During the past five years, most of the countries of Latin America have begun to walk down the path of economic and political reform. A new generation of leaders has implemented tariff reductions, trade agreements, and privatization plans to increase trade and ultimately, economic growth. In many cases, political reforms have accompanied these economic changes, as the countries of the region move away from the authoritarian regimes characteristic of the 1960s and 1970s toward more open democratic governments. Yet, in the face of rapid and exponential urbanization, most countries must now begin to focus on a variety of social issues. For example, while national economies are indeed growing, there are still great disparities in in-come and wealth; and though few countries can now be considered authoritarian, many still have not implemented all the changes at all levels of society which are necessary to become truly democratic.
Educational reform, the politicians and economists agree, is essential to sustaining the economic and political reforms already made, and to broadening these reforms so that the vast majority of the people are included. Though changes in public educational systems are occurring in some countries such as Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador, it is important to stress the need for further and broader reform, for education is inextricably linked to continued economic and political reform. Today's students must be taught the technical skills that are needed to compete effectively in today's global economy, and they must be taught the problem solving, cooperation, and flexible thinking skills that are needed for democracies to thrive.