THE POWER OF THE PEN

Colombia 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: PACT FOR EDUCATION

Government officials and the general public alike are looking to education reform as the key tool for fostering an inclusive and lasting transition toward long-term peace and prosperity for all of Colombian society.

Colombia, which has one of the most unequal income distributions of all Latin American countries, is nearing an end to an historical conflict with one of its largest rebel groups, and challenges posed by the processes of reconciliation and integration of former guerrilla members into society await. Consequently, Colombians have identified education as one of the most important tools for ensuring long-lasting peace throughout the country.

Because of the already unequal stratification of Colombian society, the educational system is in great need of restructuring to both ensure peace and bridge the inequality gap that has for so long hindered the country. In order to achieve that ambitious goal, a number of Colombian citizens have formed the organization Todos por la Educación (United for Education) and are promoting a progressive idea, the Pacto por la Educación. The Pact for Education, as it is known in English, is a social agreement endorsed by the Colombian government that aims to put an end to the often poor quality of education in the country, particularly in less economically advantaged areas.

The Program for International Student Assessment, sponsored by the OECD, in 2012 ranked education in Colombia 59th out of the 64 countries that participated in the study and second to last in Latin America. In response to these worrying results, the United for Education movement grew to convince Colombians of the prominent role that education plays in transitioning the country out of decades of armed internal conflict and unequal opportunities for socioeconomically disadvantaged citizens and into a sustainable and inclusive prosperity for all as well. Founders of the movement believe that if Colombia improves its educational system, it could become one of the most developed countries in South America. The low quality of education currently available in the country perpetuates systemic inequality, especially in the poorest rural areas. It was in response to this structural shortcoming, the movement's young leaders devised the Pact for Education. Since first being proposed, the agreement has gained support from both the government and the general public, a unified backing that exemplifies the commitment of Colombian society to implementing the changes that the country needs. Some of the most important elements of the 10 basic arguments that make up the Pact for Education include the ideas that quality is the most important education policy, that excellent teachers are needed to enhance education, and that it is necessary to increase public investment in education. The objectives stated in the official pact have been wholeheartedly supported by the government, and in that regard, Minister of Education Gina Parody highlighted in an exclusive interview with TBY the importance of the investment that the government is carrying out in order to meet the proposed targets. “Between 2010 and 2015, we built 21,069 classrooms, which benefited 474,632 children around the country." The Minister also addressed the importance of English language instruction, which has in recent years seen significant improvements in Colombia.

At the local level, mayors and governors are in agreement on the ideas of the initiative and are guaranteeing their commitment to enacting the Pact for Education. The local council in Pereira, a major city located in the Coffee Axis, announced its immediate intent to implement the main points of the pact. This will provide access to education for scores of vulnerable communities that historically have been deprived of many basic rights in the area, which is far less developed than the rest of the country. United for Education believes that other cities should follow suit and that those 10 points ought to be implemented as soon as possible to ensure the significant improvements in the educational necessary to reshape the future of Colombia.