DeVos’ Trip to South America Focuses on Workforce Prep

By Alyson Klein — September 07, 2018 3 min read
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in June.
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How can countries collaborate to make sure that their students are prepared for the jobs of the future?

That was the question facing U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her counterparts from around the globe as they met in Mendoza, Argentina, last week for the first-ever G-20 meeting of education and employment ministers. The summit focused on the “future of work.”

DeVos took the opportunity to visit career and technical education programs in Argentina and Chile.

In a speech to the summit, DeVos advocated for individualized instruction to ensure students get the career preparation they need. And she suggested that students be encouraged to think beyond the traditional four-year-college track.

“Students need multiple and flexible pathways to pursue the opportunities that our global economy offers,” DeVos said, listing possibilities including industry-board-recognized certificates, two-year degrees, and apprenticeships. “All of these are valid pursuits. Each should be embraced as such. If it’s the right fit for the student, then it’s the right education. And importantly, no stigma should stand in the way of a student’s journey to success.”

The G-20, or “Group of 20,” provides a forum for countries, including many of the world’s largest economies, to discuss international development and cooperation.

The ministers gathered to talk about how their nations can identify and help students develop the digital and other skills that will be needed for the jobs of the future, with a special emphasis on vulnerable populations. And the agenda included discussions on how policymakers can better coordinate with business and other sectors.

21st Century Skills

Ultimately, the meeting resulted in a declaration that calls for putting education “at the center of the global agenda.” It says the G-20 nations will work to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

DeVos said in a conference call from South America that the document was “very consistent with all of the themes that we’ve been talking about. The need for America to focus on opportunities for students today and also for [those returning to the workforce]…"

In particular, the summit stressed the need to help students develop so-called 21st century skills, such as communication and collaboration; to promote entrepreneurial skills, such as leadership; to foster the development of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math; and to promote career and technical training.

And DeVos said that some of the other countries in the G-20 are making more progress in these areas than the U.S. “There are too many other countries that are further down the path of adopting some of these themes and embracing some of these opportunities,” she said.

In particular, DeVos was impressed with a visit to an after-school program in Mendoza that has a strong focus on science, technology, engineering, and math education.

“It is emblematic of where we need to go for students to get them more engaged in and taking more ownership of their learning and education,” DeVos said.

DeVos also traveled to Santiago, Chile, where she visited Liceo Industrial Eliodoro García Zege, a school that describes its mission as “professional technical training, based on competencies, with a projection toward higher education.” She also visited Instituto Nacional de Capacitación Santiago, which offers postsecondary training.

And she met with her Chilean counterpart, Minister of Education Marcela Cubillos, as well as U.S. Ambassador Carol Perez.

While there, DeVos met with Minister of Education Marcela Cubillos, who is a member of the political party that is most supportive of choice.

DeVos is one of the biggest choice cheerleaders in the U.S. and has pushed for more money for vouchers here. But she said the two didn’t delve deeply into policy, and that their conversation focused much more on workforce preparation.

Chile has one of the most robust school choice programs in the world. It was established by dictator Augusto Pinochet back in 1980. The state allocates a certain amount of funding for each child’s education, and those dollars can be spent in a public or private school.

School choice fans have long celebrated Chile’s system. Jennifer Pribble, an associate professor of political science and global studies at the University of Richmond, described it as “Milton Friedman to a T,” a reference to the conservative economist who championed the modern concept of vouchers. The system may have helped more Chilean students enroll in school, but it also “introduced huge inequality into the system,” Pribble said.

A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2018 edition of Education Week as DeVos’ Trip to South America Focuses on Workforce Prep


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