WILL DO BETTER

Colombia 2015 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: EDUCATION FOR THE PEACE

Achieving universal education is at the heart of President Santos's goal of economic equality and development. According to the Ministry of Education, Colombia's secondary education system has a coverage rate of around 47% of the target population, marking an increase of around 9% since 2010. This increase in coverage has, as intended, reached the poorest parts of society and it is estimated that 60% of new students entering education are from households not exceeding the equivalent of two minimum wages. The Ministry of Education is expanding its coverage still further, by reaching out to those in the poorer stratos 1-3, out of a total of 6, and setting out to create 400,000 new places at universities.

The country's investment in education amounts to recognition that educating the population is not only a route out of the world's longest ongoing armed conflict, but also a requirement to achieving equality. The highest discrepancies in levels of education are also where the conflict is the strongest.

After all, a relative edge in competitiveness often depends on educational prowess. This is the case with Antioquia, the department of Medellín, where giant signposts remind you that you are in “Antioquia, la más educada" — “Antioquia, the most educated" Municipality.

This is the case with Zonamerica, the service-orientated free zone plan that aims to construct a complex that will employ close to 20,000 people within ten years just next to Colombia's third, and lagging city of Calí, in the Valle de Cauca. According to its CEO, Jaime Miller, when the Uruguayan franchise looked at other destinations in Latin America, they had identified the Valle de Cauca as the most attractive balance between land price and abundant highly-skilled human capital on the continent. Similar stories could be told for the regions of Pereira and Ibague.

Organisations such as FINDETER and ICETEX are investing in the training teachers, and ensuring that they hold Master's and doctorate degrees. The program 'Ser, Pilo, Paga' has been the driving force behind the government backed scheme to offer 10,000 under privileged students with the highest secondary level grades in their schools the opportunity to attend the country's best universities. The ministry hopes to extend this initiative to 40,000 Colombians by 2018. The initiative also reflects Colombia's efforts to become the most educated Latin American country by 2025 and works in conjunction with the ministry of education and ICETEX, the organisation in charge of extending credit to prospective university students from all social backgrounds.

Other initiatives to create more equitable regions and a stronger education system for all include the ICETEX scheme Tú eliges, which was introduced in May 2015, offering students a range of credit repayment options for quality higher education, making it more affordable. The student can choose what percentage of their student loans is paid during their college career, permitting greater flexibility in the supply of education to the labor market. There is much still to do.

During the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama earlier this year, Santos proposed the creation of an inter-American system of education using the framework of the OAS, and counting on financial assistance from the World Bank and Inter-America Development Bank. He reminded attendees that of the 106 million young people in Latin America, approximately 40% live below the poverty line, and that three out of 10 children lack even preschool education—often considered the most essential.