- The digital transformation of the economy could open the way for Latin America to pursue its own version of sustainable economic growth.
- Digitalisation could contribute to the solutions of several difficult problems, such as poor productivity and socioeconomic vulnerability.
- While data are scarce, there appears to be a severe gap between the skills needed in the economy and what students are learning in school.
- Teachers must develop their own 21st century skills before they can effectively transmit that knowledge to their pupils.
- Latin America boasts several benchmark initiatives in digital teaching and learning.
The digital transformation of the economy could open the way for Latin America to pursue its own version of sustainable economic growth. Recent decades have brought significant increases in per capita income in many countries, but the region faces a new set of challenges. All of them will be affected by digitalisation.
Productivity has always been a sore spot in Latin America. The region lags well behind Europe in research and development (R&D) expenditures. Judging by the number of patents per monetary unit, it also gets less bang for its buck. Latin America needs to spend more on R&D, but it also needs to spend better. Big Data analysis and other digital tools can help, but they will not help e-commerce businesses get around transportation bottlenecks or energy shortages.
Latin American citizens outshine most people around the world in their distrust of their institutions. There has been progress in areas such as e-government, especially by some forward-thinking mayors, but the widespread use of e-innovation to improve governance and increase transparency could help boost institutional credibility.
Many Latin Americans have been newly catapulted into the middle class, but they remain vulnerable. Access to quality education remains a problem. While reliable data remain scanty, there seems to be a mismatch between the skills needed in the economy and those honed by the school system. Ideally, better data would be collected and analysed. Based on that, new pedagogical tools would be developed and teachers trained to make good use of them.
Indeed, 21st century skills are particularly important for teachers. If they are going to impart the art of computational thinking to their students, teachers are going to need new methodologies and more advanced training. The term “21st century skill” does not mean merely learning how to use information and communication technology (ICT). It means being able to analyse data, resolve new problems and learn in new ways.
Technology is no substitute for good public policy and a commitment to progress. If policymakers and taxpayers are willing to make the necessary investments, it would be relatively easy to boost access to education and improve its quality – in part by adding digital technology to the mix. It is important to look first at the needs of the students and society and only subsequently at the technology. If used properly, digitalisation can help improve the learning outcome.
There several benchmark programs trying to address these issues in Latin America. One is ProFuturo. Among other things, it provides ICT training for teachers along with an online platform with resources they can use in their planning. They can also collaborate by uploading their own materials.
To process information better, citizens will need to become better at critical thinking. As machines begin to learn more and more things, people will focus more on areas where machines cannot match them – often defined as soft or human skills.