Four lessons learned to improve education in Latin America

Many of us in Latin America have searched for solutions to the massive educational hurdles plaguing our region.  I found some of the answers in the Holy Land.

As someone who has dedicated his life to educational innovation, I have always been curious as to why Israel, a tiny country locked in constant conflict, has given birth to so many groundbreaking ideas, while the much larger nations of Latin America struggle to catch up.

To find out, I traveled to Israel to get a better sense of the initiatives that affect science, education and entrepreneurship in a country many have called “Start-Up Nation.”

What I found is a blueprint for progress in my part of the world, where millions of bright young minds are clamoring for the opportunity to flourish.

Lesson 1: Pool educational resources

Much in the spirit of its famous kibbutzim, Israel pools its educational resources for community benefit.

Take Hemda Lab, a campus where students from 17 secondary schools in the Tel Aviv area can learn from scientists, experiment with state-of-the-art equipment at cutting-edge facilities and receive free tutoring, while high achievers in physics and computer science accelerate their learning on study trips and other programs.

This concept is perfect for Latin America, where most schools lack the equipment and teacher training to make progress in science and innovation.

Efficiently pooling community educational resources would be a cost-efficient way to reduce the skills gap and give birth to new ideas.

Lesson 2: The government needs partners

Innovation requires resources. In Israel, state and local governments, the private sector and even individual citizens from all over the world do their part. Educational and cultural institutions in Israel are tremendously successful in attracting private funding for innovation through a culture of giving back.

One example is the Hebrew University Gift Annuity program, which offers high lifetime returns, tax deductions and annuity payments while driving Israeli-led innovation toward a better future.

In addition, money invested by private firms in research and development helps maintain a fertile marketplace for well-educated, productive workers.

This lesson is a critical one for Latin America, where declining terms of trade for commodities exports have made increasing worker productivity a critical requirement for growth.

Some large corporations, such as Brazilian miner Vale, offer their own sophisticated in-house training programs, though more should be done by private enterprise to funnel profits into innovation as well as public-private educational initiatives.

Lesson 3: Open your mind, and your borders, to new ideas

To ensure that the country stays on the cutting edge of technology, Israel proactively fosters technological exchange with other countries. Agreements with emerging market giants such as China and India are aimed at focusing joint efforts on developing new technologies and innovations.

Latin America, with a long history of high trade barriers for technological goods, is missing out on many potential opportunities in this arena.

Greater technological exchange will help foster the region’s educational development and contribute to the next wave of great ideas.

Lesson 4: Create edupreneurship clusters to support educational innovation

Israel’s edupreneurship community works within clusters — uniting representatives from government, academia, corporations and students to develop the next global-scale idea.

This is one area where Latin America is catching up. The Lab for Innovation in Learning Experiences (LINNEA), a partnership between Cengage Learning and the University of Chihuahua, has already begun attracting fresh talent.

In fact, Mindcet27, an Israeli accelerator of edupreneurs, has looked to Latin America to promote educational innovation, joining LINNEA’s Global Edupreneurship initiative in partnership with LearnLaunch in Boston to enable innovators to start to make the connections and share the ideas needed to take their products to global markets.

I have little doubt that Latin America has much more to absorb from Israel and other innovative societies around the world. It is taking steps, slowly but surely, towards joining those ranks.