Vitoria Reyes has been involved with the Latin American Leadership Academy (LALA) since her high school days in Brazil. Now pursuing her undergraduate studies in the United States (U.S.), she annually facilitates LALA’s camps and mentors the next generation of Latin American leaders. She describes LALA’s mission as “trigger(ing) change and development in Latin America through fostering young change-makers and leaders.” 

Founded in 2017, LALA has successfully established a network of nearly 2,000 young leaders spanning South America and the Caribbean. With a vision extending to 2024, the organization aims to annually enroll 1,500 high-school-aged students. LALA is actively shaping the future by tackling the challenges affecting underserved youth across the region. To overcome these obstacles, the organization has meticulously tailored its programs, addressing each barrier comprehensively. Through these efforts, LALA is fostering a generation of empowered leaders.

Barrier 1: Lack of Financial Resources

As of 2022, the U.N. estimated that 45% of Latin American children and adolescents lived in poverty. This places youth at a higher risk of poverty compared to the broader population, of which 32.3% are poor. In addition, the pandemic led to decreased education rates and youth employment, and these factors have not yet fully recovered. Consequently, financial resources have become an even more significant barrier to the success of Latin American youths.

While 90% of LALA’s students receive financial aid from the organization to support their membership, the assistance doesn’t end there. According to Reyes, “They (LALA) hire a lot of people who are not college graduates, or maybe not even in college yet, which is very, very unusual, especially here in Brazil.” In fact, she works as a camp facilitator. Reyes explains, “It’s like a job, so I get paid to do it. We have training; I have to report to someone. But it’s also fun, ’cause it’s just like being with people that you really like and doing work that is really meaningful to you.”

Reyes further describes how LALA is growing the future by boosting the prospects of underserved students in Latin America: “I have friends that are facilitators and I know that the payment they receive really, really helps them to pay rent, or to have some money to help their families.” 

Barrier 2: Lack of Community Support

Many underserved students in Latin America don’t have access to a network of informed, successful adults who can provide guidance and share opportunities. That’s why LALA places a strong emphasis on networking and mentorship within the organization. LALA’s 2021 impact report highlights, “Our mentors and donors do not see young, underprivileged LALA students as charity cases, but as awe-inspiring future leaders they can relate to.” 

For Reyes, the power of LALA’s student community surpasses formal networking programs. She states, “Everyone in Lala is really, really devoted to being there, to being part of the community, to helping each other.” She describes how LALeaders (the Academy’s alumni) support one another, from offering internships to providing a couch to sleep on in a foreign country. 

Barrier 3: Lack of Career Opportunities

The World Bank estimates that 40 million young people who were jobless in 2021 would have been employed without the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most affected countries in the world, Brazil experienced a 6% decline in youth employment in this period. This intensified the need for youth professional development in Latin America. 

In 2021, Reyes participated in LALA’s Career Internship Program. For 10 weeks, she and her peers honed skills like resume writing and networking before connecting with organizations that aligned with their interests for internships. The program successfully matched 56 students with 25 organizations in six countries, several of which were founded by LALA alumni. 

Barrier 4: Lack of University Opportunities

Recognizing the importance of education, LALA is growing the future by providing application support for member students seeking undergraduate education. LALA’s assistance has resulted in member students receiving more than $20 million in high school and university scholarships. Many LALeaders, including Reyes, pursue studies abroad. In 2021, over a quarter of LALeaders enrolled in undergraduate programs studied outside their home countries. 

Barrier 5: Mental Health/Intrapersonal Development

More than 25% of the total disease burden in Latin America and the Caribbean is mental or neurological, and 5% of Latin America’s population suffers from depression. Despite this, more than half of depressed people do not seek treatment and less than 2% of the region’s health care budget is allocated to mental health. 

LALA is growing the future of mental health and intrapersonal development by offering compassion cultivation training and encouraging students to explore their personal growth. Reyes describes some of the activities conducted during the camps she has facilitated, such as discussions on vulnerability inspired by Brene Brown’s work, strategies for building meaningful connections and active listening. 

More significantly, LALA provides students with a safe space to be themselves: “LALA is always this place where people say, ‘I feel home when I’m here’.” She shares that LALA was the first community where she found acceptance and support from like-minded individuals. 

As a reminder of how LALA is shaping the future, Reyes shares a quotation from Thich Nhat Hahn that resonates with her and appears at the top of many Latin American Leadership Academy learning materials: “It is possible the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living.”

Faye Crawford

Photo: Flickr

Education TechnologyAs the world continues to grapple with persistent inequalities in access to quality education, the emergence of innovative education technology (EdTech) offers renewed hope for bridging the global education gap. Socioeconomic disparities and geographical barriers continue to undermine the universal right to education, leaving a vast number of children and youth out of school. EdTech solutions, including diverse initiatives such as open online courses and interactive digital learning platforms, have begun to demonstrate their potential to make education more accessible and widen the scope of high-quality learning opportunities across the globe.

The Global Education Gap: EdTech as a Solution

According to UNESCO, more than 258 million children and youth were out of school in 2019. This figure represents a significant hindrance to global development, worsening both poverty and inequality. Therefore, bridging this gap is an urgent global priority that demands immediate and comprehensive interventions.

In response to this pressing need, EdTech has emerged as a potential game-changer for education across the globe. These technologies include an array of educational initiatives ranging from open online courses to interactive digital learning platforms. Not only do these platforms make learning more engaging and personalized, but they also hold the potential to make education more accessible. In overcoming physical, social and economic barriers, bridging the education gap becomes more attainable.

The Interplay of EdTech and Poverty Alleviation

Beyond its potential in education, EdTech is playing a crucial role in poverty reduction. When efficiently incorporated into educational systems, technology can empower individuals and communities, ultimately enabling social mobility. The World Bank affirms that EdTech can foster economic transformations by shifting toward knowledge-based models. These models are not only more sustainable but also foster equitable growth in the long run. 

Ensuring Inclusive Adoption of EdTech

While the adoption of education technology is rapidly gaining momentum, it’s crucial to ensure that these advances do not inadvertently exacerbate existing inequalities. To maximize the potential benefits of EdTech, there is a pressing need for a coordinated, holistic approach. Governments, NGOs and private sectors must collaborate to ensure that these technologies are accessible and beneficial to all learners, preventing the emergence of a digital divide in education.

EdTech in Action

Taking the digital leap, programs like Samsung’s Smart Class are playing a pivotal role in rural India. Samsung India’s initiative provides classrooms with Wi-Fi and necessary training for teachers to effectively employ advanced digital tools like interactive Smartboards, laptops and tablets. The result is a noteworthy increase in student engagement and comfort with technology. On the African continent, two significant projects, BraceKids and Africa Code Week, are introducing coding to hundreds of thousands of children. These programs provide programming language workshops, equipping young minds with important digital skills for the future.

Efforts are also underway to promote diversity in tech education. Nonprofits like Rails Girls, founded in Finland, offer worldwide training in basic programming, sketching and prototyping to encourage women to engage with technology. Another example of this is with the Ministries of Education, which is exploring virtual reality (VR) for classrooms, globally. In Singapore, the Rails Girls is partnering with a local company to create virtual field trips, meant to supplement, not replace, traditional learning. Early results show students’ insights have improved with this tool. These initiatives exemplify the potential of EdTech in bridging the global education gap. By demonstrating how technology can help facilitate education and provide quality learning opportunities, these efforts shine a light on the path toward a more digitally inclusive educational future.

Education technology holds remarkable potential to bridge the global education gap and to fundamentally reshape the future of learning. However, the journey to realizing this vision is complex and requires meticulous planning and execution. Successfully rising to the challenge opens the path for EdTech to revolutionize the education landscape, extend learning opportunities to those previously left behind and make a significant contribution to global poverty alleviation efforts.

– Mari Caitlin Riggles 
Photo: Flickr