QUALITY EDUCATION

Colombia 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Fernando Dávila Ladrón de Guevara, Rector of Politécnico Grancolombiano, on its virtual education model, its inclusive strategy, and opportunities in Colombia's educational sector.

 Fernando Dávila Ladrón de Guevara
BIOGRAPHY
Fernando Dávila Ladrón de Guevara has a bachelor’s degree in systems and computer engineering and a master’s in management from the Universidad de los Andes. Prior to becoming Rector, he was Vice Rector of Technology and Dean of the systems engineering faculty at Politécnico.

How is Politécnico working to prepare the next generation of Colombians to meet the country's workforce demands?

Education is a necessity for future development. Nevertheless, the level of coverage in Colombia is still precarious; although previous governments have made efforts to improve this, especially through SENA, barely 50% of the population is currently being reached. Politécnico has a clear mission to make education as inclusive as possible, meaning that it can be offered to any citizen who wishes to study. Politécnico stands out by offering a real strategy of quality education that is an alternative to the typical Colombian educational model. Absence in face-to-face education is barely 5%, while absence in virtual education in 13%. Setting aside any academic, economical, or family problems that students have, our objective is to make sure they graduate and improve their conditions as people and professionals. Another important issue is entering as many cities and towns as possible. Colombia cannot be reduced to Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Santa Marta. It has thousands of municipalities, and we are conscious that we need a model that will allow us to reach every corner of the country. This is our virtual education model.

What is the relationship between Politécnico and SENA, and how has this assisted the education sector?

SENA is an educational entity that trains technical graduates in two-year programs. What Politécnico does is articulate the transition of SENA students into a professional career; this means that the university accredits everything they have studied and they do not have to start from scratch. In addition, Politécnico opts to give students the opportunity to choose what they want to study, depending on what they like and what their personal or professional goals might be. Besides SENA students, we also offer options to senior high school students; we are currently advocating that their last year or two of technical schooling be included as part of their university studies, so they do not miss the opportunity of going to a university. All this is part of our inclusive strategy, which will have a huge impact on the amount of people that will be able to access education in Colombia.

What role do Politécnico and the education sector have in ensuring the success of the post-conflict era?

This topic is surrounded by challenges, the largest being the integration of all the demobilized combatants into the education sector. There is still a huge vacuum due to the fact that universities ask for a certain level of secondary education prior to enrollment; many of the demobilized have never been to school before. On the other hand, it is hard to know in which part of the country demobilized combatants will be reintegrated, making face-to-face education an improbable choice for universities. The only way to make education available for these people is through a qualified, virtual education model, offering both bachelors and complementary training, since it is complicated to build classrooms, transport teachers, and move to every corner of the country. This leads us to other problems such as connectivity; although there are fiber optics in every municipality of Colombia, it is important to have private operators contributing with investments to assure people have a good internet connection. This might not be a good investment for operators, given that many areas in Colombia barely have 10-20 families consuming their service, but it is necessary to making education accessible. What can Politécnico do? We have to generate the necessary virtual content to offer that bachelor's or training, since it's not mandatory to have on-the-ground teachers to educate. Another important factor is to integrate the police and military into educational issues, something Politécnico has been doing for quite a while. Currently, we have an agreement to formally educate 400 police officers in Medellín. In general, Colombia has great potential in this area, but it should be exploited strategically for everyone to benefit from it.