HITTING THE BOOKS

Colombia 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Gina Parody, Minister of Education, on strategies to improve English-language education, the challenges the ministry has faced, and its programs to enhance the education system.

Gina Parody
BIOGRAPHY
Gina Parody is a lawyer who graduated from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, where she specialized in conflict resolution. She holds a master’s in public administration from Harvard and a specialization in management of cities in the 21st century from the Universidad Abierta de Cataluña. Parody was a senator during 2006-2010, and member of the House of Representatives (2002-2006). In the 2011 local elections she was presented as an independent candidate for Mayor of Bogotá. She was previously on the high presidential counsel for issues in Bogotá and was the Director of the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (Sena) from 2013-2014.

What are the main challenges to implementing your strategy of increasing English language education?

In Colombia, wealthy families pay for their children to attend private schools, where they receive bilingual education. That situation leaves underprivileged children at a disadvantage as they are not able to receive the same opportunities. The English Teaching Fellowship Program is shifting that situation. There are 600 fellows, from more than 50 different countries that co-teach with our Colombian teachers, reaching more than 176,000 students from 46 cities in Colombia. The program endorses the notion of our students as global citizens, providing them not only with the opportunity to interact with a native speaker and improve, therefore, their language skills, but to also get to know different cultures from around the world. Additionally, most of the students from public schools do not have textbooks to work with. The ministry has created, in collaboration with teachers, local education authorities, and experts in ELT, textbooks for our students in grades nine, 10, and 11, as well as a suggested English National Curriculum. More than 192,800 textbooks have been distributed across the country, and an interactive version is available free of charge for both students and teachers.

What are the main challenges the Ministry of Education has to deal with in the short and long run?

Although Colombia needs to keep increasing access to education and reducing the dropout rate (particularly in secondary and upper secondary education), the main challenge faced by the country in the short, medium, and long term is increasing education quality. This is essential for Colombia to increase its productivity, and, more importantly, close the inequality gaps that exist in the country and consolidate internal peace. In the long run, our main challenge is changing the quality trend in order to become the best-educated country of Latin America by 2025. In the short run, our main challenge is increasing the resources for the education sector. Increasing the resources received by the sector so far is fundamental in order to design, develop, consolidate, and expand the programs and policies aimed at increasing education quality. At the moment, the basic educational basket per child in the public sector is around COP2.5 million per year ($806). In a study conducted by the ministry, it was found that we would need COP5 million ($1,612) per child per year in order to close the existing gaps between the public and private sectors. Increasing COP1 million per child would represent a total investment of COP8.6 billion.

What are the main programs you are developing to overcome these educational challenges?

Since late 2014, we have implemented and strengthened several key programs to overcome our current challenges and increase education quality. Currently, the main program is called Jornada Única (Single Shift), aimed at providing eight hours of education to all the children in the country. Public schools have two shifts and every child receives four-hour education, while private schools have a single shift and offer children eight-hour education. Our goal by 2018 is to have 2.3 million students benefiting from this program. So far, we have been able to reach out to 867,000 students. Other significant programs include Teacher Excellence. Under this strategy, we have the Scholarships for Teacher Excellence Program that has to date given out 4,667 scholarships for teachers who want to get a master's degree. In addition, we have over 4,000 tutors who provide in situ training for teachers, which benefits 2.3 million students. We have also changed the way teachers are evaluated in order to focus on their teaching practices instead of their theoretical knowledge. We also established a way in which they can get feedback or support classes for those who need it. Another important strategy refers to educational materials; between 2010 and 2014 we delivered 20 million school texts for language and math. By 2016, we have delivered 10.36 million educational materials for language and math that have benefited 88,000 teachers and over 2.4 million students.