The U.S. has plenty to learn from other economically developed countries when it comes to preparing students for the jobs of the future, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told reporters Thursday.
DeVos spoke on a conference call from South America this week where she participated in the first ever G-20 meeting of the member nations’ education and employment cabinet ministers. While in South America, she also explored career and technical education in both Argentina, and nearby Chile.
The summit focused on how G-20 countries—which include the world’s largest economies—can collaborate to make sure that students are prepared for the jobs of the future.
“This was a really important step for the G-20 to take, to elevate education,” DeVos told reporters in a conference call after the summit. “Without education, nothing else really follows. Education is really the foundation for everything.”
The ministers planned 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.
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 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 returning [to the workforce] and second, and third, and fourth, and beyond careers for those of us in middle age and older in our country.”
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 she 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, Argentina, 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, which describes its mission as “professional technical training, based on competencies, with a projection towards higher education.” She also visited the Instituto Nacional de Capacitación (INACAP) Santiago, which offers postsecondary training.
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.
There are also private schools that don’t take government funding. Those are primarily used by the wealthy, said Jennifer Pribble, an associate professor of political science and global studies at the University of Richmond.
School choice fans have long celebrated Chile’s system, which Pribble described as “Milton Freidman to a T,” a reference to the conservative economist who championed the modern concept of vouchers. She said that it may have helped more Chilean students enroll in school, but it also “introduced huge inequality into the system.”
The voucher system “clearly took funding away from public schools,” which became “an option of last resort for the highest-risk kids and the neediest kids.” Rural students, in particular, have had a tough time making use of the vouchers.
When asked if there was anything the U.S. could learn from Chile’s system, DeVos said only that, “I think there are things we can learn, but in other conversations that I’ve had they will acknowledge that they have lots of opportunities to continue to improve options and pathways for students.”
Photo: Evan Vucci/Associated Press
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