What ministry policies are in place to support education institutions—private and public—in their efforts to adapt to distance learning and hybrid models?
When the government took the decision to limit physical access to school infrastructure, the ministry made great efforts to guarantee the means for children to study from home, which included three main alternative strategies to develop distance learning: printed educational materials for students and parents and/or caregivers (guides, workshops, didactic units, school texts and others); educational contents broadcasted through television and radio; and virtual platforms and transmedia. We strengthened the education provision strategy by offering entertaining educational contents through radio and television in alliance with the Ministry of Technology, Information and Communication and the Public Media System with 3, 2, 1 Edu-Acción, for children of all ages, and Profe en tu casa (Your Teacher at Home), where different teachers are invited to address in practical and entertaining manners basic and transversal competences. We have simultaneously been working hand in hand with the Colombian Institute for Education Evaluation (ICFES) on evaluation mechanisms for schools to identify gaps in areas such as mathematics, language, science, and socio-emotional skills to create levelling strategies for students, training for teachers, and support for the whole education community.
How is the ministry promoting the use of innovative methods to increase bilingualism and tech literacy?
One of the things this pandemic has made us acutely aware of is that increased tech literacy must be achieved, not only among students, but also, and in a high proportion, teachers. For this, the Ministry of Education has designed different tools and strengthened other practices that had already been put in place. One of the most important is Contacto Maestro, an exclusive platform where teachers and heads can find different tools and materials to continue strengthening their work and academic development, and a Leadership School for pedagogic leadership and administrative management. We have also harnessed the installed capacity of the cascade teacher training program Todos a Aprender (All To Learn) to achieve virtual support and training processes for teachers in the different regions, especially in the more remote ones, to help them cope with the challenges of distance and hybrid education, strengthening their digital and pedagogical competencies, and giving them socioemotional tools. In 2020, we created the app #BeThe1Challenge, a strategy that combines English-language learning through the use of gamification, teacher professional development, and formative evaluation strategies to promote a culture of continuous improvement in schools and regions. One of our main challenges in some regions is students' internet access, so this year we will launch ECo 2.0, which stands for “English for Colombia" and is a transmedia strategy that combines: (a) two radio educational programs ECO Kids and ECO Teens, with a special focus on rural areas; (b) a web platform with more than 3,000 downloadable and printable resources for teaching and learning English in blended learning situations; and (c) a WhatsApp chatbot that will allow both teachers and students to freely interact with our content and practice English with low or limited connectivity.
What is the strategy to expand educational access geographically and across income levels, and what is the role of infrastructure?
The education budget has been the largest item in the national budget for the last three years. Under President Duque's government, the education sector has designed an inclusive education policy focusing its efforts on access to quality education, fostering retention with gender equity at all education levels, and bringing learning in different formats to rural and urban contexts. One of the main objectives of this policy is to reduce the access and quality gap between urban and rural areas, and rural infrastructure projects have been given priority. Infrastructure plays a key role, especially in progressive increase in connectivity for areas. The government was able to negotiate special internet fees for low-income and vulnerable families and led an ambitious campaign of donations of computers.