Education as a basic tool of socialization and social inclusion has been widely debated in different historic contexts: from the creation of national states in Latin America when education stood as the principle tool for national integration, homogeneity of the populations and development of societies, to the present day, a period in which it has become, following decades of worsening poverty and inequality, a central tool for guaranteeing social inclusion. The new education laws, implemented in the majority of nations in the region starting in 2006, increase the compulsory period for school and have a strong focus on inclusion.1 The Metas Educativas 2021 (“Educational Objectives 2021”) of the Organización de Estados Ibéricos (OEI, Organization of Iberian States), put emphasis on the reduction of poverty and inequality – principally educational inequality with the objective of guaranteeing a quality education for everyone.2 Yet at the same time, the various student movements – especially in Chile and Colombia – show the difficulties that the current educational models in the region have for dealing with the tensions between the duration of the educational process, the massiveness of this process and social inequalities.
With respect to the former, we want to call attention to the terms and concepts that have been adopted in the region to speak of education. These have demarcated a path that has excluded from the debate basic terms like “equality”, “free education”, and “equality”, replacing them from an economics and technocratic slant with “efficacy” and “efficiency”. According to Katarina Tomasevski,3 in the region a “banking logic” was consolidated in which education ending up becoming a service rather than a universal right. Which is to say, it was built upon a free-market model that responds to effective demand; one in which children and their families end up becoming “consumers”. In this line of thinking, the preference is given to education as a privilege for those who can pay for it, instead of considering it as a right of citizenship.
This is how, instead of speaking of a right for everyone, what is implied is a multi-dimensional process that encompasses aspects like belonging, relevance and equity, positioning the term “access”, making mere accessibility a major objective of the system. This has created, on one hand, an eclipse upon the responsibilities and those responsible with respect to this right, and, on the other hand, it has minimized the analysis and limited strategies that the diversity and complexity of the issue merit. Further, the traditional analysis has made the subjects invisible who, in this specific case, are the children and adolescents and their journeys through the educational system.
For this reason, as the second line of thinking for this analysis we take up the idea of school trajectory, which allows for a broader and more complex analysis, considering first the point of view of the subjects. As was affirmed by Terigi (2011),4 this concept has become an important subject in childhood, adolescent and youth studies, as much so as in social and education policies, and in initiatives in schools.
“School trajectories” refers to the paths taken by the subject in the school system compared to the expectation that assumed by the design of that system. This would imply the existence, on one hand, of an ideal or theoretical trajectory, referencing a foreseen and expected path that has as main features: the organization of the system by levels, a gradual approach to curriculum, an annualized structure for teaching by grade, and the definition of ages for starting and finishing compulsory schooling. And on the other hand, it implies an actual trajectory, referring to the path that is ultimately taken by the subjects. The most common and probable one (Terigi, 2011).
Along this line, Siteal (Sistema de Información de Tendencias Educativas en América Latina) developed the Atlas of educational inequalities in Latin America, which has been conceived of as a visual, interactive report that, through texts and maps, proposes a comprehensive analysis of the geographic dimensions of educational inequalities.5 This Atlas dedicates a chapter to the subject of educational trajectories in eight nations from the region,6 which although it is a significant advance in complex analyses and does put the subjects in the center, does not go beyond being a proposal; as the actual statistics of the nations in the region do not take individuals as a unit of observation nor of analysis, nor their institutional paths in the school system. While this limits the possibility of thinking in terms of trajectories, nevertheless the available statistics allow for producing some possible paths.
Through the crossing of information, the Atlas approaches the current situation for the nations researched, delineating five kinds of trajectories: a) General attendance by the school age population; b) Late drop-out; c) Late sign-up; d) Early drop-out; e) Lack of general attendance by the school age population.7 This gives evidence to the diversity of paths within the educational systems, not just among different nations, but also within the “interior” (provinces) of these nations and sheds light an essential issue: the relationship between the place where people live – the “territory” – and the educational problematics. Meaning, it reveals the need of tying together the analyses about education to the social, economic and cultural scenarios in which the lives of Latin American children and youths take place.
Reconsidering the question in light of the transformations that the education system has experienced in the last few years is interesting. First, from the perspective of inequalities. Schools not only do not address but further at times endorse social inequality. In this sense, it is possible to highlight that democratization of access and educational inclusion as a policy of social inclusion do not achieve by themselves the goal of changing the conditions of poverty. For this case, it is worth considering the idea of developed educational fragmentation by Tiramonti (2008)8 in which she explains that the incorporation of diverse social sectors in the high schools happened at the same time as an educational fragmentation process that was consistent in the generation of various institutions for the various social groups. In this sense, the school, as a tool of social integration in a context of social inequality and educational fragmentation, does not function in a manner that would allow for combating poverty and inequality. Second, the educational transformations that allow in some way for reconsidering the perspective on individual trajectories, as suggested by Terigi, can lead to certain transformations that allow us to recognize the very positions of the subjects that obtain access to the educational system.9
The various current analyses allow us to consider that it is necessary to revise the categories of analysis and the general assumptions about the social function of the educational institution, considering perspectives that join together the contextual particularities to functioning of the educational system. That is, while its capacity to continue being the privileged institution for cultural transmission and social inclusion is seriously put in doubt, it is necessary to revise in what ways it is connected to the reproduction of inequality and exclusion, keeping in view that we still have not managed to establish its replacements. Experiences strongly conditioned by factors of social class upon which an educational system, that is not limited to a school system, must work.
3. Tomasevski, Katarina (2006) Dulces palabras, amargos hechos: El panorama global de la educación . http://www.foro-latino.org/flape/boletines/boletin_referencias/boletin_20/referencias20_katarina_1.htm
4. Terigi, Flavia ( 2011) En la perspectiva de las trayectorias escolares .http://www.siteal.iipe-oei.org/contenido/316
8. Guillermina Tiramonti y Nancy Montes (comps) La escuela media en debate. Manantial / Flacso. http://www.equidadparalainfancia.org/la-escuela-media-en-debate-347/index.html
9. To this point, it is necessary to continue differentially and in a relational manner the ideas of school trajectory and educational trajectory. The latter includes the former but at the same time incorporates the cultural experience of the subject outside of the school.