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Latin America: Is better technical and technological higher education the answer?

Diego Angel-Urdinola's picture
A new World Bank study finds that some Chilean technicians with a two-year degree have education returns that are only slightly lower than those of professionals. (Photo: Dominic Chavez/World Bank)

Two years ago, 23-year-old Pedro Flores became a technician specializing in renewable energy—all thanks to a degree from a technical institute in Maule, located in one of Chile’s poorest regions. After completing his degree in just two years, Flores became the only person in his family to obtain an advanced degree. Today, he lives in Santiago and works for a private solar energy multinational corporation, where he earns a competitive salary that is only slightly below the average for entry-level professionals in his field, most of whom spent over five years in university.

How can we enhance competition in bus passenger urban transport?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Photo: EMBARQ Brasil/Flickr

Também disponível em português.

While bus services are often planned and coordinated by public authorities, many cities delegate day-to-day operations to private companies under a concession contract. Local government agencies usually set fares and routes; private operators, on the other hand, are responsible for hiring drivers, running services, maintaining the bus fleet, etc. Within this general framework, the specific terms and scope of the contract vary widely depending on the local context.

Bus concessions are multimillion-dollar contracts that directly affect the lives of countless passengers every day. When done right, they can foster vigorous competition between bidders, improve services, lower costs, and generate a consistent cash flow. However, too often the concessions do not deliver on their promise and there is a perception across much of Latin America that authorities have been unable to manage these processes to maximize public benefits.

As several Latin American cities are getting ready to renew their bus concessions—including major urban centers like Bogotá, Santiago de Chile, and São Paulo—now is a good time to look back on what has worked, what has not, and think about ways to improve these arrangements going forward.

What 15 seconds can tell you about a classroom

Daphna Berman's picture

The first time a World Bank education team tried classroom observations in Brazil, it nearly provoked a state-wide teachers’ strike. It was October 2009 in the northeast state of Pernambuco and two members of the team, Barbara Bruns and Madalena Dos Santos, had handed out stopwatches to school supervisors newly trained in using the Stallings “classroom snapshot” method to measure teacher activities.

Two days later, the stopwatches were on the front page of Pernambuco’s leading newspaper: the teachers’ union called for a state-wide strike to protest an evaluation tool they dubbed the “Stalin method.”

“I thought the grant money we had used to train observers was down the drain,” recalled Bruns, a World Bank retiree now a visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development. “But the governor, Eduardo Campos, was unfazed.  He publicly declared: ‘No one is going to stop me and my secretariat from going into public schools to figure out how to make them better.’  The union backed down and the fieldwork went ahead.” 

Innovation in the air: using cable cars for urban transport

Leonardo Canon Rubiano's picture
Also available in: Español
Photo: Andy Shuai Liu/World Bank

Invented over a century ago for exploring mountainous regions, aerial cable cars have recently made an appearance in several big cities, where they are being used as an alternative to conventional urban transport modes. This technology uses electrically-propelled steel cables to move suspended cars (or cabins) between terminals at different elevation points.
The tipping point. The emergence of cable cars in urban transport is fairly new. Medellín, Colombia pioneered the use of cable cars for urban transport when it opened its first “Metrocable” line in 2004. Since then, urban cable cars have grown in popularity around the world, with recent projects in Latin America (Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Guayaquil, Santo Domingo, La Paz, and Medellín), Asia (Yeosu, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong), Africa (Lagos, Constantine), and Europe (London, Koblenz, Bolzano).  Cable cars can be an attractive urban transport solution to connect communities together when geographical barriers such as hills and rivers make other modes infeasible.

Creating “Solid Ground” for gender equality in land access

Jane W. Katz's picture
In Brazil, a woman trained through the School of Women Leaders explains to her neighbors what she has learned. Photo: Maria do Carmo Carvalho / Habitat for Humanity

Despite the fact that women represent about half of the global population, produce the majority of global food supply, and perform 60% to 80% of the agricultural work in developing countries, women own less than 20% of land worldwide.

Written laws often fall short of adequately protecting women’s tenure rights; while in some countries, formal national laws explicitly discriminate against women. In post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction, women face particular hurdles to secure tenure and shelter. Even in areas with strong protections of equality and non-discrimination, displaced women often struggle to assert their property rights.

On March 8, 2016, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Habitat for Humanity International launched its first global advocacy campaign, “Solid Ground,” which envisions a world where everyone has access to land for shelter. Promoting gender equality and addressing inequitable or unenforced laws, policies, and customary practices affecting women’s rights to security of tenure and inheritance, has been a primary focus of the campaign.

Now mid-way through the campaign, Solid Ground has grown to include 37 national Habitat for Humanity organizations, 17 partner organizations, an active microsite (and in Spanish,, and has provided direct financial assistance to country programs working on gender and land issues. In its first year, over 1.3 million people are projected to have improved access to land for shelter through the Solid Ground campaign with a goal of reaching 10 million people, especially women.

Through a variety of efforts to build capacity, mobilize allies, influence policymakers, and work together with our partners, we are seeing signs of progress being made to achieve successful outcomes in helping facilitate women’s land ownership and empowering women to understand and achieve their rights. A sampling of some strategies, cases, and upcoming plans are highlighted below. 

Jobs for Votes: RDD Evidence on Patronage in Brazilian Public Sector Hiring: Guest post by Edoardo Teso

This is the fourth in this year’s series of job market posts.
As the quality of a country's public sector workforce is an essential factor in its effectiveness in providing services, governments should try to hire qualified individuals in the public sector (Finan et al. 2017). However, there may be an important obstacle to the quality of this recruitment process, especially in developing countries: politicians could engage in patronage - the use of public sector jobs to reward their political supporters.

Virtually all modern bureaucracies are characterized by a civil service system, where the introduction of meritocratic hiring criteria was meant to shield public sector jobs from patronage practices. However, politicians typically retain some discretion in the selection of public workers, for instance through the use of temporary contracts (Grindle 2012). As a consequence, patronage could still play an important role in public sector hiring.  Despite the potentially significant impact of this phenomenon on the quality of the public workforce, no study has systematically documented its presence in a modern bureaucracy, limiting our understanding of its consequences for the public sector.

In my job market paper "Patronage in the Allocation of Public Sector Jobs" (joint work with Emanuele Colonnelli and Mounu Prem), I study patronage in the context of Brazilian local governments during the 1997-2014 period.

The principal makes the difference

Jaime Saavedra's picture
Principals have to deal with hundreds of students and their personal and academic challenges. (Photo: Sarah Farhat​ / World Bank)

All schools are different. I’m not referring to the building, the number of students or teaching practices. I’m talking about the school’s spirit. When you walk into a good school, the building is often well-organized and clean. The students look busy and happy. You don’t see strict discipline; ideally, you see organized chaos.

When you see a well-functioning school, most likely, there is a good principal behind it. A leader who sets a vision for the school and sets clear objectives. Someone who creates the space that fosters teachers’ professional and personal development, and encourages students’ personal growth, creativity, and their own journey of discovery.

Running a school efficiently is a very difficult challenge. A principal must be a pedagogical leader to dozens of teachers: observing them in the classroom, evaluating institutional performance, and helping them get the professional development opportunities they need. Principals have to deal with hundreds of students and their personal and academic challenges. They need to respond to parents, each with their own expectations for the school. And principals also need to contend with the administrative and financial burdens imposed by the bureaucracy.  

For social programs, social registries serve as a tool for inclusion

Kathy Lindert's picture
© Julia Pacheco/World Bank
© Julia Pacheco/World Bank

Celina Maria migrated from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro when she was just 17 and pregnant with twins, without completing her education and therefore have had difficulties finding good formal jobs. Over her life, she faced many challenges from being homeless to unemployed, while living in food insecurity with her children. Like Celina Maria, millions of people around the globe face multiple constraints – low earnings, limited assets, low human capital, idiosyncratic shocks and exposition to natural shocks, violence, and more – yearning to live with dignity and a decent and economically independent life.

To address the diverse needs of the poor, many countries offer a myriad of social benefits and services. Despite good intentions, this can lead to fragmentation in the absence of a clear strategy and coordinated processes and systems.   

What connectivity means for Brazil’s youngest state

Martin Raiser's picture

All photos by Gregoire Gauthier and Satoshi Ogita

Marcos Ribeiro almost has tears in his eyes, as he explains the huge opportunities he sees for modern, ecologically mindful agriculture to us, a visiting World Bank team. The young tropical fruit producer is standing in front of his small farm, some 15 km outside of Palmas, the capital of Tocantins, Brazil’s youngest state.

Pro-market activism: A new role for the state in promoting access to finance

Sergio Schmukler's picture

The debate on whether the state should play an active role in broadening access to finance or not is one that has lingered for decades. A recent book (de la Torre, Gozzi, and Schmukler, 2017) argues that a new a view has gained traction and is worth considering.