these regions is below the age of 18, the next generation has great potential for contributing to stability and peace while expanding economic opportunities. Yet, unlocking these possibilities, especially in a world transformed by the pandemic, requires the engagement of the public and private sector, combined with collaboration from stakeholders, including the younger generation themselves. 

The good news is that governments in this region are beginning to plan for improvements, with some areas allocating more budget toward education in 2022. A recent survey looked at education budgets in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean by country to compare them to other ministries for 2022. It found that the spending range varies from 5% to 26%, with an average of 16% of the GDP allocated to each area. The area found to have the most significant educational investment was the Dominican Republic which spent roughly $4,237,000.  

Moreover, some of the world’s tech companies are also searching for solutions to combat this issue. One such advancement is Learning Passport, which is a collaboration between Microsoft Brazil and UNICEF. This program aims to close the learning poverty gap by offering a mobile tech platform that works both off and online to enable flexible, high-quality learning in areas that need it the most. Learning Passport has already launched in Mexico and Honduras and is expected to reach Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Brazil in 2022. 

Ultimately, it’s apparent that these regions need more than money and government policies to overcome these issues. People must take action that’s more than simply writing a check to a charity. It will take individuals from communities around the world to actively fund teacher training and technology while creating new mobile learning platforms. 

By 2050, it’s estimated that Central America, South America, and the Caribbean will have a higher proportion of elders than that of children. This change to the region’s age composition will eventually exert a macroeconomic impact caused by various factors such as labor supply, productivity, and consumption. 

The time to act on this is now. So many people have focused energy and funds on Africa, but now the world needs to do the same for Latin America and the Caribbean. Today’s digital world proves that education can be much more than a four-year college degree, and this is the chance to prove it. After all, learning and knowledge are humanity’s greatest renewable resources for rising to challenges and creating alternatives. Education doesn’t respond to a changing world; it transforms it! 


1. Quartucci, Soledad. “How Much Have Latin American Countries Invested in Education in 2022?” Latina Republic, August 25, 2022. 

2. “Reimagining Education in Latin America and the Caribbean.” UNICEF. Accessed September 25, 2022. 

3. Author(s) UNICEF LACRO, and Unicef Lacro. “Reimagine Education and Skills Development for Children and Adolescents.” UNICEF, December 1, 2021. 

4. “The Learning Passport.” UNICEF. Accessed September 25, 2022. 

5. World Bank Group. “How to Age Well in Latin America.” World Bank. World Bank Group, July 26, 2021. 

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