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Consultancy - Develop a study on policy prospects for achieving better learning opportunities for children, adolescents and young people in Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office

Terms of Reference


Develop a study on policy prospects for achieving better learning opportunities for children, adolescents and young people in Latin America and the Caribbean analyzing the main challenges, structural underpinnings and options of new educational policies.

At the same time, support the UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office with the preparation of a proposal for a regional seminar to discuss a potential regional agenda around learning.


Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries have increased educational coverage over the past few decades, and today more young people, adolescents, and children are in school. However, in this region, attending school does not necessarily guarantee learning.

The limited but growing evidence on student learning achievements in LAC indicates that many students do not get the minimum knowledge and skills they need for their development and the development of their societies. For example, 36% of the students from 3rd. grade of primary school that participated in the SERCE study, achieved only the most simple mathematical skills (Level I), and 10% did not even manage to get these competences (Below Level I)[1]. In contrast, with some exceptions, the percentage of students who achieved high results is very low compared with the more developed countries. It is true that standardized assessments have technical limitations. However, it is likely that more holistic assessments that would have included other areas or competencies would have generated similar results.

Furthermore, school dropout rates, both in primary school (in some countries) and in secondary school, continue to be high in the region. This suggests that for many, the educational offer is irrelevant and/or that there are socio-economic dynamics that make them leave formal education. In more extreme circumstances (but still very common in some countries), some young people, adolescents, and children, have never attended school.

Research also indicates that these low rates of performance and retention are not related to the inability of children, adolescents and young people to learn. Rather, it is due to the failure of the educational system to provide an attractive offer and adapt to their needs and to reduce the impact of the socio-economic conditions of each individual[2]. In other words, the governments of the region have not succeeded in creating models of formal learning for all, and if the education systems continue to operate as they have done up to now, it is not certain that they will achieve their goals even if more resources are invested. For this reason, in our region, many children and young people will not receive a relevant and dignified education, because the educational services on offer will continue to be unsuitable, obsolete, or, even worse, non-existent.

Paradoxically, while the region is faced with this structural dilemma, the sciences of learning have advanced substantially, and today, we know better how individuals learn and what dynamics favor learning[3]. It is known, for example, that learning is constructed based on previous knowledge and that emotions and expectations have an impact on student results. Applying these principles in the region’s school classrooms is undoubtedly complicated. Among many other factors, because of the way the schools are organized, teachers are trained, support mechanisms are developed and evaluations are used based on school models from the beginning of the century when little was known about learning.

In all the countries of the region, there are a myriad of innovative initiatives that have sought better learning experiences (e.g., Escuela Nueva in Colombia).  Many have been adapted to their specific setting and have better responded to the needs of students. Intentionally or not, these are generally consistent with the principles of the learning sciences. However, evaluations of their impact and systematized efforts to scale them up have been less frequent. Further, the existence of these proposals have had very limited influence on the national educational systems. We continue to generate educational choices of average quality that continue to exclude various sectors of the population.

Faced with these structural challenges, it is necessary to reflect on the future of school systems in the region and how to achieve better learning opportunities[4]. Questions include: How to create educational options relevant to those who are inside and outside the school system today? How to advance towards a system in which all can learn more and where there are fewer differences among students? What tools do we have to define, measure, and support the goals and strategies of learning? What regional experiences can help define a new learning agenda based on new paradigms? How do you achieve these goals when the human and financial resources are limited and are not expected to grow substantially in the years ahead?


The consultant is expected to:

1.      Prepare a report with the following:  

-         Analysis of the principles or traditional paradigms on learning around which educational systems in the region have been structured and the consequences in terms of public policy and of learning. Specific examples to be included.

-         Analysis of alternative or emerging "learning paradigms" that can be glimpsed in innovative initiatives or alternatives to the traditional system and that seek to better respond to the learning needs of children, adolescents and young people. Define how they conceptualize learning, its acquisition, measurement and articulation with the rest of the system. Include specific examples.   

-         Analysis of the challenges for new learning proposals in the educational systems that do not exclude populations that today are outside the formal education system (e.g., indigenous groups, some sectors of the afro-descendants populations, internal migrants, children and adolescents living in marginal urban areas).

-         Recommendations to UNICEF to: 1) better support the countries of the region to achieve their national objectives and international commitments in relation to equitable educational services of quality, and 2) develop a proposal for an educational agenda for learning for all children and adolescents in LAC.

2.      The goal of achieving equity in learning must be a structural element both in the analysis and in the recommendations of this report. Gender perspectives, the particular needs of minorities and excluded groups, as well as people with different abilities should be included in the analysis and recommendations.

3.      Identify key players in the academic and political worlds, civil society, and cooperation agencies with whom this report and the regional agenda could be discussed.

4.      Make a proposal for a regional seminar to discuss the conclusions of the report and the proposed regional agenda. This should include a description of the format for the discussions and the outputs, the content and potential participants.



-         Research institution or academic unit or university with experience in the analysis of the research and public policies in the areas of education, social sciences, international development or a related field.

-         Leader(s) that will lead the consultancy with ten years of professional experience at the national and international level in policy planning in education or a related field.

-         Leader(s) and members of the team with ten years of expert knowledge in learning, the learning sciences and education.

-         Leader(s) and members of the team with ten years of knowledge and experience in implementation strategies for the educational policy.

-         Institution and equipment with strong capacity of research and analysis, both qualitative and quantitative

-         Leader(s) and team members with excellent writing skills in Spanish and/or English.

-         Leader(s) and members of the team with fluency in English and/or Spanish. Fluency in both languages is an advantage.


September 9th. to December 10th., 2013.


The consultant team will work from its institution, but remain in regular communication, by phone or email, with the supervisors from UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office Education Team.


- First payment (20%) upon the submission of a detailed description of the study.
- Second payment (30%) upon the submission of the first draft of the study.
- Third and final payment (50%) upon the satisfactory submission of the final version of study and related products.


To apply, please send updated CVs for each member of the team, a one-page description of your institution, Vendor Form, to include your institution in our system, (attached), as well as the proposed conceptual framework, the methodology, the schema for the study, and budget to:  The deadline for receipt of applications is August 30, 2013.


[2] OECD, 2012.
Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools, OECD, Paris
[3] Sawyer, R.K. (2006), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, London. Dumont, H. D. Istance and F. Benavides (2010). The Nature of Learning. Using Research to Inspire Practice.














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