“Students are more aware of what they want to be able to learn, and to learn by themselves”
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Luisa Gomez is an education planning and financing specialist with international experience in fundraising and developing programs in education, health and employment for underprivileged communities in Latin America and the Caribbean. Having formerly worked for the World Bank, the UN and the Colombian government, she is president of the Fundación Compartir in Colombia, which awards prizes to teachers and professional development through workshops and trainings. Here, Luisa Gomez shares her perspectives on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the education sector in Colombia. Compartir is currently working with a coalition of 37 other NGOs to support the Colombian Ministry of Education to continue to provide materials and support to teachers and schools during the school closures. The Ministry of Education has provided remote learning through several modalities including online courses, TV educational programs, radio programs, and educational guides.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in the education system, primarily along urban and rural lines and by socio-economic status. While 68% of students in Bogotá have access to the internet and computers, only 17% in rural areas and 13% in remote areas have access. According to Luisa, the pandemic has created several challenges for the education sector. The biggest challenge facing schools and families is the lack of internet access. Many teachers do not have adequate preparation or requisite skills for teaching online. Many parents do not have the resources, skills, or time to support their children in online learning. Many families lack sufficient reading and educational materials. And finally, the economic crisis and pandemic have led to increasing domestic violence against children and women.
The pandemic has also negatively impacted the peace process and increased levels of violence in some areas. Resources that were going towards the peace process or the education system have been diverted to the health sector, to deal with the pandemic. As Luisa explains: “We now have less resources for the peace process and programs. Those resources have gone to the pandemic crisis. And also, many people who were working with the local governments and local schools have not been able to travel. They cannot connect with teachers and families and leaders. So, there has been a lot of neglect in terms of protecting regional leaders. We worry a lot about teachers trying to get to their students in the middle of territories, which right now have once again people from the militia and from the guerillas.”
In terms of positive initiatives, Luisa mentions their involvement in the Alianza Educativa, an alliance of eleven public schools, four private schools, and the University of Los Andes, which is providing support to 11,000 students in Bogotá.
“This is a great opportunity to rethink the educational system,” Dr Gomez says. “I think more people are concerned. And also, students are more aware of what they want to be able to learn, and to learn by themselves.”