TO A NEW LEVEL

Panama 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Marcela Paredes de Vásquez, Minister of Education, on the importance of monitoring and benchmarking the education sector, language exchange partnerships, and creating a new generation of Panamanians qualified to power growth.

 Marcela Paredes de Vásquez
BIOGRAPHY
Marcela Paredes de Vásquez holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, as well as postgraduate courses at the Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá (UTP) and Instituto Argentino de Capacitación en la Rama Eléctrica (IACRE) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has held numerous senior academic positions in universities since 1983, has been published widely in university presses, and is member of key Panamanian and international scientific and educational committees, including UNESCO organizational bodies.

What is your assessment in the current status of the education sector in Panama?

The Ministry of Education has made a general diagnosis of the different problems that the educational sector has faced for more than a decade. To this end, it has incorporated national and international researchers and technicians to make alternatives solutions, creating a modernization plan for the national educational system with the different sectors and actors that are linked to each other. The big national challenge has been to have reliable and timely information for decision making for every problem. That is the progress we have made: clarity in weak processes. We have located bottlenecks and critical points on which we must act and we are at this stage intervening in the most significant components.

How can education be a driver for Panama's economic growth and development?

We intend to raise the educational level of our people. The country will be able to count on more interested young people doing science and they will develop research that will offer solutions to the national problems in health or agriculture, among others. In addition, the Ministry of Education is working on solid training for professional and technical field, a new opportunity on high school education, which will bring well-qualified workers to the service sector, which characterizes our country. We are betting on having more scientific, engineering, and technical vocations. Both components are driving the national development and pushing economic growth.

Are you creating partnerships with international institutions for bilingual programs allowing future generations to have easier access to international markets?

President Juan Carlos Varela plans to send around 500 Panamanian public school teachers to study in the US, Canada, and UK universities each year, over the five years of his term in office. This initiative known as Panamá Bilingüe is meant to increase English competency among Panamanian students and improve English teaching capabilities in our country. Panama Bilingüe, under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education, recognizes the powerful strategy of having international collaboration as integral element in the 21st century. This strategy of dealing with international institutions like embassies, universities, colleges, and other business companies opens a panorama of mutually beneficial partnership programs since it allows for our teachers and students to explore other possibilities. It also shows these institutions that we have the human resources who are capable of getting better opportunities and are hungry to learn, advance, improve, and grow. The partnership helps us establish connections that may take future generations out of our country and help them to have access to a broad range of educational experiences. The relationship also proves the myriad ways in which international partnerships enhance, and even transform, the institutions that participate in them, aiding in long-term goals of internationalization and preparing students for entry into the global workforce. Future generations will have access to international markets because the active methodologies learned and applied by the teachers impact students' learning and give them the tools to develop life skills to improve their knowledge and capabilities to be competitive in the global market.

What are the ministry's priorities for 2017?

The priority at this moment is to create the Information System and Indicators of the educational sector, with a robust platform that systematizes and integrates all the components. This solution will be automated and will allow communication between each tool and module so that appropriate planning of all educational processes is carried out. In this system, the financial and budgetary component has renewed the programmatic structure by results and the 2018 planning, will work in these terms. The systematization and automation of critical processes is our top priority for 2017; this will solve a number of relevant and timely flow of information issues.