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Colombia 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Gina Parody, Minister of Education, on improving access to lower-income students, promoting social change through education, and making sure that college is affordable.

Gina Parody
BIOGRAPHY
Gina Parody was born in Bogotá and is a lawyer from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, where she specialized in Conflict Resolution. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University (US), and a Specialization in Management of Cities in the 21st Century from the Universidad Abierta de Cataluña. She was a senator of the Republic during 2006-10, and member of the House of Representatives (2002-2006). At the local elections of 2011 she was nominated as an independent candidate for Mayor of Bogotá. She was previously on the High Presidential Counsel for Issues in Bogotá, and from February 2013 until June 2014 she was the Director of the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (Sena).

What steps have been taken to improve the competitiveness and academic strength of Colombia's universities?

The strategy of the Ministry of Education aims to improve the quality of the educational provision, by promoting vocational and technical education technology, diverse sources of financing and retention in the education system. According to the National System of Higher Education, SNIES—in 2014, around 2,139,000 students were enrolled in higher education, representing an increase of about 465,000 over the past four years. Today, the country has a gross coverage ratio of close to 47% in higher education; an increase of more than 9pp compared to 2010. All these efforts have positively impacted the poorest parts of society. At present, 80% of new students entering higher education are from households whose income does not exceed three minimum monthly wages. Another of the cornerstones for improving competitiveness is to increase the number of higher education institutions with quality accreditation. The goal for the next four years is to achieve a coverage ratio of 57%, which implies government commitment to create 400,000 new places, of which about 200,000 will be in institutions and/or quality programs. Of the 288 institutions of higher education in the country, 13% (38 IES) have high quality accreditation. Our challenge for 2018 is to increase this high quality coverage from 14.6-20%.

What measures is the Ministry of Education taking to ensure that higher education in Colombia is more accessible and equitable?

Our master plan for expanding our coverage of quality education has nationwide scope, while on the supply-side we are trying to make education as flexible as possible, through regionalization, its inclusive and intercultural nature, the greater availability of infrastructure, institutional management, and participation in local government. We are providing temporary resources to invest in infrastructure and the training of teachers for doctoral and master's qualifications, which we hope will increase the number of students enrolled. We do this with the support of organizations like Findeter, Icetex, and other government sources. On the demand side, the Ser Pilo Paga program is one of the main strategies and will allow entry to the best quality accredited public and private universities in the country to Colombian students displaying the best academic performance, but without the financial resources to pay tuition. Each year 10,000 young people from poorer backgrounds are expected to enter higher education institutions with quality accreditation, and by 2018 we expect it to have benefited 40,000 Colombians. Another strategy designed by the Ministry of Education to achieve this is “You Choose," an ICETEX program that increases the range of financing on offer for quality higher education by making it more affordable. The student can choose what percentage of their student loans is paid for during their college career, again providing greater flexibility.

The government has recently announced the Catédra para la Paz, or the “Department for Peace Program." What will this program mean in practice?

This is a new challenging program that will be pursued in all educational institutions throughout the country, for the training and exercise of human rights and the development of the citizenship skills of students. Consistent with the above, since 2004 Colombia has standards that encourage citizenship skills in all schools nationwide, children learn to resolve their conflicts peacefully, participate democratically and recognize and respect diversity. This amounts to recognition of the utmost importance that education plays in the construction of peace. In this sense, we must clarify that coexistence and peace have always been fundamental to the Ministry of Education and therefore factor in the framework of the Constitution (Articles 22 and 41) of international agreements and human rights' treaties, this sector since 2004 has driven the development of citizenship skills and transverse programs for gender education, the exercising of human rights, environmental education and the promotion of healthy lifestyles in all educational establishments of the country. Working on the development of citizenship skills and the exercise of human rights is the commitment from the education sector to develop citizens capable of analyzing and contributing in collective processes, and of opting for agreements and pacts rather than weapons, that ultimately end conflict. This, in the current circumstances of Colombia, constitutes an urgent challenge that calls for participation throughout society.