Vol. 25, No. 1: Great Things Happening in the New Year

The CORD Educational Model:
A Workable Solution to Shared Problems

Agustin Navarra

For decades people from many sectors of American society have been complaining about public education. They say (correctly) that it lacks relevance to what students (future employees) will actually do in the workplace, too many students repeat grades or drop out, graduates lack the skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly global knowledge economy, and so on. The symptoms are widespread and, unfortunately, seem to be getting more acute every day.

These issues are especially acute at the high school level. Today's teenagers, who will soon be working (or at least work-eligible) adults, are most adversely affected by public education's shortcomings because, just at the time in their lives when they should be readying themselves for future careers, they lose interest and neglect to develop the skills that will equip them for the workplace.

The Latin American Perspective
As Vice President for International Initiatives at CORD (Center for Occupational Research and Development), I have spent more than twenty years working in educational projects outside the United States, mainly in Latin American countries. Through those experiences I have come to the conclusion that the complaints, concerns, and problems observed in the United States are found practically everywhere and are often more acute outside the United States than they are here.

Here is what I have observed in the Latin American region. Please note that I am not focusing on school infrastructure (such as buildings and facilities), salary levels, or policies. My focus is on educational practices and perspectives, and their outcomes.

  • The growing gap between technical education and the real needs of business and industry (which are constantly evolving) leads to a kind of "workplace illiteracy" that exacerbates unemployment.

  • Educational budgets and organizational structures are insufficient to accommodate the expense of sound technical education.

  • A rapidly growing segment of the population is dropping out of the formal sector (for a variety of reasons, mainly poverty, marginalization, and frustration).

  • The education system comprises a tumultuous mixture of different approaches and initiatives.

  • Many institutions are unable to collaborate. This, coupled with slow reaction to change, leads to inefficiencies.

  • Because of poor quality control, training and education (formal and non-formal) are deteriorating.

  • Student enrollments are increasing "exponentially."

  • Access to technology across the general population is uneven. This creates inequities in the classroom, as some students have far more opportunities to use technology than others.

  • The prevailing pedagogy is unfair, discriminatory, and obsolete.

  • Much curriculum content is irrelevant to what students really need to know.

  • Drop-out and repetition rates are high.

  • Communication and coordination between educational levels, and between education and business-industry sectors, is poor.

At the classroom level, these problems translate into non-focused teachers, unmotivated students, employers struggling to find well-prepared workers, and countries losing ground in the global marketplace.

The CORD Model
To support education reform in Latin American countries, CORD has crafted a model that addresses the problem from three angles. The model is based on three building blocks, as is shown here.

The CORD model calls for a three-pronged approach that encompasses pedagogy and curriculum and requires the support of active partnerships. (Each will be described in more detail in future articles.)

  1. The pedagogical building block is the REACT strategy for contextual teaching and learning.

  2. The curriculum building block calls for integration of real-world content into classroom curriculum that translates into a more contextual plan of study for students.

  3. Partnerships (either private or public-private) are essential, because they provide seed money to initiate the process, keep the "players" together, and pave the way to a sustainable process.

The implementation of this model, either totally or partially, has shown notable success in several countries.

Future Articles
While training teachers, talking to education authorities, and helping form partnerships over several years, I have encountered a wide array of barriers that obsolete education paradigms are imposing upon efforts to modernize. CORD's goal in its international projects is to help all stakeholders—schools, businesses, teachers, and students—overcome those obstacles. The steps we are taking to reach that goal will be chronicled in future articles I hope to contribute to Connections, in which the CORD Educational Model will serve as a unifying theme. Hasta la próxima . . .

For more information, contact Agustin at anavarra@cord.org.

© 2015 CORD