September 2, 2005

Former Peruvian P.M. Discusses Education

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Former Peruvian Prime Minister Beatriz Merino presented an ambitious plan yesterday for gradually infusing stability in to the notoriously corrupt and impoverished nations of Latin America.

Delivered in Warren Hall to an audience diverse in heritage and expertise, Merino’s lecture opened the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs’ (CIPA) Colloquium Series.

With Peru’s troubled history as a backdrop, Merino, Latin America’s first female prime minister, urged a fundamental “shift of paradigm” in Latin American countries from the paradigm of underdevelopment – the recycling of ideas through educational systems that engenders a “fatalistic attitude toward politics and economics,” according to a recent article by Merino – to a “paradigm of progress.”

The paradigm of underdevelopment is perpetuated by politicians who are unwilling to offer innovative solutions to increasingly persistent problems, she said. Leadership philosophy should shift “from what to know to who to be,” added Merino.

Merino’s vision for a paradigm of progress includes economic reform, but highlights educational advancement as the gateway to an invigorated Latin America.

Integral to an overhaul of Latin America’s schools, Merino said, were advances in teacher training, increases in citizens’ access to information and ideas and the adoption of a progress-themed curriculum by elementary schools and institutions of higher learning.

“We should not overlook the huge presence of the teacher,” said Merino, predicting that the revision of school textbooks would ultimately do away with the “textbook solutions” Latin American leaders turn to instead of inventive ideas.

Some experts, though, were skeptical about the feasibility of Merino’s education plan.

“There is so much corruption in parts of the civil service of many countries in Latin America that it – extends to publicly supported institutions,” said CIPA Prof. Emeritus Jerome M. Ziegler. “If you really want progress, you have to go to the private institutions.”

The dilemma, Ziegler said, emerges when one asks, “Who supports the private schools?” Control of these elite institutions lies in the hands of the upper class – the same social strata Merino had previously targeted as sources of corruption in government.

Still, through the continuation of economic policies introduced during her tenure as Prime Minister, Merino said that Peru could find the resources for her education plan, and “bring back students to the public schools.”

Although she described herself as a “former politician,” Merino – who, along with the entire Peruvian cabinet, was asked to resign by President Alejandro Toledo in 2003 – answered several unmistakably political questions.

Asked whether or not she would seek the presidency in 2006, Merino said she is not entertaining the possibility of a run for office, but acknowledged that that was “the ten million dollar question.” For now, she will continue as a senior specialist in the Public Sector of the World Bank.

Merino’s appearance as a concerned expert rather than a political hopeful seemed genuine for many in the audience.

“She was less of a politician; she was trying to answer questions and not evading issues,” said Afshan Khoja grad.

In her search for answers to Latin America’s many questions, Merino left the audience with an instructive syllogism: “The secret of happiness is freedom; the secret of freedom is courage,” suggesting that even absent corruption, Latin American governments must encourage fresh and bold reform.

Archived article by Rob Fishman
Sun Staff Writer