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  • Author or Editor: D. Brent Edwards Jr. x
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This chapter concerns itself with three tasks: first, to depict some key historical and regional dynamics in Central America from a political economy perspective; second, to contextualize education reform in relation to international political-economic forces affecting the region; and, third, to outline the framework that informs the analysis and commentary presented in subsequent chapters. The purpose is not only to provide essential background context relevant to all the chapters in this volume, but also to make explicit the dimensions and tensions to which the chapters in this volume speak. In order to address the purposes set out earlier, the chapter first characterizes regional political-economic dynamics from a historical perspective from the 1800s to 1970. The chapter then turns to contextualizing education reform in relation to international political-economic forces affecting the region. This section is likewise historically and regionally focused. It attends to the pressures facing the education systems of Central America from the 1950s to the 1980s, the period in which education systems began to expand dramatically – and often with assistance from international organizations. The final section of the chapter pivots to present the framework – rooted in international political economy – that serves as the overarching analytic lens for the present volume.

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Central America is a region about which comparatively little academic literature is produced that focuses on the political-economic dynamics that constrain education reform. However, one research project stands out as an exception. This research project, carried out from 2018 to 2022 by a network of researchers from the region, was entitled ‘Quality Education in Central America: Dynamics and Tensions among Models of Education and Development’. It brought together scholars from four Central American countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua) to produce case studies on the global-, national-, and local-level tensions that have surrounded the development and implementation of education reform in these countries between 1990 and 2010. The present chapter presents insights from a cross-case analysis of these studies through the lens of international political economy. Findings focus on processes of policy making and how these are affected by such considerations as geopolitical constraints, capitalist pressures, and international organizations; the ways in which different reform visions are communicated, interpreted, and experienced; and the manner in which tensions across political-economic forces and interest groups are resolved. This last dimension refers to the way in which education helps to mediate and resolve tensions that arise between the state and capital in the context of capitalist development.

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One characteristic of the relationship between education and development in Central America and the Latin Caribbean (CALC) is its dialectical nature. Although research on the region rarely speaks to this characteristic, it is clearly evident when looking across the cases presented in this volume. By dialectical nature, this chapter refers, first, to the reality that education helps to resolve or reduce tensions between the state and capitalism and, second, to the fact that the ways in which this tension is resolved repeatedly creates new opportunities for a range of international actors to insert themselves into education reform dynamics in the region. Involvement by these actors, together with counterparts from state agencies then proceeds – typically while ignoring or without input from teachers, students, and families – until a new crisis emerges, at which point the cycle repeats itself. The goal of this chapter is to make explicit that which is typically unacknowledged or insufficiently addressed in research on education in CALC – that is, the extent to which education is inextricably linked to and constrained by tensions and incentives produced as a result of the relationship between the state and the global capitalist economy.

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This brief concluding chapter has two purposes. The first is to reflect on possible paths forward for education and development in Central America and the Latin Caribbean. Having interpreted each case in the present volume through an international political economy lens, the task at hand is to reflect on the implications for the region. The second purpose is to point to future directions for research and action. The suggestions offered pick up on issues mentioned in this volume about which more can and should be said as stakeholders grapple with how to respond to the tensions that affect the region. As will be seen, this section of the chapter takes a decolonial orientation. The last section of the chapter then offers concluding commentary on contributions of the present volume as well as the new gaps that have become evident in the process of filling old ones.

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Recent literature on neoliberalism and privatisation of education around the world has noted the growing and complex influence of external actors on educational policies, provisions, governance, and outcomes. The case of private tutoring in Cambodia, generally offered by public school teachers to their own students, adds an interesting dimension to this literature by addressing a situation where actors internal to the school system (teachers) are incentivised to act in external capacities. This chapter describes the ways that this form of private tutoring, rien kuo, is integrated into the schooling experience of students and becomes central to student progress from one grade to the next – and the consequential ‘hybrid public-private education system’ that this produces. We reflect on how this is a form of endogenous privatisation that involves the incorporation of ‘market-oriented mindsets’ into education and, more specifically, into the relationship between teachers and students. Our findings demonstrate how teachers acting in external capacities can have great impact on teacher and student motivations, curriculum and pedagogy, assessment, and broad expectations of public schooling – in ways that differ from contexts where private tutoring is provided by formally external actors.

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When compared to other world regions, there is very little research on how the trend of ‘low-fee private schools’ (LFPSs) has shaped educational provision in Central America and the Latin Caribbean. Arguably, the region is ripe for LFPS expansion, given that universal access to basic public education is still a major challenge for many countries and that government inaction provides an opportunity for private involvement in education. This chapter responds to this gap by explaining and comparing LFPS trends in Honduras and the Dominican Republic, and by situating these changing trends within the larger and deeper conditions and characteristics of these two contexts, which, as we will show, are witnessing both new and previously unacknowledged forms of privatization as opportunities emerge at the intersection of global and local constraints. In concluding, we suggest that more research is needed that attends to larger political-economic constraints, dialectical relationships, and what we label the ‘ethos of privatization’. Research will help to shed light on – and to problematize – the often simplistic assumptions and concepts that are employed to make sense of global-local dynamics in education policy, both in the so-called Global South and the Global North.

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Historically, and despite their centrality to international political economy developments, Central America and the Latin Caribbean (CALC) have received insufficient attention from scholars. This is true both generally and when it comes to education research. This lack of attention is even more acute with regard to research that approaches education reform as nested within and contributing to larger (that is, national and international) political economic forces. As the introductory chapter to this volume, this chapter begins by addressing not only the scant attention that these regions have received but also their relevance more broadly. It then turns to characterizing the neglect of the CALC region in the available scholarship that understands education as located at the intersection of global-local and dialectical political-economic relationships. The chapter concludes by highlighting the contributions of the present volume to this gap in the literature.

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Global Forces and Local Responses

Rooted in an international political economy theoretical framework, this book provides unique insights into the global forces and local responses that are shaping education systems in Central America and the Latin Caribbean (CALC).

The book covers all Spanish-speaking countries of the CALC region and examines the effects of macro-economic pressures, geopolitical intervention, neo-colonial relationships, global pandemics, transnational gang networks, and the influence of international organizations. Chapters analyse the challenges and opportunities these global forces present to education systems in the region as well as highlighting the local efforts to address, mitigate, and counteract them. In doing so, the book illuminates how education can contribute to either maintaining or challenging inequalities and exclusion in the face of pressures from the global to local levels.

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This book brings together researchers of – and research on – Central America and the Latin Caribbean (CALC) to explore the dynamics of global forces that challenge education systems in the region and to highlight the local efforts that seek to address, mitigate, and even counteract these forces. Examples of the global forces to which chapters in this volume are attentive include macro-economic pressures, geopolitical intervention, neocolonial relationships, global pandemics, international policy trends, the influence of international organizations, and transnational gang networks. While there exists literature on the global forces that have historically and generally affected CALC, and while some literature documents the challenges that face the education systems of this region, there are few publications that bring these two sets of issues into conversation. This is an important gap that warrants critical attention, for both sets of issues are intricately related.

This book addresses questions related to how education is contributing to maintaining and overcoming challenges and inequalities in the face of global and national pressures, and how national and local educational initiatives play out within the constraints imposed by their contexts. While the volume is oriented by an international political economy framework, each chapter presents recent empirical work that speaks directly to global-local dynamics.

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This book brings together researchers of – and research on – Central America and the Latin Caribbean (CALC) to explore the dynamics of global forces that challenge education systems in the region and to highlight the local efforts that seek to address, mitigate, and even counteract these forces. Examples of the global forces to which chapters in this volume are attentive include macro-economic pressures, geopolitical intervention, neocolonial relationships, global pandemics, international policy trends, the influence of international organizations, and transnational gang networks. While there exists literature on the global forces that have historically and generally affected CALC, and while some literature documents the challenges that face the education systems of this region, there are few publications that bring these two sets of issues into conversation. This is an important gap that warrants critical attention, for both sets of issues are intricately related.

This book addresses questions related to how education is contributing to maintaining and overcoming challenges and inequalities in the face of global and national pressures, and how national and local educational initiatives play out within the constraints imposed by their contexts. While the volume is oriented by an international political economy framework, each chapter presents recent empirical work that speaks directly to global-local dynamics.

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