Beyond the Rankings: Exploring Chile’s Educational Success in Latin America


The 2022 Pisa test results have once again highlighted Chile as the top contender in Latin America when it comes to educational performance. With consistent top rankings among Latin American countries, Chile has proven itself to be a leader in education within the region. In contrast, Brazil, which is among the poorest performing countries, has shown little improvement since 2009.

The Pisa test evaluates the cognitive abilities of 15-year-olds from OECD nations, providing valuable insight into the educational systems of different countries. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Chile managed to maintain its position as the top performer in Latin America. This achievement can be attributed to a number of factors, including implementing standards and quality control measures, decentralizing administration, and prioritizing the training and recruitment of high-quality teachers. These strategies have allowed Chile to surpass other Latin American nations in educational performance.

While both Chile and Brazil allocate 6% of their GDP to education, Chile has made significant progress in recent years. In the 2022 Pisa exam, Chilean students scored 412 in arithmetic, 448 in reading, and 444 in science. On the other hand, Brazilian students scored 379 in math, 410 in reading, and 403 in science. While Chile is in a more favorable position compared to Brazil, both countries have stagnated in terms of educational performance.

One notable aspect of Chile’s educational system is its focus on ensuring that students grasp the basic knowledge required for everyday activities. Unlike Brazil, where 73% of students fail to grasp basic mathematics skills, Chile has managed to reduce this percentage to 44%. Similarly, while 50% of Brazilians fail to attain a level 2 reading proficiency, only 34% of Chileans fail to reach level 3. The Pisa test also revealed that 55% of Brazilian students lack the minimum scientific knowledge expected for their age group, compared to 36% in Chile.

It is worth noting that Chile’s educational journey began in 2000 when its students first participated in the Pisa test. Since then, Chile has shown improvement, particularly in reading skills. However, its current performance, while better than that of other Latin American nations, still falls below the OECD average.

One significant difference between Chile and Brazil lies in the approach to educational policies. Chile has a rigorous evaluation system and a prescriptive curriculum, while Brazil lacks these elements. Education expert Ilona Becskeházy argues that Brazil can learn from Chile’s approach by seeking advice from the OECD on implementing effective educational policies.

Furthermore, Chile displays a historical concern with education and a commitment to improving the conditions and learning outcomes of its students. Public and private funds support organizations like Elige Educar, which aims to recruit academically gifted youth and retain experienced educators.

A key factor contributing to Chile’s educational success is the decentralization of its education system. This approach empowers students and allows schools to adapt their curriculum to meet specific needs. For example, schools in rural areas or with unique circumstances, such as quilombolas or those located beside rivers, can tailor their curriculum accordingly. Célia Seabra, a teacher at a municipal school in Teresina, emphasizes the importance of flexibility in the curriculum to address the social, economic, and geographical diversity of the student population.

In addition to decentralization, education expert Ilona Becskeházy suggests that state and local governments in Brazil should lead educational reforms, following Chile’s example. This approach, she argues, can pave the way for success, as seen in Sobral, a Brazilian city known for its educational achievements. By learning from successful foreign models and being willing to implement reforms, Brazil can address many of its educational challenges.

Another crucial aspect to consider is the preparation of teachers. Verónica Cabezas emphasizes the need to improve teacher training programs in Chile. Data collected by organizations like Choose Educar has contributed to discussions surrounding this issue. In contrast, a study conducted by the Instituto Alfa e Beto revealed that the majority of Brazilian pedagogy students scored below the national average. To address this, initiatives like the “I want to be a Prof.” program offered by Elige Educar in Chile provide support and guidance to students considering teaching as a career path.

Claudia Costin, head of the Instituto Singulares, highlights the importance of connecting theory and practice in teacher preparation programs. She argues that it is not enough for teachers to possess knowledge; they must have the ability to effectively teach students. In this regard, Chile’s college teacher preparation programs incorporate both theory and practice, as mandated by law.

In conclusion, Chile’s success in the 2022 Pisa test as Latin America’s top contender can be attributed to various factors. Implementing standards, decentralizing administration, and prioritizing teacher training have all contributed to Chile’s educational advancement. Brazil, on the other hand, still faces significant challenges in improving its performance. However, by learning from successful models such as Chile and embracing educational reforms, Brazil has the potential to turn its educational system around.

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