Private Education in Latin America: A Focus on Accreditation, English Proficiency, and Student-Centered Learning

May 16, 2024
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Experiencing significant private sector growth in a diverse set of educational offerings (i.e. aspirational, midmarket, and premium from national, regional, and international organizations), the LATAM region continues to focus on establishing and benchmarking quality through external accreditation and a strong emphasis on English language acquisition. We are also seeing newer initiatives on social-emotional and career readiness skills along with the adoption and implementation of student-centered learning models (e.g. Project-Based Learning). Spending over twenty-five years in the region as a Head of School, school founder and consultant, I would like to outline a brief exploration of the trends and developments I have witnessed in the educational market in Latin America, particularly in the realm of private schools, highlighting the importance of key factors in shaping the future of education in the region.

The private school market in Latin America is experiencing expansion due to various factors. The general failure of nationally operated public school systems stimulating an interest across all socioeconomic sectors in accessing some level of private school setting. There is a proliferation of schools from the storefront, neighborhood-based early learning center around the corner from low-income housing areas to the state-of-art facilities of a primarily English instruction international school with expatriate teachers. This range of educational services is driven by an interest and demand for quality education opportunities, based on creating some level of surplus in the family economy, as a pathway to shift the economic and potential higher education access of family members, especially the middle-class, who have witnessed and experienced the growing global competitiveness, are searching for private schools, founded by national educators and supported by national teachers however have an international focus, lower price point and benchmark against the traditional, high profile American or International School in the market, are seen as offering higher quality education compared to public schools, with better facilities, smaller class sizes, and more personalized attention for students. This school profile is also capturing the attention of large, multinational school groups who are actively pursuing a presence or to expand operations in LATAM.

With the increase in the number of private schools, external accreditation is becoming increasingly important in Latin America to ensure quality and credibility. It also appears to function as a differentiator in the midmarket and premium school sector as what at one time an accreditation exclusive to American and International Schools is now a goal for many private English, bilingual national schools with a global focus. Accreditation from recognized international bodies, such as Cognia, not only serves to validate the quality of education offered by schools but also enhances their reputation and credibility in the eyes of parents, students, and universities.

As the educational offer expands, English language proficiency continues to be the core skill offered by most schools, in varying percentages according to different bilingual models, as a constant component of the academic program. Families perceive English proficiency as a key skill for students in Latin America to succeed in a globalized world. The vast majority of private schools in the region place a strong emphasis on English language development, with many schools offering core academic areas in English instruction or partnering with language institutes and online platform providers to enhance students' English proficiency. English language skills not only improve students' academic and career prospects but also open up opportunities for international study and employment.

The multiple years of non-campus study in most LATAM countries due to the Covid pandemic, brought to the forefront a concern for student non-academic needs and future preparation. In addition to strong academic programs with English language skills development, private schools in Latin America are increasingly recognizing the importance of developing students' social-emotional and career readiness skills. Schools are incorporating socioemotional coursework and programs that focus on building resilience, empathy, teamwork, and problem-solving skills to nurture student wellbeing helping them to prepare for personal success in an ever-changing and complex world. Career counseling, internships, course design, and curricular programs are also being integrated into the student’s school experience through a career and technical focus, helping students explore their interests and develop their own unique personal pathways.

Though evident prior to the pandemic, post-Covid, there is a growing openness in Latin America towards adopting different types of student-centered learning experiences. Educators are exploring innovative teaching methods such as project-based learning, personalized learning plans, and experiential learning to engage students, foster creativity, and develop critical thinking skills. This shift towards student-centered learning reflects a recognition of diverse learning needs, student engagement, and a commitment to nurturing well-rounded individuals. While this is most evident in the private school sector, it is also reflective of emerging efforts in the national school systems to shift teaching practices and allow space in the national curriculum for more variety in course selection and student choice.

The expansion of the private education market in Latin America is bringing about positive changes in the way education is delivered. With a focus on accreditation for continuous school improvement, English language learning, development of social-emotional and career readiness skills, and the adoption of student-centered school experiences, private schools in the region are not only preparing students for academic success but also equipping them with the skills and competencies needed to find success in a rapidly changing environment. These trends reflect possibilities for extensive and much-needed improvements in schools in LATAM. The ability of private schools to continue to evolve and innovate in the field of education, will impact the future of learning for all students in the region.

The article is written by Andrew Sherman, Vice President for Growth and Strategy in Latin America at Cognia. Andrew was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. His interest in private school start-ups, Latin America, and school improvement strategies are products of his personal experience, academic preparation and professional situations. Mr. Sherman is actively involved in school development efforts. Andrew’s work consistently focuses on Latin America and this permits his involvement in schools throughout the region. Mr. Sherman earned a graduate degree in International Education at Harvard University. His other academic work includes advanced graduate studies in Latin American History, Organizational Leadership, and Educational Administration. Andrew received a Fulbright Fellowship for international study and lived in Costa Rica. He was also a fellow at the Klingenstein Center for Private Education at Columbia University. Andrew has led three different school communities in Latin America. He currently leads the school improvement and accreditation services for Cognia in the LATAM region.

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