FLOK: Human Capabilities

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by Daniel Araya

I. Introductory Phase

1. National Economic Development: Framing Ecuadorian Capacity Building

It is no coincidence that rising demand for advanced education has developed in parallel with discourses on the “knowledge economy”. The importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education has emerged as a common policy framework shaping a global discourse on educational reform. Building on the need for competitive “human capital”, economic policymaking around the world is now increasingly oriented toward developing high-skilled labor. In this context, the Correa government has undertaken major restructuring of the country’s education system, including 71 universities and 621,000 students. Beginning in late 2009, for example, the government began conducting an evaluation of the country’s universities. In the its view, reform of education has become critical to social and economic development. In higher education, the overall strategy has been designed to make universities more selective in order to develop the skills and competencies needed to support Ecuador’s growth. In 2008, for example, Ecuador’s new Constitution eliminated tuition in public universities and in 2012, introduced aptitude testing as a means to admission to the country’s 29 public universities. As the National Plan outlines:

For the 2013-2017 period, our aim is to establish holistic education to achieve the socialist knowledge- based society and leap forward from an economy of finite (material) resources-based economy to an economy based on an infinite-based resource: knowledge. Efforts must focus on guaranteeing the right to education for all, under conditions of quality and equity, placing human beings and localities at the center. We will bolster the role of knowledge by promoting scientific and technological research responsible with society and Nature. We will construct emancipating knowledge, expand coverage and enhance quality at all levels of education. We will reinforce research to ensure scientific and technological innovation.

Adding to this transformation of the Ecuadorian education system is the possibility of integrating commons-based resources. Conventional systems of education often depend upon closed IP regimes but this is expensive and inefficient. In the context of learning, commons-based education reimagines schooling as “Open Learning”. This overlaps: Open Data, Open Courseware (OCW), Open Access (OA) scholarship, and Open Educational Resources (OER). Perhaps most importantly, Open Learning challenges standard transmission models of education to support communities of peer learners and peer producers.

While a large proportion of children are educated through primary and secondary schooling, Ecuador does not fully educate its population. At the higher education level, for example, approximately 80% of Ecuador’s young people attend public universities (with the Central University of Ecuador and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito accounting for almost 50% of enrollments). More problematically, however, the graduation rate at public universities is rarely more than 15%. In response to these educational defecits, the government’s National Plan outlines several key targets for managing education policy. These targets include:

  • To increase the percentage of people from age 16 to 24 who have completed basic schooling to 95.0%.
  • To increase the percentage of people from age 18 to 24 who have graduated from high school to 78.0%.
  • To reduce the dropout rate in the 8th year of basic schooling and the first year of high school to 3.0%.
  • To increase Internet access in schools to 90.0%.
  • To increase enrollment in higher education to 50.0%.
  • To increase enrollment in technical and technological institutes to 25.0%.
  • To achieve 80.0% rate of students in higher education who complete their degrees.
  • To achieve 85.0% rate of university professionals who have graduate degrees.

To contextualize changes in Ecuador’s education policies, it is important to frame these changes in terms of the broader economic system in which the country’s social development is rooted. Ecuador's economy is the eighth largest in Latin America and has grown by 5.5% from 2002-06 (the highest five-year average in 25 years). Although the country’s GDP growth dropped to 0.4% after peaking at 7.2% in 2008, it has since 2010 rebounded to 3.6% (Center for International Economic Studies, 2012). Ecuador’s macro-economic model is largely rooted in dollarization and petroleum production (Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar following a major banking crisis and recession in 1999). In fact, the oil sector accounts for 50%-60% of the country’s export earnings. This amounts to 15%-20% of GDP, and 30%-40% of government revenues. In 2010, for example, crude and refined petroleum products accounted for 56% of total export earnings. In addition to petroleum production, manufacturing is primarily for the domestic market, with additional exports in agricultural products[1].

Beyond oil export, President Correa's social and economic priorities include higher spending on social welfare programs that are coupled to state-managed economic growth strategies. Between 2006 and 2009, for example, the government increased spending on social welfare, and education from 2.6% to 5.2% of GDP. This has included expansionary fiscal policies and large investments in education and infrastructure. With a constitutional foundation rooted in the development of social protection policies and a fundamentally new approach to expanding inclusive economic growth, the Correa government has become eager to introduce policies that can leverage State managed postindustrial growth strategies in Ecuador. The country’s national development plan (Buen Vivir in Spanish; Sumak Kawsay in Quichua), for example, builds on a language and rhetoric that looks to move the Ecuador beyond the quantitative measurements of economic performance in order to and establish a new vision for economic inclusion, transparency and citizen participation (Secretaría Nacional de Planificación y Desarrollo, 2010). Indeed, Sumak Kawsay has been designed around a rights-based approach to development. This political model is grounded in Ecuador’s 2008 constitution, and institutionalized by an expansion in governmental ministries (IPC Policy Research, 2012). These ministries include:

  • The National Secretariat for Development Planning (SENPLADES) SENPLADES integrates government goals and constitutional rights into policy and development plans.
  • The Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion (Ministério de Inclusión Económica y Social) (MIES) MIES develops policy and initiates complementary programmes to oversee the implementation of specific policies in line with development goals.
  • The Ministry of Social Development Coordination (Ministério Coordinador de Desarrollo Social) Ministério Coordinador de Desarrollo Social oversees monitoring of social policies, coordinates different social institutions within the government and serves as the liaison between those ministries and the presidency.

Advancing on the State-managed economic model of East Asian countries like Japan and Korea, Ecuador’s government has begun developing policies to support the export of advanced manufacturing, including high-technology goods. Much like South Korea's Incheon Free Economic Zone, Ecuador policymakers are looking to leverage knowledge and innovation through the construction of Yachay or "City of Knowledge". In partnership with the California Institute of Technology, Yachay is based around the construction of a new high-technology university community. Building on the Asian models of policy and planning, Ecuador’s government is looking to incubate knowledge and innovation through advanced education. Ecuador is not alone in this approach, however. It is no coincidence, for example, that rising demand for advanced education has developed in parallel with discourses on the “knowledge economy”. The importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education has emerged as a common policy framework shaping a global discourse on educational reform.

2. Background: Contextualizing Human Capacities in the Knowledge Economy

The idea that education contributes to socioeconomic development is by no means new. In fact, Adam Smith (1776) suggested that economic growth was driven by worker capacities[2]. Indeed a century before Smith, William Petty (Chief Economist to Oliver Cromwell) argued that the value of England’s stock market was in fact more substantial than all of its hard physical assets and attributed this extra value to its people (Marber, 2013). However, it was not until the 1960s that economists began to systematically incorporate the idea of learning and labor quality into theories on socioeconomic performance. Recent interest among macroeconomists in the potential of education to stoke economic growth builds on theories of endogenous growth like Paul Romer’s (1986, 1990) New Growth Theory.

Where neoclassical economic theory views knowledge as exogenous (or external) to growth, theories on endogenous growth locate knowledge and innovation at the center. This is partly in response to Solow’s (1957, 1970) work and its focus on knowledge and innovation (technology). Endogenous Growth Theory (EGT) is distinct from neoclassical theory in that growth is seen as the “endogenous outcome of an economic system, not the result of forces that impinge from outside” (Romer, 1994: 4). Classical economics recognizes the need for active investments in education on the grounds that education enables positive externalities, however, EGT holds that the value of skilled labor rises as human capital increasingly drives economic expansion. Where conventional economic theory attempts to capture and define the value of labor in terms of market transactions, HCT makes the claim that investments in education can directly enhance growth. Principles underlying HCT, for example, include techno-scientific innovation, the codification of knowledge through information and communication technologies (ICTs), the commodification of knowledge through intellectual property regimes, and the production and circulation of knowledge by and through knowledge networks (Peters, 2009).

Given the rising demand for skilled labor, it is hardly surprising that human capital development is now a widely shared policy goal across developing and developed countries. Studies on EGT overlap learning management, learning organizations, and skill-biased technological change (SBTC)[3]. Beyond the policy dichotomy between economic policy and welfare policy, EGT suggests that social policy can play a key role in driving economic growth. Indeed, EGT reaffirms the idea that long-run growth depends on policy and planning. Rather than a return to the Keynesian redistribution policy framework of the 1970s (Chenery et al., 1974), however, education and social welfare are seen as key to stimulating long-run socioeconomic development (Pierson, 2007; Esping-Andersen, 1990; Nederveen Pieterse, 2012).

Where education policy may have been closely linked to discourses on social justice and/or national cohesion in the postwar period, education policy is now more commonly interpreted as a feature of discussions on market growth and the “refinement” of human resources. As Garrison (2012: 370) cleverly notes:

The marvelous industrial idea of the nineteenth century was the refinement of natural resources into standardized, hence readily interchangeable and replaceable, parts for the national production function. Schools serve as the site for smelting and refining human resources.

Beyond models of education that are strictly focused on expanding capitalist production, however, there is growing interest the potential of new pedagogical and epistemological models of learning that emphasize commons-based resources and practices. Highlighting the value of knowledge as a public good, for example, Stiglitz, (1999) reminds us that while scarcity may be a precondition for the economics of supply and demand, knowledge itself is not a scarce resource. As a symbolic good, any number of people can construct, consume and use knowledge without necessarily depleting its’ value. While conventional systems of production depend upon closed proprietary structures, commons-based peer production utilizes open networked production to harness the creative energy of mass collaborators. In the field of education, this translates as “open education” and overlaps open access (OA) science, open courseware (OCW), and open educational resources (OER). The open education (OE) movement is a relatively new phenomenon that is part of a larger trend towards openness in learning and education and is overtly linked to the affordances of digital technologies and the Internet. This includes:

  • Learning Content: Full courses, courseware, content modules, learning objects, collections and journals.
  • Tools: Software to support the development, use, re-use and delivery of learning content including searching and organization of content, content and learning management systems, content development tools, and on-line learning communities.
  • Implementation Resources: Intellectual property licenses to promote open publishing of materials, design principles of best practice, and localization of content.

As with the OS movement, the key differentiator between OER and any other educational resource is its license. In this sense, OER is simply an educational resource that incorporates a license that facilitates reuse without first requesting permission from the copyright holder. Open Access publishing, for example, typically enables research publications of some kind to be released under an open license. In this sense, OER directly overlaps much broader questions about post-capitalist and post-proprietary models of society and economy. One approach to developing OER for Ecuador introduced by Pearce (2013), for example, outlines specific policy goals with regard to open source science hardware as a platform for curriculum design:

Five policies to accomplish this goal:

  1. Form a task force to identify the top 100 opportunities to realize strategic national goals and a high ROI on open-source scientific hardware. The countries largest current expenditures on equipment should be found along with the most likely future expenditures. Rank all science based purchases from internationally-sourced suppliers by value so equivalent (or superior) open-source devices can be identified as either existing or needing to be developed for (2).
  2. Federal funding of the development of open-source scientific hardware identified in (1). This can be accomplished with a combination or traditional grants, contests, or bounties.
  3. Create a national catalog of vetted and validated free and open-source scientific hardware housing the bill of materials, digital designs, instructions for assembly and operation and all software and firmware.
  4. To provide incentives for Ecuador’s entrepreneurs to begin to produce this equipment all levels of government will enact purchasing policy preferences for “made in Ecuador” free and open-source hardware / libre hardware.
  5. To enable distributed manufacturing in Ecuador’s universities a basic “maker space” will be funded at each public university including access to open-source 3D printers, machine shop tools, and laser cutters.

3. Qualitative Research: Schedule and Results for Consultations

Consultations with Research Advisors are ongoing:

(a) Friday November 29, 1:30 PM

  • Juan Carlos Torres

Instituto Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Calidad en Educación Superior a Distancia

Juan Carlos was highly informed with regard to education policy issues throughout Ecuador. He offered to contribute research on Stream 1 and was eager to collaborate on the project both at a distance and locally. He visits Quito several times a month and will advise with regard to methods for enhancing learning and human capacity building in Ecuador.

(b) Monday December 2, 1:30 PM

  • Juan Fernando VillaRomero

EPA-STAR Fellow,University of California at Berkeley

We met with Juan Fernando VillaRomero on Monday 2. Juan offered support with regard to resources at Berkeley and his broader academic network in the United States and Latin America. Juan’s ideas overlap Stream 1 and Stream 2, with a special focus on open source models for biotechnology and new methods for agricultural science.

(c) Tuesday December 9, 9:00 AM

  • Ecuador’s Ministry of Human Talent,

Meeting was cancelled and postponed.

(d) Monday December 16, 11:00 AM

  • Jorge Buzaglo Meeting

University of Gothenburg

I met with Jorge Buzaglo (via Skype) to discuss the FLOK Society project and explore possible collaboration. Jorge’s work examines the limitations of the neoliberal economic model and explores commons-based alternatives. He was particularly interested in collaborating on the human capabilities stream with the purpose of redesigning metrics for interpreting the contributions of individuals and communities to a “social knowledge economy.” We agreed to a follow up meeting after he had properly digested the FLOK Society Plan and its supporting material.

(e) Monday December 16, 1:00 PM

  • Peeragogy Community MeetingJoe Corneli, Paola Quijano, Jan Herder

More Information: http://peeragogy.org/knight-foundation-prototype-fund-proposal-unfunded/

I met with Joe Corneli and his group (via Skype) to discuss collaboration on the Human Capabilities Stream. We discussed the underlying principles of “Peeragogy” and I requested support from the Peeragogy community with regard to empirical models of peer-to-peer learning practices. Joe Corneli and his group were very eager to collaborate and agreed to review and critique our work with the purpose of improving the research data gathering and analysis. We agreed to follow up with future meetings by Skype and I arranged to meet with Paola Quijano when she arrives in Quito in January.

4. Research Documentation

Research documentation supporting basic research on human capabilities for Ecuador’s open knowledge economy include:

  • Center for International Economic Studies (CIES) (2012). Policy recommendations for Ecuador: Export promotion, industrialization and capacity building. Ministry of Strategy and Finance (MOSF), Republic of Korea Korea Development Institute (KDI)
  • Esping-Andersen, G., Gallie, D., Hemerijck, A. & Myles, J. (2002). Why we need a new welfare state. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Iiyoshi, T., Kumar, M.S.V. & Brown, J.S. (Eds)(2010). Opening up education: The collective advancement of education through open technology, open content and open knowledge. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Jenson, J. (2010). Diffusing ideas for after neoliberalism: The social investment perspective in Europe and Latin America. Global Social Policy, 10 (1), pp. 59-84
  • Jenson, J. (2012). Redesigning citizenship regimes after neoliberalism: Moving towards social investment. In N. Morel, B. Palier, & J. Palme (Eds.), Towards a social investment welfare state. Chicago, IL: The Policy Press.
  • Longworth, N & Davies, K. (1996). Lifelong learning: New vision, new implications, new roles for people, organizations, nations and communities in the 21st century. London: Kogan Page.
  • Lundvall, B-Å. (Ed.) (1992). National innovation systems: Towards a theory of innovation and interactive learning. London: Pinter.
  • Lundvall, B.-Å and B. Johnson (1994). The learning economy, Journal of Industry Studies, 1 (2) pp. 23-42.
  • Lundvall, B-Å. (2004). Why the New Economy is a Learning Economy. DRUID, Aalborg University. (DRUID Working Paper Series; No. 04-01).
  • Marber, P. (forthcoming). Brave new math: Information, globalization and the need for new policy thinking in the 21st Century. New York: Wiley.
  • McMartin, F. (2008). Open Educational Content: Transforming Access to Education. In
  • T. Iiyoshi, M. S. V. Kumar, J.S. Brown (Eds.), Opening up education. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • McLaren, P. (2007). Critical pedagogy and class struggle in the age of neoliberal globalization: Notes from history’s underside. In E. W. Ross & R. Gibson (Eds.), Neoliberalism and education reform (pp. 257-288). Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press.
  • Morel, N., Palier, B. & Palme, J. (Eds.) (2012) Towards a social investment welfare state: Ideas, policies and challenges. Chicago, IL: The Policy Press
  • Morel, N., Palier, B. & Palme, J. (Eds.) (2012b). Beyond the welfare state as we knew it? Towards a social investment welfare state: Ideas, policies and challenges. Chicago, IL: The Policy Press
  • OECD (2007). Lifelong learning and human capital. OECD, Paris.OECD (2007b). Understanding the social outcomes of learning. OECD, Paris.OECD (2007c). Giving knowledge for free. The emergence of open educational resources. Paris: OECD- Educational Resources Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. Retrieved from: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/35/7/38654317.pdf
  • OECD (2008). Growing unequal. OECD, Paris.
  • OECD (2008b). Open educational resources: Opportunities and challenges. Paris:
  • OECD- Educational Resources Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. Retrieved from: http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/37351085.pdf
  • Pearce, J.M. (2013). Open-Source Hardware for Science in Ecuador.Peters, M.A. (2010). Three forms of the knowledge economy: Learning, creativity, and openness. British Journal of Educational Studies. Vol 58 (1), pp. 67-88.
  • Rifkin, J. (2011) The third industrial revolution: How lateral power is transforming energy, the economy, and the world. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Rizvi, F. & Lingard, B. (2010). Globalizing education policy. New York: Routledge.
  • Stiglitz J. (1999) Knowledge as a global public good. In I. Kaul, I. Grunberg, and M.A.
  • Stern (Eds.) Global public goods. International cooperation in the 21st century, pp. 308-325, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • UNESCO (2010). Education for all global monitoring report: Reaching the marginalized. UNESCO.
  • UNESCO Institute for statistics (2005). Global education digest 2005. Paris: UNESCO.
  • U.S. Department of Education (2010a). A blueprint for reform: The reauthorization of the elementary and secondary education act. Alexandria, VA: Education Publications. Retrieved from:http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/blueprint/blueprint.pdf
  • U.S. Department of Education (2010b). Research behind the Obama administration’s proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Alexandria, VA: Education Publications. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/blog/2010/05/research-behind-the-obama-administration
  • U.S. Department of Education (2010c). Transforming American education: Learning powered by technology. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. Retrieved from:http://www.ed.gov/sites/default/files/netp2010.pdf
  • Wade, R.H. (2010) After the crisis: industrial policy and the developmental state in low-income countries. Global policy, 1 (2), pp. 150-161. 
  • Williamson, J. (1990). The progress of policy reform in Latin America, in J. Williamson, (ed.), Latin American adjustment: How much has happened, Washington, DC: Institute for International Economics.
  • World Bank (2003). Lifelong Learning in the Global Knowledge Economy: Challenges for Developing Countries. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
  • World Bank (2005). Economic growth in the 1990s: Learning from a decade of reform. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
  • World Bank (2008). Global economic pospects 2008. Washington DC: The World Bank.
  • World Bank (2008a). The growth report: Strategies for sustained growth and inclusive development. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

II. Global Research Phase

1. Models of Human Capacity Building Outside of Ecuador

2. Policy Frameworks And Implementations Outside of Ecuador

III. Ecuadorian Research Phase

1. Successful Implementation Models Inside Ecuador

2. Benchmarking Human Capacity Building Inside Ecuador

3. Developing Policy Frameworks for Ecuador


  1. Ecuador is the world's largest exporter of bananas and plantains (about $2 billion) and a major exporter of shrimp ($828 million) and cacao ($402 million).
  2. Smith wrote, the “improved dexterity of a workman may be considered in the same light as a machine or instrument of trade which facilitates and abridges labor, and which, though it costs a certain expense, repays that expense with a profit.”
  3. Accordingly, technological innovation is increasing the relative productivity of high-skilled labor (Bekman, Bound, & Machin, 1998) making “skill factor bias” pivotal to growing debates around income disparity.