An average primary schooling of 95%, very close to that of developed countries, does not alert us to the several million children who do not attend school. However, when analyzing social indicators by income quintiles, the gaps are alarming, especially in secondary education. In Guatemala and El Salvador, for example, only 20% of the population in the first quintile has access to the secondary level, compared to 60% of those in the highest income quintile.
Another large group of excluded people, who constitute more than 30% of the population of the region, is made up of indigenous peoples and people of African descent. While most ministries of education in the region recognize the right of indigenous children to receive education in their mother tongue, coverage of bilingual primary education is limited, even in countries with a large percentage of monolingual indigenous population.
Neither are the gender disparities. Even in countries whose average primary education indicates parity, there is evidence of a lag in girls in rural and indigenous areas.
Having any kind of disability is another factor of exclusion, caused by many factors other than the disability itself. According to some sources, only between 20 and 30 percent of children with disabilities attend school in our countries. Likewise, the school is still closed for the majority of children and adolescents living with HIV and AIDS, often under the pretext of "protecting" other students or themselves.
Investing in education influences human development and has a great return for the individual and for society. The more you invest in education the less you spend on curing diseases that are preventable. Numerous studies also demonstrate the impact of education on the reduction of violence and the exercise of citizenship.
Despite the evidence, we still invest little in education. Public spending by primary school students in Latin America is equivalent to 11% of per capita income, while in Spain and Portugal it is 18% and 23%, respectively. At the secondary level Spain and Portugal invest 23% and 26% respectively, almost twice the average in Latin America, which is 12.8% of per capita income.
For almost all countries in the region, primary and secondary education is free. We know, however, that in practice this is not so. Even when enrollment is free, the other costs associated with education may be too high for poor families. It is therefore necessary to reaffirm the imperative of free education in all its aspects and guarantee books, school supplies, transport, uniform.
It is necessary to guarantee certain levels of social equity so that there is quality education for all.