EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT INTERVIEWS COLOMBIA’S MINISTER OF EDUCATION MARÍA VICTORIA ANGULO

María Victoria Angulo is Colombia’s Minister of Education. She holds a Master´s Degree in Development Economics from the Universidad de Los Andes and a Master´s Degree in Specialized Economic Analysis from Pompeau Fabra University (Barcelona, Spain). The minister has more than 20 years of experience in educational policy development.

Education Cannot Wait recently announced US$12.4 million in catalytic grant financing for a multi-year resilience programme in Colombia. The initial programme will run for three years, with the goal of leveraging an additional US$70.5 million in co-financing from national and global partners, the private sector and philanthropic foundations. The programme will reach at least 30,000 children through early childhood education, 90,000 children through primary education, and 30,000 children through secondary education.

ECW: Colombia has set an example for the world in welcoming Venezuelans who have fled instability and insecurity back home. One important component of that response has been to receive over 350,000 Venezuelan children and adolescents into the country’s school system, mainly in public schools. It would be useful to highlight good practices that your Ministry has put in place that could help other countries respond in a similar positive manner.

Minister Angulo: In Colombia, education is a fundamental right and a public service, consecrated in our Political Constitution. We recognize that “Children’s rights prevail over those of everyone else”, regardless of nationality, migration status, race, sex and political and religious beliefs, among others. So, we recognize that equal rights includes all foreign citizens in our country.

One of the first actions we took in our country, and in particular in the education system, was to make the requirements to access the education system more flexible for children with Venezuelan origin in regards to documents and records. As a consequence, we have seen a 1,067 per cent increase in enrollment, from 34,030 Venezuelan students in 2018 to 363,126 in 2020.

This exponential increase in enrollment has led us to generate innovative and transformative actions, in addition to the lines of work established in the National Development Plan “Pact for Colombia, Pact for Equality” 2018-2022, where education quality, coverage increase, school permanence and the protection of complete educational trajectories have been prioritized.

In this context we can highlight the following good practices:

  • Migration regularization: We are very close to officially telling the country the results of the joint work the Ministry has advanced with other government sectors to create the Special Permanence Permit for the Education Sector which will be a migration regularization tool for those students enrolled in the education system, (preschool, primary and secondary education) to facilitate access, continuance and promotion within the education trajectory for students with migrant status who do not have a valid identification document in Colombia; this applies to close to 85 per cent of migrant enrolled students with Venezuelan origin.

This innovative process, unique in the world, will allow these children and youth to overcome the barrier of a lack of identification documents, and allow them not only to have access to education services, but also to health and social protection services offered by the Colombian government, under the same conditions as Colombian citizens.

  • Grade Leveling: Given that the Colombian and Venezuelan education systems are different, the measures taken in the ‘Strategy for Attending Migration from Venezuela’ – established in the policy document CONPES 3950 – have allowed the Ministry to advance in different fronts like designing proficiency tests and grade leveling processes.

With Decree 1288 of 2018, we have also advanced in terms of strategies of school grade accreditation. This decree established that Venezuelan children and youth can validate grades through evaluations or academic activities in the schools they are attending, with no additional cost. This process allows grade validation for preschool, primary and secondary education until 10th grade. In the case of 11th grade, the process must be done with the Colombian Institute for Education Evaluation (ICFES).

  • Improvement in validation processes: To facilitate the validation of primary and secondary education studies, the National Ministry of Education has updated its orientations to define leveling strategies and proficiency tests for Venezuelan migrant and returned Colombian students. The Ministry validation platform has been improved to speed up the process for Venezuelans, and a specialized group has been created to solve them in less than 15 days.
  • Teacher training: Regarding integration into the school system, this Ministry has identified the need to strengthen teacher support to provide them with the necessary tools to implement the welcome and well-being strategy for the migrant and returned population within the education system. Currently, through the “All to Learn Program” and the school cohabitation system we aim to prevent any type of discrimination.
  • School Food: The School Feeding Program has been improved so that migrant Venezuelan students can have access to this program under the same conditions as Colombian students. The only requirement is that the school and grade they are enrolled in are focalized by the local education authority. This has allowed us to serve in 2019 around 140,000 students, and in 2020 around 260,000 students of Venezuelan origin.
  • Humanitarian corridor for education purposes: The National Ministry of Education has not only strived to guarantee education access to the Venezuelan population living in Colombia, but also to the population living in a situation of back-and-forth migration in the border zone. For them we designed a humanitarian corridor for education purposes, which has benefitted, since its creation, around 4,000 students living in municipalities in the border area, who study in schools in Cucuta, Villa del Rosario and other municipalities on the Colombian side of the border. Since the creation of the humanitarian corridor, the National Ministry of Education has led the necessary normative, technical, political and financial processes needed for its effective operation. Between 2015 and 2019, $13.137 billion pesos have been allocated for its operation, and for 2020, $5 billion pesos have been allocated.
  • Technical assistance: To assist territorial education authorities in regards to the education for migrant population of Venezuelan origin, actions to provide general technical assistance for local education authorities and their directive teams from different areas of the Ministry of Education have been organized. To this end, meetings are programmed to take stock of the activities that are being implemented in the territories to guarantee education service provision, as well as well-being and permanence strategies.

ECW: While there are good practices that the Government of Colombia has developed, we know that welcoming such record numbers of Venezuelans to your country has also presented challenges.  Knowing how this can strain local communities, particularly those hosting large concentrations of Venezuelans, could you elaborate on the model community and communications strategies to promote social harmony and discourage xenophobia, which has had a positive impact in schools, that the Government has put in place.

Minister Angulo: As a sector, we are committed to enabling the conditions and developing in each child, adolescent, youth and adult both respect towards diversity and a positive appreciation of differences.

To this end we have been working at identifying the best strategies for providing services for the Venezuelan population with education needs, to be able to offer them a service that accommodates their needs and recognizes their prior knowledge. Education is thus one of the best tools to prevent an attitude or behavior that goes against recognizing the dignity and equality of people in regard to their rights.

For this reason, we have promoted actions that allow us to:

  • Strengthen the socio-emotional development of educators, children and adolescents to prevent and combat expressions, acts and manifestations of xenophobia, exclusion and stigmatization against migrant and other social groups.
  • Design protocols with which we can identify risk and vulnerability situations migrants have to face in the social and cultural dynamics of school environments, to incorporate pertinent inclusion processes in the Institutional Education Projects of the schools.
  • Produce reflection exercises to transform beliefs and views present in social representations to guarantee that all ethnic and cultural identities are valued based on equality.
  • Stimulate dialogue and sharing of situations present in schools to improve school cohabitation and understand that diverse beliefs, interests and interpretations of reality exist in the education community, and that we need to value them as learning opportunities.

Understanding that migration is a social process linked to different factors, and that, until the conditions in the neighboring country and the provision of basic services like education, health and housing, among others do not improve, Venezuelan citizens will keep on seeking better life conditions in Colombia or other countries. In view of the above, we will continue working to:

  • Strengthen disclosure processes of the available route and means for access to the education system.
  • Facilitate transition and leveling mechanisms for Venezuelan students into the Colombian education system.
  • Strengthen and activate cohabitation mechanisms to prevent xenophobia.
  • Train and accompany teachers on how to receive migrant populations into the education system.
  • Strengthen mechanisms that allow us to identify the demand for education services outside the education system.

ECW: With the number of Venezuelans who have fled into Colombia having reached 2.4 million, making it the largest humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere and among the largest globally, ECW has just provided seed funding totaling US$12.4 million for a multi-year programme to assist the country in addressing the educational needs of Venezuelan children and youth, as well as the children and youth in the communities hosting Venezuelans.  Could you comment on the impact of this catalytic grant from ECW, and more specifically what activities the Ministry, in collaboration with a range of UN and NGO partners are planning to implement?

Minister Angulo: The project presented by Colombia within the framework of the multi-annual window of ECW has been turned into a tool to activate the participation of other actors, inject new resources and delve into the strategies we are developing.

We have worked with different actors to define and agree upon the priorities of the Multi Year Resilience Programme for Colombia, convinced that this seed funding can amplify the response we are currently already giving regarding the right to education for migrant people. With ally organizations who have been with us in the formulation process, we have agreed to focus the project on four lines:

  • Increase access to education and permanence. Developing strategies to create opportunities for inclusive, gender-sensitive learning that will help children and adolescents with any disability, who have been victims of armed conflict or who are living with the effects of the migration process to overcome the barriers they find.
  • Improve quality of education and learning: Through resources and materials for work in classrooms, teachers with the capacity to respond with pedagogical practices adjusted to the characteristics, interests and barriers that are found in crisis situations, and finally the support for parents and caregivers to strengthen their abilities to accompany the integral development process of their children at home.
  • Promote socioemotional wellbeing and mental health: Provide support to parents and teachers to develop practical abilities for well-being and personal care, stress management and exhaustion prevention.
  • Strengthen the education sector: Improve capacities for an inclusive response, with gender perspective, articulated between the national and local levels and sensitive to crisis and emergencies.

ECW: Recognizing that ECW’s grant is intended to kickstart the multi-year programme and acknowledging the strides the Government is making in implementing the country’s commendable peace accord, could you please comment on how important it is for the international community donors to fully fund the multi-year programme with an additional US$ 70.5 million in co-financing.  What could happen to school children and their education if the funding gap is not be filled?

Minister Angulo: We thank ECW for the initial investment and ask the community of international donors and the private sector to give us support in our efforts to close the financing gap.

It is important to remember that Colombia has invested important resources to increase access to education for migrant and refugee children. We estimate that for 2020, the investment in education made by the government is close to US$120 million. However, the needs of children affected by the crisis are increasing, especially for migrant children who need more support to remain at school.

Parallel to this situation, in Colombia we must cope with multiple challenges. For example, the recent hurricane in the San Andres archipelago almost completely destroyed the education infrastructure. In La Guajira, due to flooding, many migrant and refugee children in informal settlements have lost their learning materials. The different emergencies we have had to respond to in Colombia exceed the capacity of any government.

We continue to be committed to providing quality education and protection to every child in our country. To achieve this enormous task, it is important to join efforts with the international community, made up of donors and partners in the private sector.

Our objective is that all children receive the same opportunities, are protected and can learn. If the financing gap for this programme is not covered, we run the risk of not providing an integral education service that will allow children to learn, prosper and be prepared for the work force of the XXI century. If we do not act now with enough resources, many children will not have access to education, and many others will drop out. If we do not act now, it will be more difficult and expensive to address the topic of access to quality education where children can fulfill their dreams to complete their education trajectory.

ECW: In fully funding the multi-year programme in Colombia, could you elaborate on the important role that the private sector and philanthropic foundations can play, such as the KOYAMADA International Foundation (KIF), co-led by Colombia’s own TED Talk Speaker and producer Nia Lyte and her husband, actor and producer Shin Koyamada, and perhaps give examples of other foundations providing funding for children’s education in Colombia.

Minister Angulo: In the Colombian education sector, we work with both the public and private sector, as well as civil society and international organizations. We share a common goal: to leave no one behind. This work is strengthened by an inter-institutional approach which is based on experience and optimizes efforts and resources to respond to the particular needs of each region, including challenges already overcome, and those yet to be faced.

Being able to count on organizations like KOYAMADA International Foundation (KIF) and its work for the empowerment and leadership of young people and women, means it will, without a doubt, offer a great boost to the mobilization of resources for educational care, helping us reach those most in need and ensuring our commitment to quality education in long-term crisis contexts.

ECW: ECW would like to reiterate its gratitude for your remarks at the UN General Assembly side event this year entitled “THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION IS HEREFor those left furthest behind.”  With Colombia leading the way for education under the very difficult challenges that the Venezuelan situation has created in the region, it would be good if you could comment on the importance of SDG 4 quality education.

Minister Angulo: The targets set for the Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular those of SDG4, are central elements for the 2018-2022 National Development Plan. One of our main pledges is the generation of conditions that ensure, progressively, a quality educational service, within the framework of a multidimensional approach (Atención integral). We want to positively impact the consolidation and monitoring of complete educational trajectories of all students.

In this regard, the country is focusing its efforts on the following areas:

  1. As a fundamental right, quality education is one of our most important pledges and its progressive universalization stands as one of our main goals to achieve in order to move forward. This is based on the multidimensional attention approach and a cross-sector perspective.
  2. Secondary education, as one of the educational levels lagging behind the most in the country today, requires special attention to strengthen and make it more relevant.
  3. One of the great challenges of the country is to guarantee all the conditions of access, quality and permanence so that all people achieve a complete educational trajectory, from initial to post-secondary education, and also facilitate the transition to the labor market. In this sense, inclusion is one of the cross-cutting concepts that guide sectoral policies.

To achieve the aim of the Declaration of Incheon of Leaving No One Behind, the Colombian government has directed its efforts so that children from Venezuela, as well as all children and adolescents in Colombia, can enjoy quality education as a fundamental right and constitutionally enshrined public service. For this reason, we are committed to the assistance and protection of children to ensure their harmonious and integral development and the full exercise of their rights.

In this sense, the Ministry of Education has determined a management strategy that combines coverage and quality actions within the framework of the Welcome, Welfare and Permanence Strategy. Cross-sector coordination has been developed due to active search processes, effective enrolment, monitoring, knowledge generation and information-driven decision-making processes. This has allowed us to strengthen teacher skills, infrastructure, school food, transport and endowment, among others, which allow migrant students to benefit equally from the available strategies.

It is also important to mention that strategies are being strengthened to facilitate psychosocial support and the effective integration of this community into the Colombian citizen environment.

ECW: Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better on a personal level. Can you tell us what education means to you personally? Could you also share with us the three books that have influenced you the most personally and/or professionally, and why you’d recommend them to other people to read?

Minister Angulo: Education for me is the most powerful tool for the integral, personal and professional development of people. It also represents the epicenter where all social policy in the region comes together. Education generates social mobility and innovation, touches the lives of many people and is the axis of processes of development, resemblance and reconciliation, where I have developed my vocation of service.

As for the 3 books that have influenced me and that I would recommend that people read, they would be:

Love in the Time of Cholera by the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, I recommend this book because it is a literary work that reaches the soul. It is dedicated to true love, a love that survives despite the challenges of a traditional city, and the changing times of the Colombian Caribbean from the late nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century. This book manages to portray human nature in a simple way, with beauty and humor, through a romantic story where the reader can feel the representation of love as the purest feeling, around each life is built.

Ética para amador by the Spanish writer Fernando Savater. I read this book in my teens and it really left an impression on me because it was a window into the world, and it led me to reflect on topics essential to life, which guide our decisions and explain why ethics, morality, freedom and choice are needed. This text reminds us that our greatest quality as human beings is to be able to think, to be aware and to create our future according to our expectations of it.

The last book I would recommend is Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by Professor John Hattie. This research helps us to categorize in a very clear way how to improve the effectiveness of the school system, and I think it is a necessary book to read for those of us who work in education.

And from this text I can highlight two conclusions that are vital to me: the most influential aspect in learning is feedback, both the one offered by the teacher to the student and the one that the teacher receives from the student. In the first case, you have to distinguish between feedback and flattery, the latter has little value if it is not associated with the work that has been done. The teacher-student relationship also has a big impact. Developing a pleasant socio-emotional climate in the classroom, promoting effort, and involving all students requires that teachers step into the classroom with certain ideas about the possibilities of progress and the relationship with students.

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