Students from Central America: The World at Your Feet
There are many challenges that today's world presents to students, from the earliest grades to those in the final years of secondary school. These challenges relate primarily to their ability to develop and demonstrate lifelong learning skills. The demonstration of these skills and their ability to improve them as they progress through further levels of education, such as university, are crucial conditions for access to work and economic development in their countries.
“The skills possessed by each country’s population provide the fundamental determinants of prosperity and well-being. However, developing skills is costly and so investments in skill building need to be made wisely” (OECD, 2013).
Central America is one of the regions with the lowest development indexes in Latin America, the Covid-19 pandemic also left important challenges related to educational improvement and the personal, social and academic development of students. The region is faced with the need to offer the best learning opportunities to take advantage of the talent, skills and interest of millions of young people whose eyes are set on technology, social networks, video games and even the concern about the world in which they will develop in the coming decades.
"Education must evolve at the same pace as our societies, anticipating change rather than simply reacting to problems. The first decades of the 21st century are the intersection between the turn of the millennium and rapid technological progress. Although we are often wary of change, digital technologies have dramatically transformed our lives. It is necessary to understand what has changed for our children" (Fundación Santillana and OECD, 2019).
How Virtual Learning and Dual Diplomas Break Borders
The possibilities of remote learning enabled by digital technologies open up a number of large-scale opportunities for students to be exposed to international learning experiences that allow them to engage with people outside the borders of their countries, for the development of many competencies, among which is global competence. Global competence is the ability of individuals to critically examine and think critically about local and global issues, taking into account their intercultural conditions and acting for the benefit of the collective.
The advantages of student participation in international learning experiences go beyond individual benefit to the development of a population with the leadership, vision and critical judgment to move their countries and societies forward. One of the most robust opportunities available to students today is the awarding of dual diplomas. This means that they can graduate from high school with the official procedures of the Ministries of Education of their countries, while complementing their education with a diploma recognized in countries such as the United States. Obtaining a dual diploma represents in the life of a student the opening of doors to enter universities in the United States and other countries of the world, as well as to opt for scholarships in which having this requirement could be a defining condition for obtaining the benefit.
"...for me the dual diploma has helped to develop abilities such as discipline and responsibility, because the students are in charge of deadlines, tasks and all related to priorities. You get used to the study strategy and right now I can see these abilities in my university experience…" Alina Sánchez, graduated student.
Virtual Learning Provides Additional Opportunities
In Central America, there are already experiences of students and educational centers that have opened opportunities for them to join a dual diploma program, in which they have access to a curriculum aligned with U.S. standards and the accompaniment of U.S. certified teachers. These offers allow students to study in a flexible and personalized scheme according to their interests and needs in diverse courses in which they comply with a scheme of credits and objectives that allow them to achieve a diploma.
"I have seen the growth and maturity that my daughter has developed through the process and the courses in the learning platform. She talks about world issues with a lot of property and knowledge, sometimes she surprises us. The teachers exercise their accompaniment with an incredible level of empathy and knowledge. This diploma has already opened many development options that I am sure will increase with time". Ana Chaves, mother.
The ubiquity that virtual learning allows makes these offers relevant to the time, schedules and possibilities of students, the learning process in their countries and family dynamics, in which the process does not break into rest periods or vacations. They can be adapted to different situations and contexts as long as the minimum requirements of credits, time and required and optional subjects are met.
“Personally, I really enjoyed the experience. I have taken numerous courses, and overall, they have helped me learn about responsibility, especially in how to manage my time. In terms of content, I really enjoyed the artificial intelligence topic; I learned quite a bit and one of my favorite courses was the French course. Given the number of courses, I had to learn how to manage myself to keep up and turn in all the assignments on time to get an acceptable grade and fulfill the required credits. Overall, I find the program to be very beneficial, provides a great amount of learning, and would recommend it without hesitation 100%”. Dominique Montero, graduated student.
The Benefits and Impact of Virtual Learning
The learning process, due to the nature of the content and the virtual pedagogical mediation of the teachers, engages students in ways that often the official process in their countries does not. And therefore, the complementarity of the experience in the educational development of individuals is very significant for the permanence and educational success in the two experiences that go in parallel.
A sufficient level of English to participate in these offers is a requirement, but at the same time the learning experiences contribute to the evolution of the language in the students who participate, as they are exposed to experiences in which they must communicate, defend their points of view, write and solve problems in this language. The interculturality to which they have access is another advantage to develop skills that better position them in a highly globalized and competitive world, as they learn to interact with people outside their borders and better understand how to move in today's world.
"English proficiency is increasingly necessary for business and international communication; in that sense, it is linked to prospects for economic competitiveness and growth in the global economy. Interest in learning the language continues to rise throughout Latin America." (The Dialogue, 2017).
Central America is a region with great potential based on the talent of its inhabitants, many of whom stand out in other countries for their contributions in different social, economic, artistic and sports fields. The expansion of opportunities today is based on policies based on the educational use of digital technologies with the vision set in cost-effective initiatives that reduce the gaps between countries and position the regional talent at the forefront of the world. Solutions exist, possibilities exist, desires also exist.
Melania Brenes Monge, PhD is the Academic Vice President of EduTech de Centroamérica and is the author of this article.