Opportunities abound for education innovation in Latin America.
GUEST COLUMN | by Fernando Valenzuela
There is a new region ripe for edtech investment – Latin America. With around 600 million people, mostly speaking two languages and living in 20 thriving urban cities, Latin America houses one of the world’s largest populations of young people that have recently emerged from poverty. As a result, this group has the opportunity to access benefits that have not been available to previous generations. This has created challenges and opportunities that are being identified by investors, entrepreneurs, innovators, technologists, and media around the globe. And within almost every media discussion within the region – in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia or Peru – there is one repeated concern, the future is centered upon improving education.
These are exciting times for Latin America, and it is only the beginning. There will not be a slow evolution here, but a fast exponential development of the region’s edtech ecosystem.
For the past five years or so, Latin America has begun to develop, attract and search for innovative solutions to solve their most pressing issues in education, such as:
- Access to a larger young population that has emerged from poverty (World Bank and the Population Reference Bureau)
- Inequality from different social backgrounds (Inter-American Development Bank)
- First generation students capable of accelerating progress for their family & community (The World Bank and El Economista)
- Large population of young women needing to secure their education. (The World Bank)
- Lack of quality in the educational curricula, teaching, infrastructure and institutions (InfoBae, OIJ Ibero-American Youth Organization, p. 28, and UNESCO, p. 6)
- Accelerated penetration of mobile devices and internet service. (The World Bank, The World Bank Data Viz, ComScore, and BNamericas)
- High rates of abandonment in high school (Inter-American Development Bank and infographic)
- Imperative requirement to learn English to connect to the world, the knowledge economy and to promote student mobility (Corporación de Educación Technológica and CNNExpansión)
- The need to connect education to work and life-long learning (Forbes, Telefonica – Latin American and Technology, and Telefonica-Millenials)
Brazil, the largest country in the region, offers some of the most interesting developments:
- Immediately following the US for mobile phone penetration and leading in internet usage, its expenditure per student has increased by 121% from 2000-2008 (ComScore, The World Factbook, and OECD)
- From 2002 to 2012, the number of students attending college in Brazil doubled to 7 million, but only 17% of Brazilians aged 18 to 24 are in college – a big gap. (The New York Times)
- For-profits are making inroads in the country to meet the demand for affordable higher ed. Apollo Education Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, has taken a majority interest in Sociedade Técnica Educacional da Lapa, which provides college programs in the country (EducationDive). While Coursera, the for-profit MOOC provider, recently partnered with the University of Sao Paulo and the State University of Campinas in Brazil to create courses debuting this year (EducationDive).
There are ideal conditions in Latin America for innovative disruption in education, and entrepreneurs and leaders are eager to act upon the opportunities. In December 2014, more than 20 Heads of State met in Mexico at the #Cumbre_Iberoamericana, to discuss and prioritize coordinated actions among Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries in the world to accelerate the implementation of radical solutions to these problems.
In addition, The Pacific Alliance was formed to promote an integrated market among Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Chile, with free flow of goods, people and with a clear focus on student mobility.
The edtech community has begun to move to efficiently respond to these challenges and to capture opportunities. Latin America has embraced a number of organizations that care about education: from NGO’s to software companies and venture capitalists.
Innovative educational institutions in the region are also developing wonderful initiatives to improve learning, teaching and the use of technology.
Cengage Learning is developing some of these initiatives, announcing recently a collaboration with US-based edtech accelerator, LearnLaunch, to bring the organizations insight and intelligence to the region via Cengage Learning’s Laboratorio de Innovacion en Experiencias de Aprendizaje (LINNEA). Located in Chihuahua, Mexico, LINNEA is an innovation lab established by Cengage Learning, National Geographic Learning and The Universidad de Autonoma de Chihuahua with numerous projects underway to explore education and new ways to engage learners.
These are exciting times for Latin America, and it is only the beginning. There will not be a slow evolution here, but a fast exponential development of the region’s education and technology ecosystem, connecting Latin America to the World – and leapfrogging into the future.
Fernando Valenzuela is President of Cengage Learning Latin America. He has founded and led successful enterprises in Latin America for over 25 years. He is also the Founder of LINNEA, the first laboratory for innovation in learning experiences in Latin America. He has a degree in computer science from Universidad Iberoamericana and an MBA in International Business from the University of Miami. He is an active member of Wharton Fellows, ENOVA Network of Latin America CEOs, the Center for Hemispheric Policy and Council of the Americas. Follow him on Twitter @FerVal100 or contact him through LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/ferval
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