According to the new World Bank report titled 'Raising Student Learning in Latin America: The Challenge of the 21st Century', almost all Latin American and the Caribbean countries have been successful in getting most children to attend basic education and in increasing enrollment in secondary and tertiary education. The region's average educational spending has increased from 2.7 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1990 to 4.3 percent in 2003. However, many countries in the region overlooked the goals of improving the quality of teaching and raising educational achievement. The new World Bank report reveals wide disparities in the educational achievement of students of different backgrounds in several of the region's countries: poor and minority students in the region score lower on international tests than do their peers of higher socioeconomic status. But even students from the region's privileged groups score lower on the same tests than do students from the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
A diversity of opinions exists regarding the purpose and function of education, but most would concede that one of the fundamental roles of schools is to provide students with the opportunity to acquire the skills, knowledge, and competencies that will contribute to their success in life. In light of recent gains in educational coverage, it is clear that achieving universal primary education is only a first step in the expansion of education, says the new report. Quality of education can have an even larger effect on growth than quantity. Years of education may be a less important contributing factor to economic growth in the face of new research on the relationship between education quality and growth. Because cognitive skills influence a worker's ability to adopt new technologies and, consequently, her/his capacity to earn higher incomes, economies that foster innovation also tend to present greater economic returns to education quality. Education can reduce long-standing inequalities across citizens of one nation. There are several reasons why student learning is the key challenge for education in Latin America. First, Latin American countries are among the lowest performers on international assessments of student skills. Second, countries in the region have a high percentage of students achieving well below minimum skill levels in all subjects. Third, in many countries, substantial gaps in achievement across students indicate high inequality in the learning outcomes of students from different backgrounds. Finally, few Latin American students in the region enjoy an education of high quality. In 1960, Latin America, East Asia, Scandinavian countries, and Spain had similar levels of educational attainment. However by the year 2005, the Latin America and Caribbean region was lagging behind in the number of children completing 12 years of schooling. Although in 1960 the share of adults that had satisfactorily completed upper secondary education was 7 percent in Latin America and about 11 percent in East Asia, by the early 2000s the figures were 18 percent for Latin America and 44 percent for East Asia.