When I interviewed Colombian rock star Juanes about his work for social causes, I was struck by his insistence that Latin American countries pay more attention to pre-school education. I couldn't agree more.
Juanes, who has won 17 Latin Grammy awards and has 5.1 million followers on Twitter, recently signed an agreement with the
During the interview, Juanes told me that he first became interested in early childhood education about seven years ago, when he was studying a map of poverty in
"The first five years of children's education are critical," Juanes told me. "These are the years that determine people's cognitive development, establish one's character, and one's capacity to interact with others."
Also, pre-school education is essential to prepare children for elementary school, "because most of the children are terrified when they arrive for the first time in school," he said. That often leads to a downward spiral in which children start performing badly from day one in first grade, and end up dropping out a few years later.
Asked whether his withdrawal two years ago from the
Latin American governments have long neglected pre-school education. As a result, the rich send their children to private kindergartens, while the poor start school with a disadvantage that they often can never overcome.
Only 65 percent of Latin American children aged 3-5 receive some kind of pre-school education either at publicly funded or private kindergartens, and in several countries -- including
There is a growing consensus among experts that pre-school education should start even before age three. Because of malnutrition or lack of stimuli, by the time they turn three many children from poverty-stricken families are already doomed to academic failure.
"When nobody talks to a child, sings to a child, or plays with a child, that child arrives in school with a tremendous disadvantage," says
In recent years,
My opinion: I hope Juanes and other high-visibility artists will raise growing attention to
Elementary schools and, to a lesser degree, high schools in the region have an extraordinary political power, because they have huge teachers unions that can paralyze the country to press for a bigger slice of the government budget. Likewise, universities are politically influential institutions with great lobbying power to get government funds. But moms and pops at home don't have political muscle to demand funds for pre-school education.
So keep it up, Juanes! And, just as important, try to resurrect a collective effort with Shakira,
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