Preprimary & Primary Education
In Colombia, the available pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs vary from day care programs that simply watch over the children to sophisticated programs employing specialized teachers and advanced technology. Almost 92 percent of the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten centers are Catholic, privately owned and operated, and are located in urban centers. In 1970, to increase educational opportunities, the Congress allowed universities to offer pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs. Thus, public universities currently offer programs to train early childhood teachers. While most of these require four or five years of study, the Universidad Pedagógica de Bogotá offers a three-year early childhood teaching program. However, this did not increase the number of public kindergartens because the graduates of these training programs chose to work in private kindergarten centers that offered better salaries and more opportunities for teachers than did the public schools (Londoño).
According to 1999 statistics (from the National Admistrative Department of Statistics), about 56 percent of preschool students enroll in public institutions. Although the public preschools enjoy a higher percentage of the total preschool enrollment, there are fewer public preschools because, public preschool centers are usually larger than the private ones.
Unlike preschools, most primary schools are free public institutions operated by the department government with the assistance of the National Ministry of Education. Although children may enter these public primary schools at six years of age, most children enter at age seven. Usually, the classrooms are self-contained and the instructional day lasts for six hours, divided into two sessions. Each day contains three 45-minute class periods and a 45-minute break. Instruction includes the following subjects, in order of their importance: Spanish, arithmetic, social studies, aesthetic and manual training, natural science, physical education, and religious and moral training (Wellington).
Early efforts to establish primary education did not enjoy great success. In the 1830s, under the direction of President Francisco de Paula Santander, public primary school enrollment rose from 17,000 children to 20, 000. Combined with private school attendance, this still meant that less than 15 percent of the primary school population was attending school. In 1870, when the Congress made primary education in Colombia free and compulsory, the national government offered 4 percent of its budget (200,000 pesos) to education, with 20 percent of that sum going to universities. Nonetheless, primary schools spread. In 1870, 60,155 students were enrolled, and by 1874, the number had grown to more than 84,000 (Bushnell).
In 1957, in an effort to stabilize public schooling, the Congress sought to dedicate 10 percent of the national budget to education. However, those efforts were inadequate, as the system needed more extensive funding. In 1970, for example, about 70 percent of rural school age children did not attend school. Nearly 77 percent of the rural schools had one classroom, and 80 percent of the rural schools had one teacher. Few students attended school for very long. As a result, of the students enrolled, 55 percent attended the first grade. Facilities were poor—21 percent of the students lacked desks. Of the rural teachers, 68 percent lacked normal school preparation, and 52 percent had not registered as teachers (Hanson).
In fairness, the problems of rural education were complex. In 1970, when the majority of rural children received less than three years of formal education, a teacher could expect to meet only about one-third of the students enrolled. However, this did not signify a lack of interest. In some cases, the school calendar conflicted with the labor needs of the family, which depended on agriculture to survive. In other cases, the lack of paved roads made travel to school difficult during periods of heavy rain (Havens and Flinn).
In rural areas, schools tended to stress practical subjects. In the 1970s, educators repeatedly said that the rural schools should teach students about the problems that existed in the country. Unfortunately, this meant that current technology was little-used in classrooms. Worse, the department secretaries expected teachers to present problems at the central office. Consequently, the teachers closed their classrooms and rode buses to the reach the city where the office was located. In 1977, to solve this problem, the secretaries tried to divide each state into planning, administrative, and instructional systems. Since most rural primary schools offered programs that were shorter than five years, the plan tried to include one five-year school in each district, which were about 10 kilometers in length. Secondary schools almost never appeared in rural areas (Hanson).
In the 1980s, Colombian educators introduced an innovation called the New School Movement that spread throughout Latin America. It was an effort to encourage self-instruction. Specially written guides took the place of textbooks. These guides covered such subjects as math, social science, and language. They offered detailed instructions allowing students to proceed on their own. In addition, the guides suggested activities and exercises the students could pursue in school or at home. Such flexible programming allowed students to leave school to help the family during harvest time, for example, and to resume studies at the same point when they returned to school.
Teachers asked parents and community members to form school councils, tend school gardens, and help teachers during lessons. Some critics complained that the New School Movement reduced teacher involvement, and other critics complained that many teachers misused the guides by making the students work through them as they marched through textbooks. Although the new schools emphasized self-instruction, they cost about 10 percent more than traditional ones. Nonetheless, about 12,500 new schools spread throughout Colombia, and, in 1989, the World Bank recommended that other developing nations adopt the New School Movement. As a result, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, and the Philippines adopted the movement (Lopez).
Unfortunately, elementary education remained in poor condition. In the 1991 four-year plan, the government acknowledged that studies on primary education revealed the quality was low, the rate of school failure was high, and the curriculum was of little relevance to students (Hanson).
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