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EDUCATIONAL COLLABORATIVE NETWORKS IN LATIN AMERICA: A MECHANISM FOR EDUCATIONAL EQUALITY

Manuel Acevedo Ruiz1, Ana Moreno Romero2


International Consultant on ICT for Development, Ph.D. Candidate at Universidad Politcnica de Madrid (SPAIN, ARGENTINA) 2 Professor, Dept. of Organizational Engineering, School of Mechanical Engineering of the Universidad Politcnica de Madrid (SPAIN) manuel@manuelacevedo.net, ana.moreno.romero@upm.es
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Abstract
Economic growth without equity constitutes one of the most pressing challenges for human development in Latin America. Even if poverty levels have fallen in many countries over the last two decades, advances in income distribution are more modest or even negative. Latin America remains the region with the highest inequity indexes in the world. Education can and must be a central component in the search for more equitable societies. Development and educational policies must explicitly include equity-related targets. ICTs can play an important role to improve equality of educational opportunities, from wider access to better educational materials to improved teacher support. Very importantly, they also allow for the introduction of connected or network learning. This paper argues that collaborative networks in the educational sector can be particularly effective mechanisms to realize the potential of ICT for higher quality and more equality in education. They will help build technological capacity among the people and organizations involved. Even more importantly, they help collaborative projects and actions to flourish and have impact. Three existing educational networks of different characteristics are examined: an institutional one, RELPE or Red Latinoamericana de Portales Educativos; a school network, TELAR in Argentina; and a multistakeholder network stemming from a public-private partnership for development, Educared (from Telefnica). The paper describes how they were established and how they have already planted the seeds for innovation in education in the region. Such networks form part of Open Development trends where individual and collective talent has growing access to quality information and knowledge resources and producing network social capital in the process. . Keywords: ICT and education; educational networks; Latin America; 1:1 models.

EDUCATION AND EQUALITY IN LATIN AMERICA

The achievement of equitable economic growth constitutes one of the most pressing challenges for human development in Latin America. Even though poverty levels have fallen in many of its countries during the last two decades, advances in income distribution are more modest or even negative. While inequality has become a global issue again as a consequence of the world financial and economic 1 crisis that started in 2008 , Latin America remains the region with the highest inequality indexes in the world.

1.1

Development without equality

The most recent Latinobarmetro report [6] begins by asking: "Are we on the verge of the Latin American Decade? (...) Latin America is experiencing its best period from the standpoint of the state of their democracies and their economies in the last 15 years." While the answer could be a guardedly optimistic yes, the traditional Latin American high inequality gets in the way of solid and sustainable advances in human development, not allowing the countries in the region to reach levels close to those of OECD countries. Organizations like the UN Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) or Latinobarmetro
The Economist informs that a survey of the people who will gather at the World Economic Forum 2011 in Davos named inequality as one of the two main global problems. The Rich and the Rest, The Economist, 20 January 2011; http://www.economist.com/node/17959590
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Proceedings of INTED2011 Conference. 7-9 March 2011, Valencia, Spain.

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itself are pointing at inequality in 2010 as the top challenge that Latin American countries must overcome to advance firmly along the path of human development and obtain irreversible reductions in poverty. [4, 6, 13] Although it has fallen slightly in recent years, Latin America continues to exhibit the highest rates of inequality in the world (Figure 1.1). While annual economic growth in the decade 2000-2009 was close to a notable 5% and inflation is now under control in most countries, this is not enough. Compared with other regions of the world, high and persistent inequality combined with low social mobility creates a vicious circle difficult to break. UNDP makes clear reference to this in its first ever regional Human Development Report in Latin America and the Caribbean: "This report reaffirms the central importance of the fight against poverty, but suggests that it is necessary to go further: the inequality per se is a obstacle to progress in human development and the reduction must be explicitly incorporated into the public agenda." [13, p. 6] Fig. 1 Gini index for home income per capita for some countries in LAC, Asia and the OECD group (data in each case for the last available year in the 1995-2005 period)

Source: [13, p. 18]

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Education and equity

Education is a central component in the strategy for more equitable Societies. Inequalities in the years of schooling, to name but one indicator, show strong correlations with income inequality. Education, as well as a human right, is a key element for poverty eradication and human development. Lost opportunities in the education sector deprive a person of a fundamental element of well-being that prevents her full exercise of citizenship and participation in public affairs. It moreover hampers economic growth and poverty alleviation. And it makes more tenuous (thus less sustainable) the progress in social mobility, equality between men and women, or in public health, among others. The lack of access to quality education services is evident in isolated rural communities. Education in these areas is characterized by high rates of illiteracy, low educational attainment, high dropout rates, together with late entries to school and a premature incorporation into the labor market thus offering high vulnerability scenarios. Development and educational policies must explicitly include equality-related targets, such as completion of school years up to the end of the secondary cycles, taking measures to compensate for the urban-rural divide and fostering university studies among disadvantaged groups (such as indigenous communities in the region). To exercise the right to education implies the responsibility of the State as guarantor of basic rights of citizenship, as well as being the main agent in the provision of educational services with an integrated perspective in order to favor social cohesion.

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1.3

ICT for equality (and quality) in education

Even the best use of ICT by itself cannot solve significant problems in education in developing countries, which face high population growth and need to insert into the global economy in order to get 2 ahead. But is it possible to aspire to a quality education in the Network Society without the widespread use of ICT? One way to address this question is by considering the actual economic resources invested in education by these countries, their performance of these efforts and their limits. According to UNDPs 2010 Human Development Report [14], the educational budgets of most of these countries have increased significantly, from 3.9% of GDP in 1970 to 5.1%. And many more people are accessing education: since 1960, the proportion of the global population that has attended school has increased from 57% to 85%. But this is clearly not enough, in quantitative terms and even more in relation to the quality of education. UNESCOs office for Latin America and the Caribbean believes that while there has been an increased investment in education in the region, quality has not increased in proportion. It is necessary to incorporate new methods to improve educational systems and their support systems (such as teacher training). Contrary to the view from technology skeptics that perceive ICTs as a luxury for education in the developing in the South, it is proposed that part of the answer to meeting the educational challenges lies in the rational use of digital technologies. ICT can indeed play an important role in improving both quality and equality of educational opportunities. They can be put to use in at least the following ways: (i) to optimize the distribution of educational resources - the best and most adequate resources can be served in digital format throughout the school system; (ii) to stimulate and facilitate learning - inducing the curiosity and creative of children and youth, and allowing for some degree of personalization; (iii) to support and train teachers - specially those in rural areas; and (iv) to strengthen informal education programs - so they can also make use of good materials and pedagogic support. Latin American countries are convinced that deepening the use of ICT in all spheres of economic, social and cultural rights, with an inclusive approach not limited exclusively to the productive sectors, is necessary to achieve decisive impulses to human development. Most have incorporated ICT in development strategies and policies. They started their own regional process, called 'eLAC', after the World Summit on the Information Society (2003-2005), in order to move forward together in pursuit of more just and equitable information societies. The latest of its three action plans, eLAC 2015, formulated in the Lima conference of November 2010, includes education as one of its 8 action lines, with the stated purpose of extending universal access to ICT for education and expanding their use [2, p. 13]. Coherent with this purpose (and those outlined in previous plans of action), many governments in the region are actively exploring the so-called 1:1 models, where every student gets a laptop or netbook computer, based or inspired in the One Laptop per Child Initiative led by MIT's Nicholas Negroponte. Some countries have started to implement them, like Uruguay, Argentina, Peru or Colombia, with Uruguay being the first to do so at a national scale for all primary and secondary schools (Plan Ceibal, http://www.ceibal.org.uy/). This is a controversial issue: some view it as focusing too much on equipment; others hold that the computers are only the tip of a moving iceberg that will in time transform and modernize education in their countries. At any rate, their focus on the public education system will reduce inequality at least in the short term (very few private schools today operate with 1:1 models). As Miguel Brechner, Ceibals director, stated, () when the impact of Ceibal is visualized it 3 can be verified that privileges were transformed into rights . Moreover, a child connected means that some extent the family is also connected, as research into the social impact of these initiatives is

Defined by Manuel Castells as the social structure of the Information Age. (Castells 1998)

Declarations by Miguel Brechner during the opening of the Redes Prioritarias project; http://www.ceibal.org.uy/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=307:proyecto-qredesprioritarias&catid=63:noticias-slider-home

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beginning to describe [5, 8]. If this turns out to be the case, then these initiatives will become effective mechanisms to reduce the digital divide a larger scale in their countries. Fig. 2 A primary school classrom in Uruguay where students use their XO laptops in the Plan Ceibal

Source: http://causaabierta.blogia.com/temas/plan-ceibal.php

NETWORKING EDUCATION - EDUCATION AND EQUITY IN LATIN AMERICA

Educational systems still remain largely anchored in Industrial Society schemes. They are largely evaluated through grades (from standardized tests) and graduation rates. Other aspects like contents, instruments and attitudes do not normally factor into evaluating a school system. How would a city school that prioritizes creativity and experimentation score in such schemes? How many of these standardized tests are administered online, or examine skills to find and properly assess the value of information on the Internet? What ratio of the schools curricula allow for personalization on the basis of individual interests and aptitudes? As was indicated in the previous section, ICTs in education can be transformational as well as instrumental. These technologies make certain educational tasks more efficient, such as obtaining teaching materials, and also stimulate learning via a mix of multimedia resources (eg. Google Earth, visual applications for math, physics or biology). At the system level, however, arguably the most important innovation they enable is the possibility to connect (with other schools, teachers, students, officials, etc.). As the Industrial Society gives way to the Network Society, educational models and systems need to adapt to the new environment, in economic, social and technological terms. ICTs make network learning possible, outside the limited classroom space and onto the city, the entire country or the world at large. A teacher from Mozambique may find useful resources in a Brazilian portal, even if they were not created specifically for the Mozambican context. And a Brazilian teacher can learn from a more experienced colleague in Mozambique. Educational networks supported by ICTs (and powered by innovation and imagination) can be particularly effective mechanisms through with to foster and empower teachers and school official for improving both educational equity and quality. They greatly enhance collaboration and knowledge sharing, which on the one hand helps to build human and institutional capacity on the integration of ICT for teaching and managing schools. On the other hand, they set a fertile ground where collaborative projects and activities among students, teachers, etc. (a powerful driver for learning) can 4 flourish. And in all cases, they help generate a new type of social capital within the entire educational community (which includes students and their families). This sections explores different types of educational networks to illustrate the various ways in which they can enrich learning, teaching and educational management: (i) an institutional network of educational portals, RELPE; (ii) a national network involving different types of actors in the educational Network capital or network social capital can be taken as a measure of the differentiated value that a community structured as a network generates using electronic networks, vis--vis traditional social capital [1]. This value could be produced for the members of that community, for other specific actors outside the community or for the benefit of society as a whole. Wikipedia is a good example of how network capital can be generated and create a valuable product.
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community in Argentina, TELAR; and (iii) and a mixed social/institutional network from a public-private development partnership, Educared (led by Telefnica).

2.1

RELPE

The first initiative reflected here is one of the most significant institutional development networks in the region, in any thematic area (even beyond education). RELPE is the Latin American Education Portals Network (www.relpe.org). Established in 2004, it is comprised of most of the education portals in the region (20 countries), as designated by the corresponding ministries of education. RELPE promotes the exchange and collaboration in the production and management of highly valuable educational resources, thus helping to meet the demands of the educational systems of the countries involved. Through its processes and products, RELPE is making a substantive contribution to the introduction and use of ICT in education across Latin America. It supports activities to strengthen the individual portals to produce quality educational resources, taking advantage of a valuable common asset for all the member countries: the Spanish language. It has developed specific tools to improve access, such as a specialized search facility or offline products (like CDs o DVDs) where connectivity was an issue (for instance in Bolivia). Furthermore, it has served as a springboard for other projects, related to 5 infrastructure or capacity building Furthermore, it helps in the study of various aspects of ICT and 6 education, such as the REDAL project among Latin American school networks . It has been said that RELPE acts as a kind of regional ministerial-level Education Committee. This carries advantages and disadvantages. It has fostered the reinforcement of political commitment to the national portals, and facilitated periodic contacts among ministries at the highest political level. But at time it has also suffered from excessive political dependency on individual ministers (their attitude towards the initiative, their time in office, etc.) for meaningful participation of their related national portals. Overall, the political experience has been positive, providing a platform to unify diverse national processes and for learning of other national experiences.

2.2

Red TELAR

TELAR (Spanish acronym for Everyone In The Network, which means to weave) is one of the most veteran school networks in the region. It was founded in 1989, based on the model of the International 7 Education and Resource Network (iEARN) . It is open to open to all schools in Argentina and promotes the educational use of ICTs through collaborative project work, nationally and internationally. The guiding principal of TELAR is methodological innovation through collaborative learning.
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The project objectives are similar to those than can be found in most modern schoolnets : To provide a virtual workspace where teachers and students contact to propose, design and develop projects in a collaborative classroom. To facilitate access to collaborative projects in order to guide participants on how to develop new ones them. To contribute to the development of a virtual community of educators and students, expanding the learning community beyond geographic, economic and cultural barriers (thus directly aimed at improving equity in education). To encourage innovation in teaching practices that stimulates values among students such as creativity, collaboration, social responsibility and respect for diversity.
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An example is CEDUCAR, a project that support teacher capacity development on ICT for education in Central America and the Dominican Republic, financed by the Spanish International Cooperation Agency, AECID; http://www.ceducar.info/CEDUCAR/index.php REDAL is a research project sponsored by IDRC (International Development Research Centre) of Canada, which studies a group of schoolnets in Latin America to document its practices and propose recommedations for decision-making about ICT integration into education systems. It includes Red Telar in Argentina, World Links in Brasil and Paraguay, Red Enlaces in Chile, Red Telemtica Educativa en Costa Rica, Connections in Colombia and the School Network in Mexico.

Red TELAR is the Argentinian chapter and founding member of iEARN, http://www.iearn.org/. For a description of what iEARN does internationally, you may watch this video: http://dotsub.com/view/116351b7-a93e-43ff-854a-545fe9cfa91c Aulas Hermanas is another good example of a schoolnet. It is simpler in nature and scope than TELAR. Its goal is to promote educational contacts among students/teachers of two schools in different countries in Latin America. The age of the students is between 12 and 17 years. The duration of most projects is about 2 months. The products are reflected in collaborative project blogs, which are entered into a contest. have a typical duration of Aulas Hermanas. http://www.aulashermanas.org/index.html

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In order to reach those objectives, TELAR trains and advices teachers and facilitators who want to participate in the network, evaluate new projects and monitors ongoing ones, and manages a digital platform that hosts the projects, discussion fora and a variety of supporting tools. TELAR presently 9, supports 27 projects and offers access to another 71 in languages other than Spanish via iEARN. There are challenges and difficulties which are also probably common to many other schoolnets, such as (i) lack of finance, (ii) poor infrastructure and connectivity for the schools, and (iii) resistance to methodological changes required to make these networked projects successful. But TELAR is adept at adapting to circumvent these difficulties. For example, in their initial stages, long before the Web, in order to save money for communications they set up a BBS (Bulleting Board Service) system, and later obtained an X-25 line from the Ministry of Education (so connection costs would be those of a local phone call). And in their recommendations for successful projects and networks of its type, they include a rarely mentioned ingredient: the importance of the bonds of friendship for creating an active community of teachers.

2.3

Educared

EducaRed (http://www.educared.org ) is a program that aims to generalize the Internet as a tool for pedagogical innovation among teachers, parents and students. What sets it apart is that it was initiated by the private sector (Telefnica, through its foundation), and that it has spawned a number of specific initiatives through partnering with various organizations, mostly governments and from civil 10 society, in at least 8 countries . It is thus considered an example of a networked public-private partnership for development. Its main product is a portal that offers a significant number of content, tools and activities oriented separately to the three pillars of the program: students, teachers and parents. That portal was the programs first inception when it started in 1998. But over time it has added other initiatives, including the incorporation of off-line, presential activities to directly support some schools from 2006. It thus combines the scale of its virtual offerings, eg. about 600,000 web pages in the portal and some 40 million visits reported in 2008 [10, annex 6], with the promotion of interventions in schools for managing change, always a tough obstacle to overcome when talking about ICT and education. Educared correctly prioritizes training and support to the teachers so they can gain the necessary capacity to successfully integrate ICT in the classroom. For that reason, it launched a portal specifically geared to the teachers, www.profesoresinnovadores.net, which includes classroom activities to complement the contents of its larger Educared web site. Other initiatives that emerged from Educared were (i) Mobile Classroom, to raise awareness of usefulness of ICTs for education; (ii) EducaParty, to start with technology-based teaching; (iii) Innova / Integra, to generate pioneers in the use of ICT across the educational curriculum; (iv) Model Centers, to spearhead models of ICT implementation in education; and (v) CEFA (Educared Centers for Advanced Training), to forge and support leaders for educational transformation. Another worthwhile networked attribute of Educared is that while it supports programs spanning its set of countries and actors, it provides autonomy to national Educared programs to implement its work according to local decisions. In other words, national Educared chapters have access to global Educared offers, but can conduct other initiatives as well. This not only provides needed flexibility at the country level, but also extends the pool of valuable resources and experiences that can be shared across all eight countries.

CONCLUSIONS - LOOKING AHEAD

Latin America as a region is moving along a route of educational modernization, through processes than can instill both equity and quality in the educational services it offers to its children and youth. Such educational improvements, in turn, are key to overcome the historical inequality that still characterizes the region. Inequality remains a stubborn obstacle to prolonged and sustainable advances in human development for its people even in the face of positive economic winds as it has
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With telling titles such as Is a Book Dangerous?, Doors to Peace, or The Whys of Taxes. http://www.telar.org/proyectos/index.php?pag=mas_proyectos Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Venezuela.

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been in the previous decade for the region as a whole. Without equitable education is impossible to empower those children and youth as they grow and become adults in order to exercise their citizenship and become fully participating/integrated members of society. Yet the trends in many countries are contradictory. A sign of these modernizing processes is the gradual emergence of 1:1 models, which will be rolling out in the public school systems of most Latin American countries over the course of this recently started decade. But the middle and upper classes continue to send their daughters and sons to private schools, decrying the poor performance (factual or imagined) of the public schools. The scope of the changes needed is more revolutionary than evolutionary. This implies that essential changes need to be undertaken, among them the adaptation of what is learned and how is learned to the existing/evolving social structures of the Information Age. This educational revolution will arguably not come by decree, but from a combination of upstream pressures with an enabling environment stimulated downstream (at the government level but also among the economic and business elites). The central message of this paper is that networked approaches are needed in order to tackle the scope of such changes, with the capillarity required through all levels in society and in the context of an evolving Network Society. Three educational networks were presented and briefly characterized in order to identify some of their main attributes: a technology (ICT) base that allows for fast/inexpensive communications and access to information and knowledge on a 24/7/365 basis. the exchange of knowledge and experiences, made easier and more efficient in networked entities, whether in technical, pedagogical or political spheres (and also on an inter-disciplinary basis). the ease of participation that network structures offer to actors of the educational community or external to it (free software designers, media or graphic design professionals, content developers, project managers), so that anyone wanting to contribute can do so. the inclusion of connected or networked learning as a modality at the disposal of teachers and learners when deemed appropriate; access to a wider set of educational resources than can be possible solely in one educational jurisdiction; the promotion of collaboration as a practical mode of work both among students and also among teachers, along with the provision of collaborative means (via ICTs tools and institutional openness) to make collaboration effective and efficient; an emphasis on capacity, particularly for teachers in their curriculum-oriented use of ICTs (ie. for math, history, art, etc.) as well as for institutions (eg. members of a network like RELPE); in the particular case of Latin American countries, taking good advantage of a common language such as Spanish, not only for contents (ie. textbooks) but also to facilitate collaborative 11 participation ; their successful proclivity to promote and support other initiatives, because of the agility and flexibility of networked mechanisms; the possibility of supporting presential as well as virtual activities. Educational networks do not only exist in cyberspace - in fact they have a solid, presential foundation: the persons or organizations belonging to them; and, (lest we forget TELARs advice) the power of friendships for weaving communities. Forming communities that transcend geographical, economic and cultural barriers and hold common interests (in this case a quality education for all): this is in short the meaning of equality. That is, essentially, why educational networks are expected to play a crucial role in achieving major improvements in equitable educational systems across Latin America over the remainder of this decade. And it bears the justification behind increasing the support provided to them, as well as researching how they can best contribute to educational changes in the near future.

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Brazil is a strategic exception, but Spanish is becoming a widely spoken second language in the largest Latin American country. Besides, there exists a long custom for Brazil and the Spanish-speaking countries of the region to work together in numerous political and social fora.

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