By Guest Blogger Alejandro J. Ganimian
As someone who analyzes data on student achievement in Latin America for a living, I have always been skeptical of calls for schools to teach so-called “non-cognitive” skills. Learning outcomes in the region are abysmally low. Two thirds of 15-year-olds in Argentina perform at the lowest levels of international assessments of math. Low-income students in Chile lag behind their wealthy peers by more than two grades. Even Brazil, the country that has made the most progress over the past decade, is projected to take at least 27 years to reach the average math performance of developed nations.
Why would a region that allows young people to graduate from high school without basic arithmetic and reading comprehension skills set out to do more? And why would we think that it could? Sure, it would be nice if, in going about their daily business, schools instilled skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control. But should they make it a priority? If resources are scarce, and if more time invested in something means less time invested in something else, asking schools to teach character may not only be hopeless, but also harmful.