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Importance of a Complementary Educational Agenda for DR-CAFTA

LAYING THE GROUNDWORKIn September 2000, the member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted the Millennium Declaration. That document served as the launching pad for the public declaration of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which include everything from goal one of halving extreme poverty to goal two of providing universal primary education; all to be accomplished before the year 2015. Progress towards the first seven goals are dependent upon the success of goal eight – which emphasizes the need for rich countries to commit to assisting with the development of “an open, rule-based trading and financial system, more generous aid to countries committed to poverty reduction, and relief for the debt problems of developing countries.”1At first glance, the recent actions of Central American countries and the United States to liberalize trade seem to support, at least partially, successful realization of MDG Eight. However, upon closer examination, the picture blurs and the outcome seems uncertain.Following only a year of negotiations, the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) or DR-CAFTA (as a result of its recent inclusion of the Dominican Republic), was signed by the governments of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the United States in 2004. The agreement, committing each country to reduce its trade barriers with the other DR-CAFTA countries, was ratified by the United States Congress on July 28, 2005.2Rather than attempting to analyze all of the specific economic and social intricacies associated with liberalizing trade in Central America, this brief aims solely to cast light upon the overlap between countries’ efforts to implement the Millennium Development Goal Two/Education for All and their need to implement a complementary CAFTA agenda.Specifically, this document highlights the importance of educational priorities if economic development efforts are to be successful. The premise of the argument elaborated here is that without sufficient prioritized emphasis by Central American countries, multilateral organizations and targeted donor countries on a complementary agenda that directs resources towards education infrastructure, CAFTA will never succeed in assisting these countries in reaching an ever elusive state of “economic prosperity.” In fact, it may deter them from fully accomplishing the MDGs as well.CURRENT STATE OF EDUCATIONWith the need for collaboration between economic and educational efforts in mind, let us examine the current status of MDG Two implementation and broader educational reform in Central America:Over the past fifteen years, most Central American countries have implemented at least basic forms of educational reform. As a result, more children are entering school and spending more days and years enrolled than ever before. On an aggregate level, the larger Latin American and Caribbean region has made considerable progress toward the goal of universal primary education enrollment and according to the most recent UN Millennium Development Goals report, “Net enrollment rates at the primary level rose from 86 percent in 1990 to 93 percent in 2001. The region’s pace of progress in this indicator has been faster than the developing world average (which rose from 80 percent to 83 percent between 1990 and 2001). Net enrollment rates in 23 countries of the region (12 in Latin America and 11 in the Caribbean) surpass 90 percent.” 3 The reality is that, large scale disaster or other unforeseen event aside, all six countries are on target to reach the MDG enrollment targets.Unfortunately, progress towards the target of completing five years of primary education has been slower and few countries in the region can boast success in this arena. The lack of progress towards completion of this target is most directly related to inefficiencies in the education system and the socioeconomic conditions of poor children – both situations that result in high repetition and desertion rates and both situations that must be ameliorated if CAFTA is to succeed. Furthermore, while the number of children initially enrolling in school has increased, the poor quality of education throughout Central America is also certainly a factor in children’s failure to complete their primary education. Quality must therefore also be taken into account when considering educational infrastructure needs.While not necessarily relevant to MDG Two but quite possibly relevant from the CAFTA perspective of needing a skilled workforce, Central America’s educational woes most definitely extend beyond the primary school environment. In response to the recent Millennium Development Goals Report 2005, an Inter-American Development Bank representative wrote “It is difficult to avoid the impression that the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are falling behind with regard to secondary education. Although this is not included in the MDGs, it is the single most important educational indicator separating upper and lower income groups in the region.” 4
When less than one third of a country’s urban workforce has completed the twelve years of schooling that your or I take for granted, how can they hope to compete in today’s technology-dense free trade environment?HISTORY LESSON -HAPPENING AGAIN?Upon an examination of the Mexico of today as compared to pre-North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) times, a rise in the Mexican poverty rate over the last decade or so is apparent. Rather than being directly due to the implementation of NAFTA, it is more likely that this increase in the poverty rate is attributable to Mexico’s failure to simultaneously implement a complementary agenda; specifically, the inability of Mexico’s poorer southern States to improve their poorly trained workforce, infrastructural deficiencies and weak institutions in order to participate meaningfully in a liberalized trade environment. Rather than gain, the southern Mexican states lost even as the northern states benefited from the liberalized trade environment created by NAFTA.Dr. Daniel Lederman, co-author of the World Bank report entitled “NAFTA is Not Enough” (and issued ten years after NAFTA was originally enacted) explained in an National Public Radio (NPR) interview in 2003 that Mexico’s financial crisis in the 1990s was bound to deepen poverty there with or without NAFTA. Dr. Lederman said:Mexican income dropped in one year, 1995, by six percent. Wages across the board for all Mexican workers, on average, fell by 25 percent in less than a year…Still, NAFTA helped Mexico limit the damage, lifting per capita income at least 4 percentage points above where it would have been otherwise. The bottom line is, Mexico would be poorer without NAFTA today. Clearly trade alone won’t alleviate poverty. But if Mexico makes the right investments, especially in education, the next decade should be better. 5POTENTIAL FOR ECONOMIC SUCCESSAs was the case in Mexico, it is likely that the majority of households in Central American countries stand to ultimately gain from the price changes associated with removing trade barriers for sensitive agricultural commodities and other goods. However, in order for this to happen, as Dr. Lederman suggests above, each country must now make appropriate investments in development efforts (most especially in education) in order to guarantee an equitable distribution of the benefits of these efforts in the future.Simultaneously, it is of critical importance that each country provides for the needs of their most at-risk citizens. In order to guarantee that the children of these families are given the opportunity to be counted among those in school, countries must identify resources, both internally and externally, to provide incentives for families “to invest in the human capital of their children.” 6Examples of such incentives have been implemented through funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and several other organizations in Costa Rica (Superemonos), the Dominican Republic (Tarjeta de Asistencia Escolar), Honduras (PRAF), and Nicaragua (Red de Protecci├│n Social). Most immediately, these incentives (often in the form of conditional cash transfers) serve to increase food consumption, school attendance and use of preventive health care among the extremely poor. In the long run they are intended to assist with poverty and malnutrition reduction and to improve schooling completion rates. As reported by the IDB, “results are proving that it is possible to increase a family’s accumulation of human capital (measured by increased educational attainment and reduced mortality and morbidity) and, as a result, also raise potential labor market returns for the beneficiaries, as well as overall productivity. The programs have had a substantial positive long-term impact on the education, nutrition and health of its beneficiaries, especially children.” 7In the World Bank’s expansive document analyzing CAFTA’s potential impact on Central America, entitled “DR-CAFTA – Challenges and Opportunities for Central America” the authors repeatedly reference technology and emphasize the importance of a complementary educational agenda that is tied to each country’s stage of development and innovation. For example, “for those countries farthest away from the technological frontier -such as Honduras and Nicaragua– the best technology policy is likely to be simply sound education policy… in the more advanced settings of Costa Rica and El Salvador, where adaptation and creation of new technologies is more important, issues of education quality and completion of secondary schooling are more important.” 8 In fact, without ever making specific reference to the MDGs, the authors recommend that the former countries focus on the goal of achieving universal primary education while the latter countries focus their energy on expanding and improving secondary level education. Failing to do so is choosing failure in the open market.Ultimately, rather than seeing CAFTA as a first class ticket to a better economic end – with no strings attached, countries must acknowledge the critical importance of first implementing MDG Two – target three. This target, which says “by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling” 9 is a critically important step towards guaranteeing the emergence of a workforce that can respond to increased marketplace demand and evolving technologies. Without immediate investment in that future workforce via the education system, CAFTA will surely flounder and drag MDG Two along with it.Furthermore, as mentioned above, educational infrastructure must be put into place now that will not only guarantee a higher quality education but will also be made accessible and desirable to Central America’s most at-risk citizens. After all, based on Mexico’s experience, the likelihood of a positive outcome for both CAFTA and MPG Two is slim. Yet the possibility of economic success does exist if we agree to truly choose “Education For All.”CITATIONS1) Millennium Development Goals, Goal Eight, http://www.un.org2) At the time this brief was written (Dec 2005), the agreement still hadn’t been ratified by the Parliaments of Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.3) The Millennium Development Goals Report 2005, http://unstats.un.org/unsd/mi/pdf/MDG%20Book.pdf4) The Millennium Development Goals in Latin America and the Caribbean: Progress, Priorities, and IDB Support for their Implementation, Inter-American Development Bank, Washington, DC, Aug 05, http://idbdocs.iadb.org/wsdocs/getdocument.aspx?docnum=5910885) National Public Radio, All Things Considered, Interview with Daniel Lederman, Monday, December 8, 2003 http://web.lexis-nexis.com/6) The Millennium Development Goals in Latin America and the Caribbean: Progress, Priorities, and IDB Support for their Implementation, ibid7) The Millennium Development Goals in Latin America and the Caribbean: Progress, Priorities, and IDB Support for their Implementation, Inter-American Development Bank, Washington, DC, August 2005, p. 568) DR-CAFTA – Challenges and Opportunities for Central America, Chapter VII: Obtaining the Pay-off From DR-CAFTA, p199.9) Millennium Development Goals, Goal Two, http://www.un.org

It’s Never Too Late to Get Back into Health and Fitness

Hello people,At this time of the year many of you go on holiday, or have the children at home, and adding to this the warm evenings, barbeques, and enticing beer gardens, many people find that they are slipping out of their good habits, and starting to feel sluggish. It is an often repeated scenario that effects many of you, including myself, that just when you seem to be getting somewhere, improving fitness levels, and losing unwanted weight, life takes over, holidays loom, work tires you out, babies are born, and suddenly it seems as if you are back to square one. Many people feel that when they have taken time out from their exercise routine, or when social engagements and holidays have sabotaged their healthy eating habits, that they have to start from scratch again. This can seem daunting and unfair, and often is enough to put you off altogether. We feel that all the hard work is useless if you can loose it all so easily, and that it is easier not to bother, and that we have failed. This may lead us back to bad habits and spiraling low-self esteem, where it becomes harder and harder to get back into fitness and health.It is never too late to get back into health and fitness.I think that we should take a leaf out of the government’s book and replace the word FAILURE with DEFFERRED SUCCESS. Slipping out of your health and fitness routines is merely a normal part of the journey towards changing your lifestyle for the better for ever (no that is not an excuse for deliberately slipping out and buying that chocolate gateau). We should view these little excursions from out healthy routine as minor blips. Do not allow them to continue, don’t think about having to start again, just think about continuing with your good work. Try to see the bad times as an exception to the rule, and the good times as normal life, rather that the other way round.Last week I was talking to my dad and he explained that they have had lots of visitors staying and provided them with lots of lovely (and naughty) food, and that next week they were having a dinner party and so he would be dropping out of his healthy routine yet again. He told me that he would start again after the dinner party, but I reminded him that he could continue to eat well until the dinner party, and then just take a day off. I think that this illustrates the way that many of us think about our healthy lifestyles, often it seems something that we can put off until later, but sometimes later becomes a lot later and sometimes it never happens. I am afraid that we have to be a little strict with ourselves, pick ourselves off the sofa, turn off that TV and get out there, book a badminton court, turn up to a class or go for a walk.Summer is such a great time to take a look at your exercise routine and what you eat and make some more effort. If you go on holiday do not see it as a time to do all of the things you would never dream of doing at home, look at it as an opportunity to try some new pursuits such as fitness walking, sea swimming, pony trekking, skiing etc Take in the scenery whilst being active, visit markets to sample local fruit and vegetables, and if you are close to the sea, go to seafood restaurants and eat loads of fresh fish. If you are at home with kids, try some active pursuits with them, get down the farmers market and get them to choose some interesting seasonal fruits and vegetables. Go out into the garden and do some gardening, use the better weather to stay active, and then when the Autumn comes and most people are feeling remorse for the damage that they have done to themselves over the Summer, you will know that you calmly carried on living well and healthily.If you find that you are struggling to fit everything in, then write down the way you feel when you are eating well and exercising regularly; more energy, sleeping better, feeling confident, feeling less stressed, having a more positive body image, feeling physically strong, feeling proud of yourself. Remind yourself of these things, and then continue with this healthy happy path. Forget the period of relapse, don’t feel bad about it, don’t let it put you off making the effort to get back into health, just calmly take the steps needed to get you back on track. Clear the rubbish out the fridge, telephone a squash partner, pick up a timetable from the gym, put a note in your diary and make an appointment with yourself to get fitter and feel better.Health and fitness is about progression not perfection, don’t look back at where you went wrong, look forward and think about the things that you can do today to progress.Nag over, cheerio until next time, and have a healthy happy week.
Vikki.Do you have any friends and family who could benefit from getting fitter and feeling better? If you do, then treat them to free copy of this newsletter, forward it to them, and get them to e-mail me with a request. E-mail [email protected] subject: newsletter request. Would you like to bring health into the workplace? Getfitter now offers a corporate package, including yoga classes/courses, Massage, Nutrition and Stress Management seminars, team-building events, conference breaks, Company Wellness days and Healthy Friday a monthly wellness event. Please visit www.corporatechill.com or ring Vikki on 0117 3300655.

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