WHY EDUCATION IN COLOMBIA
Despite more recent progress towards national stability, equal access to quality education in Colombia, for many, remains a struggle.
There are still serious internal social, political and institutional barriers in Colombia that prevent universal access to education for under-served children, including an insufficient supply of schools; lack of municipal resources to provide educational services; and internal displacement and child labor due to the ongoing armed conflict.
There is also a huge disparity in quality and access between urban and rural areas. Poverty rates are much higher in rural areas, where the effects of the conflict are more immediate and pose a greater threat. This also leads to significant cultural barriers, whereby children are at risk of either being conscripted to fight or pushed into labor, often for the sake of helping out their families financially.
Genesis Foundation committed to designing and implementing a diversified portfolio of long-term projects that seek improvements along three lines of intervention: early childhood education; teacher training and curriculum development; and public policy.
Early Childhood Care & Education
Increasing access to early childhood education is one of the top priorities of the current government in Colombia. Right now, only 24% of children under 5 have such access, and the national strategy “De Cero a Siempre”* was designed to guarantee that all preschool aged children in Colombia—more than 1.2 million boys and girls—are offered quality educational choices, regardless of their economic or social circumstances.
“De Cero a Siempre” is a groundbreaking and ambitious initiative that fulfills the national commitment to protect the rights of children, and aims to increase cooperation among private and public institutions to make early childhood education a priority for all.
Our program First Learning Steps (FLS) is a comprehensive early care and education model—closely aligned with the goals of “De Cero a Siempre”—that targets children under 5, and also fosters development in the marginal urban areas of the country in which it operates. In 2012 FLS reached 1,602 children, 1,230 families, 120 pregnant mothers and 65 community mothers, as well as 11 additional professionals (trainers, social workers and teachers), in underserved comunities in the Departments of Magdalena and Nariño.
The success of FLS has shown that early intervention in education for all stakeholders—parents, teachers and students—is ultimately also an incredibly effective strategy for mitigating poverty, inequality and violence. Genesis is committed to continue working with the government to reach the goals laid out in “De Cero a Siempre” to equip children in their early years the tools required to grow, learn and succeed.
In 2010, within the framework of the government program “Calidad para la Equidad”, the Ministries of Education and Culture developed a national plan to encourage a culture of reading and writing among underserved populations, with the goal of furthering social inclusion and developing the skills of citizenship.
Program objectives include implementing strategies to improve reading and writing skills in schools; train teachers and instructors to work on their own literacy skills so they can better help students; and foster community involvement and support. The ultimate goal is to equip all 6,900 educational institutions in the country with libraries that offer books and other literacy materials in both print and digital formats, and to have trained 35,000 teachers by the end of 2014.
This endeavor does not just extend to the language arts. According to the Ministry of Education and results from the national SABER standardized tests in 2009—over 65% of 5th and 9th grade students tested did not achieve the minimum score in language competencies. In mathematics, only 25% of 5th grade students and 22 % of ninth graders reached the minimum score.
Reading, writing, and mathematics are, or should be, inseparable. Genesis is aligned with the government’s goals in this area by supporting programs that improve applied math and reading skills in children and teachers in underserved communities. Two examples of such programs are:
1) Palabrario & Numerario, which seeks to improve reading, writing and math competencies of students and teachers from preschool to fifth grade. Using a curriculum that is comprehensive and employs real world examples, Palabrario & Numerario is currently reaching 61,573 children and over 2,000 teachers in more than 190 schools throughout the country.
2) Learning to Learn, a playful pedagogical model that seeks to strengthen reasoning among students by employing curriculum and classroom techniques that develops logical thinking. Learning to Learn currently reaches 1,800 children and 60 teachers in 10 schools in Medellin.
Intellectual Development & Public Policy
In addition to our programmatic work, Genesis Foundation also works to influence policy changes in the public education sector in Colombia, specifically to support a culture of teacher evaluation and to align our projects with high international standards, in accordance with the law.
In 2012 Genesis formed an alliance to create Atención a la Primera Infancia (AIPI) with the Ministries of Education, Culture, Health & Social Welfare; ICBF; UNICEF; and the Saldarriaga Concha, Éxito and Bancolombia foundations. AIPI is a unique public/private partnership that pools knowledge and resources to implement policies in line with “De Cero a Siempre” at a national level—to offer all preschool aged children quality care, education and attention, regardless of their economic, social or family circumstances.
Genesis is part of this joint commission, created for the purpose of increasing cooperation between public and private sectors to:
- Develop and articulate early childhood education policies
- Enable and facilitate communication between the entities that implement the strategy
- Manage the financial viability of all new and ongoing projects
Ultimately, AIPI wants to establish and maintain active communication between national and local actors, so that work is aligned and strategies are in place to take into account the diverse needs of children and communities in various parts of the country. Respect for diversity is crucial to the success of this endeavor, and those involved with educating children in their early years must be trained to recognize the important impact that factors like race, gender and social circumstances have on long-term development.