Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa believes that his country’s advance in the world will come on the heels of the government’s investment in education.
Correa addressed a crowd of over a hundred people in Luce Hall on Thursday in a talk entitled “Ecuador’s Political, Science and Knowledge Transformations.” He explored the industrial, social and political progress that Ecuador has made in the last several years.
Correa pointed to the increased social mobility in Ecuador that has occurred during his presidency, which began in 2007. His tenure has been characterized by stability — in the decade before Correa took office, Ecuador had three different presidents — and an increase of social spending in the government, precipitating a decline in poverty rates for the South American nation.
“Democracy has been established in Ecuador,” Correa said. “And not only democracy in the form of science, but real democracy, in terms of people’s access to rights, equal opportunities and dignified living conditions.”
One in four Ecuadorians have moved to a higher social stratum since Correa took office, he said, using this change as an example of increased socioeconomic mobility. He added that the gap between the richest and poorest 10 percent of Ecuadorians has fallen drastically — though he added that it remains too large.
Correa also addressed his desire to increase scientific and technological development within Ecuador.
“That is probably the secret to the success of the United States, a nation where 10 percent control 75 percent of the wealth,” he said. “Such concentrated economic power normally destroys a society, but it has been a system that has made possible great technological advances and with them progress that has improved life for all.”
Correa also described how his government has worked tirelessly to improve its system of higher education. The 2008 Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly had concluded that Ecuador’s universities were of lesser quality than those in other Latin American nations, which they also deemed of lesser quality than the educational systems in other countries.
In response, the government began shutting down universities deemed unfit. Over 40,000 displaced students were re-enrolled in better universities, Correa said, and the government implemented greater economic incentives for talented individuals.
Correa’s government has also established four new public universities, each focusing on their own realm of study, including technology, education, creative arts and bio-knowledge. Following these changes, Ecuador has become the nation with the highest percentage GDP spent on education.
“We have refused to accept the classic dilemma of income inequality, where we supposedly have to choose between democratizing the system under the principle of free equity, or providing academic excellence under the principle of equality,” Correa said.
Correa also condemned the behavior of other nations, including the United States, in essentially exploiting Ecuador’s natural resources, such as those found in the Amazon rainforest, with no compensation. Correa said that in an “unjust new world order,” Ecuador has been placed below larger, more powerful nations.
Audience member Salvatore Green from Branford, Connecticut said he was not too convinced by Correa’s emphasis on knowledge as the new measure of world power.
Three other audience members, though, said they admired Correa’s efforts to advance Ecuadorian education and believed that his speech portrayed a rapidly improving Ecuador.
“We know that we cannot change the unjust world order, but we will not accept the role assigned to us,” Correa said in the conclusion of his talk. “Ecuador has decided to base its development on the only sources of growth that cannot be limited: human talent and human knowledge. But we also do this in a sobering way.”
Correa is currently serving his third term as President of Ecuador.