In 2007, my Master’s thesis partner and I carried out a field study researching the role and scope of low-cost private schools serving the children of low-income areas in Cali. We managed to visit around 200 schools in the city’s largest and most dangerous marginalized area, Aguablanca. In our findings, we could confirm that the private sector’s share of schools and pupils constitutes a clear majority (85% of all schools and 64% of all pupils) and that the private schools perform better on two of our three indicators of quality (teacher activity and pupil-teacher ratio). On the third indicator (material inputs) the results were ambiguous; although the overall infrastructure was better in state schools, access to both computers and books was better in private schools.
Teachers in low-cost private schools, although they are less qualified and much less paid, are more dedicated to the actual interaction with the children. Thanks to the much lower number of children per school, they have fewer children per classroom to attend and as a result both more time and more material per child at their disposal for the actual teaching.
Besides thousands of private institutions providing educational services in the country, the Colombian private sector has a history of high participation in education efforts. Various foundations, entrepreneurs and other groups have supported with financial resources and human resources specialized on different aspects of education for the poor. Similarly, numerous NGOs contribute to a great extent to the improvement of Colombian education. Despite of this, the resources are not enough to secure a quality education for the poor. Most monetary, technology and innovative investments, even from the greatest of the city’s foundations, are directed almost exclusively to the state schools, where they are managed ineffectively, and, although it’s great to read about some improvements in state schools concerning school environment, quality of education, absenteeism and coexistence etc., the impact of such improvements are far too small compared to the great amount of efforts pouring in.
Today, a terrible amount of youths in ages 17 to 23 are left with nothing to do, being excluded from university studies in lack of secondary school diplomas, good enough grades or money to get access to a university. To attack this problem, an interesting law – and even more interesting if actually enforced – was written in 2006, regulating Education for Employment and Human Development; six beautiful words that not very surprisingly title very well what Cali and Colombia needs. The purpose of this law is to facilitate the provision of the skills and talents needed for successful performance of existing work tasks. This alternative to university education, if made accessible to all and in collaboration with the actual employers, sees an interesting future. The most recognized institution providing this service is the National Service of Learning (the SENA), which will be written more about in an upcoming article on Colombia’s ICT advancements.
When it comes to higher education, well-off Colombians, but also top-performing or hard-working students from all socio-economic classes, can get access to top-class universities of international standards. Exchange programs to go abroad for advanced studies are also promoted through scholarships on the higher levels to help provide top-class Master’s and Doctoral level knowledge for the future leaders of the country. More than 70% of the institutions for superior education are private and costly (between about USD 1,000 and USD 3,800 per semester). Credits as a form of student loan are possible to get for high performing secondary students, but a great share of the university students has to work hard to afford higher education studies, with schedules running until 10pm.There is deep controversy globally about the government’s role and responsibility in education, especially when contrasted to the alternatives provided by the private sector. This is something that I feel passionate about sharing my thoughts on and learning much more about. The Education Business topic will therefore be discussed in more detail in an upcoming article.
On Colombian development and opportunities,