Colombian Schools


school-clipart-school-for-freeI thought I’d take this post to talk about schools in Colombia, since I will be spending a lot of time there. I’ve also realized I haven’t yet explained my primary project, so this will be the goals of this post. It’s text heavy so – you’re warned.

Just like in America, and most of the world really, there are public and private schools. And the types of problems are similar between the two though the magnitude is certainly different. Private schools in Colombia are considerably higher quality and have the best facilities and teachers to offer their students, as a result they are quite expensive. Especially, for the folks in the rural communities. On the other hand, public education is cheap, mostly free though there are associated costs such as purchasing a uniform and paying for certain exams, more on that later, but they also only have the resources the state provides which are often inconsistent and low quality.

Starting from the top of the political structure, the education system is run by the Ministry of Education (MOE) at all levels: preschool, primary, secondary, and post-secondary The MOE is currently headed by Gina Parody and she delegates to the 78 Secretarías de Educación by region. Her office includes the General Secretariat, deputy ministers of Early Childhood Education, Primary, Secondary, and Higher Education, and the General Counsel. These offices set curriculum guidelines and overarching goals for education in the entire country. However, this office is prone to the ebb and flow of politics. It doesn’t appear to be uncommon to have one MOE administration set a 10-year plan, only to have it completely changed 2 years into it due to elections.

There is, of course, a national teacher’s union here, called FECODE or Federación Colombiana de Educadores whose goals are to improve the teachers’ labor conditions.

Education is divided into 5 stages

  1. Early Childhood Education
    1. Pre-escolar: Jardines Infantiles and private kindergartens for infants under 1-year-old.
    2. The last two years of this stage are called kinder (ages 3 to 4) and transición (ages 4 to 5)
    3. In most institutions it’s expected that children learn to read and write during transición
  2. Basic Primary Education
    1. Five grades, each for one year, 1st-5th grades
    2. Students enter at 5 or 6 years old
  3. Bachillerato
    1. Basic Secondary Education
      1. Four levels: 6th-9th grade
    2. Academic Education – Media
      1. 10th and 11th grades
      2. Students spend these two years preparing for the final national ICFES exam (Prueba Saber). This is a standardized test needed for entering different types of higher education.
    3. Education Media Vocational (SENA)
      1. This is offered by both public and private institutions for technical training usually during the 10th and 11th grade year, but in some institutions during an additional 1-2 years after 11th grade.
      2. Regulated by MOE
  4. Superior Education
    1. Pregrado (Undergraduate) – different lengths of study for different types of degrees.
      1. Technical School – 1.5-2 years
      2. Tecnológica profesionales – 2.5-3.5 years
      3. Professional degrees typically take 5 years
    2. Postgrado (Graduate)

Students start primary school at 5-6 years old and graduate at 16-17 years old. There are many more private Universities in Colombia than there are public which makes sending children to university prohibitive for many families.

So, the MOE directs curriculum and controls funding. Funds are passed to the 78 Secretarías de Educación who are then responsible for distributing it amongst all the schools in their region. The local Secretarías also are responsible for staffing schools. The local MOEs do all of the hiring and, if needed, firing or moving teachers around their region. From there, the rector/a is the head of each school. They set the standards and direct their teachers. Though they have no direct control over staffing they can report teachers they wish to move out of their school, though it appears to be a difficult process.

Assisting the rector/a is the academic coordinator, behavior/discipline coordinator, often a psychologist or social worker, and secretaries. Then amongst faculty you have department heads, teachers, and homeroom tutors – these teachers are “in charge” of a single class – they distribute grades for that class, meet with parents, give announcements and general direction to that class.

Finally, you have other workers at the school: the “school shop” workers who sell snacks to kids and teachers, janitors (aseador/a) and the doorman (portero/vigilante)

Here on the coast teachers have a wide variety of experience. Older teachers have more job security and the younger/newer teachers all now come from normales (2 year technical schools) or universities and therefore have teaching degrees or certificates. Some teachers live locally though it is more common to commute as they also seem get very little say over where they go when they apply for a job with the MOE. My village is about 3 hours by bus (2 hours by car) from Barranquilla (the capital of my department). There are several teachers that live in Barranquilla and commute daily. Other teachers rent rooms during the week and return to Barranquilla on the weekend. Many other teachers live in the neighboring municipio of Sabanalarga so the commute isn’t as long.

There are currently 3 jordanadas (like operating hours) for schools

  1. Jornada manaña – school begins at 6:45 and ends at 12:45
  2. Jornada tarde – school begins at 1:30 or 2 and ends at 4 or 4:30
  3. Jornada unica – school begins at 7:30 and ends at 3:30

My school currently has both jornada unica and jornada tarde for the 10th and 11th graders to take technical classes and study for ICFES. Though, my school is currently about 4 teachers short of switching to jornada unica which will be an interested transition. It’s very hot between 12-4pm, and the rooms have fans, when there’s electricity, but that doesn’t really help. Not to mention there is only 1 bathroom in the school – so boys and girls have to alternate using it – and it often doesn’t have running water. It will certainly be interesting when that happens.

The school year runs from January – December. School begins (for teachers) mid-January and (for students) the last week of January. There is a weeklong break for Holy Week, and then a break from Mid-June until early July (with 1-2 weeks of teacher prep work). In October there is another week-long student break for teacher prep, and then school gets out at the end of November/early December for the year.


My Primary Project

The project I work in is titled Teaching English for Livelihoods. The objective is to provide both students and Colombian teachers opportunities for personal, professional, and academic development of their English skills. We do this through 2 methods: improving English speaking skills and improving English teaching skills. Certainly, the 2nd goal aims at teachers and this is achieved both in class through co-teaching, outside of class through co-planning, and through teacher workshops. The 1st goal is aimed at both teachers and students and can be accomplished through: teaching at school, extracurricular activities, workshops, tutoring, etc.

In my school I work with the 2 English teachers at the bachillerato and also spend 2 mornings a week at the primary school. At the moment, I am direct teaching the students in primary, but in the near future I will begin teacher workshops for the primary school teachers. The goal of those workshops will be both to teach them English basics (ABCs, colors, numbers, etc) and by teaching them, they can then take those methods and repeat them with their students.


Anyway, so that’s a quick lesson on the Colombian school system and my project.

¡Hasta Luego!

ان شا ء الله!


Carrie PC J17/CII8


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