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Latin leaders meet at education summit


OCTOBER 21, 1995

Latin leaders meet at education summit

Boutros-Ghali joins call for widening literacy in poor states



SAN CARLOS DE BARILOCHE, Argentina—In one of the most spectacular resorts in the world, 21 heads of state from Latin America, Spain and Portugal pledged to make education a priority for development.

The fifth Iberto-American two day Summit organized by Argentina started amidst much fanfare on October 16.  Against the backdrop of the snow-capped Andes and the magnificent lake Nahuel Livapi, the opening ceremony included a military band in full regalia which played the national angthems of the countries present while 21 flags were hoisted.  The leaders stood at attention and presented a rare photo-op for the hundreds of photographers and television cameras assembled in the crisp clear morning air.

Significant among the participants was Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Federico Mayor, Director General of Unesco. Spain’s strong support for the Summit was underscored by the presence of King Juan Carlos of Spain and Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez.

In his opening remarks, President Carlos Menem said that there can be no development without education and that we can no longer postpone social development in the name of economic development. He made a call to  teachers in Argentina and Ibero-America and to all parents to work together to support the improvement of the quality of education.

Together the leaders represent 460 million people, 15 percent of whom are illiterate. But the

underlying theme of the Summit was that quality of education has to improve, including teaching skills and vocational training, to have a work force that can compete with the demands of new technologies.

According to Shahid Javed Burki, Vice President, World Bank for Latin America and Caribbean, Latin America on an average spends 3.5 percent of its GDP on education, and has reached a stage where there is universal primary education. “Now they have to focus on quality and relevance,” he said.

Later at a closed meeting where leaders discussed their country’s priorities in the area of education, Boutros-Ghali said that such regional Summits were important and are essential for democratization at international levels.

Looking old and frail, Fidel Castro, President of Cuba, spoke up for how much his country  had achieved in the field of education, technology and medicine and that it was important to accept other political systems if they worked for development. In an interview with The Earth Times, Unesco’s Director General Federico Mayor said, “I think human resources for economic development is important, but more important than this is education for democracy and peace.” He said that Latin America has an excellent initiative called the Bolivar Link Plan which forges relationships between industry and academics. Unesco has given financial support to the plan and so has the Inter American Development Bank which has allocated $7.3 million.

Mayor said, “One of the most important programs Unesco has is not only basic education, but

vocational training. This, in my view, is also a factor which relates to universities that must be more flexible to market demands. We must be innovative and proactive, and train people to future employment trends.” Mayor also feels strongly about the links between peace, education and democracy. “Education gives you the capacity to decide by yourself without external influences. It liberates a person from dogma and fanaticism,” said Mayor, adding,

“Finally we have only one force in Unesco-the force of the Word.”

An Argentinean and a specialist in rural education, Jorge Werthein, Unesco’s Director in New York said, “I am proud that my country made education the main theme of this Summit. This proves that Latin American countries have demonstrated a political will toward giving education a high priority in social development. I hope they will increase the financial resources to support the commitments made here.”