Colombia Education and Schools

RetirePedia's Roving Reporter Jim VeinotBy Jim Veinot

Education in Colombia can be achieved through either the public or private system, and here we will talk about both. I have found some very interesting and unknown (to me) facets on the subject of education in Colombia.  

If you’re planning to move to or retire in Colombia with school aged kids, you will find this equally interesting.

Colombia Education: Public Schools

The Public Education system proceeds through several stages, based on the age of the student. There is what we in the United States or Canada would call Early Childhood Education, done mainly in house by mothers who have children at home and take others in to provide introduction to reading and writing as well as socialization. This plurality provides a classroom dynamic which will continue through the education process.

At 5 years old the children enter Elementary School, where their reading and writing skills are honed and new skills are learned. After five years at this level, the student enters Middle School, which is the first level of Secondary School. The student participates in Middle School for Grades 6 to 9 and then enters High School for another two years. 

The student is usually 15 – 16 years old by the time they enter High School and here they are channeled into one of 5 available pathways. These tracks are in the fields of Industry & Technology, Commerce, Teaching, Agriculture and finally Social Sciences. Any segment leads to a “Bachiller” certification in the chosen area and is the minimum required to proceed to a post-secondary level of education.

Escuela Nueva - A Unique Colombia Education Concept

Escuela Nueva, Colombia's New Educational ConceptFundación Escuela Nueva Developed Colombia's New Schooling Concept in the 1970s [Image Source: theglobaljournal.net]

Back in the early seventies the Colombian government recognized that students in the urban areas were thriving, but in the rural areas, not so much. This is not an unusual story around the world but the solution was innovative.

The major part of the problem was that teachers in rural areas just weren’t as well trained as their city counterparts. City schools were more attractive and this created competition which better teachers won.

The Escuela Nueva (New School) system was developed, which featured a classroom dynamic focused on student interaction rather than teacher direction. The teaching function became leadership as opposed to instruction and management.

This system was extremely successful and by the mid eighties, student from the country were surpassing those in the city. 

When this was recognized, by the late eighties, funding for training was made available by the government, the World Bank and UNESCO. All Colombian schools began to use this model and by 2003, 500,000 students were participating in 20,000 schools across the country.

By the end of this decade 17 countries around the world had adopted the model, including far-away places such as India and The Philippines. 

The dark side is that the children could be learning so much more with this excellent education practicum; sadly the curriculum hasn’t kept up with methodology and a graduate of the public system won’t get an automatic entry into post-secondary education no matter how good the grades. 

However, colleges and universities make use of an entrance exam screening which anyone can sit. This levels the playing field and provides educational opportunity for all, no matter which school system the student is brought up in. Which leads us to a discussion of the alternative, the private school system.

Colombia Education: Private Schools

Private schools abound throughout the cities of Colombia, particularly in Bogotá and Medellin, but also in smaller centers. Wherever you find concentrations of expats, you will find that they have brought their desire for top-notch schools with them. The importance of education, both in quality and level, is something most expats can agree on.

There are many schools offering an IB or International Baccalaureate program. These schools have accreditation from an international organization and they employ teachers with similar accreditation.

While there is some discussion concerning the quality of education between one school and another, all agree that the level is superior to that offered through the public system.

These schools are not for expats only; many local students attend if their family can afford the fees. Tuition ranges from $350/mo to $1000/mo, payable in pesos. This is an estimate based on exchange rates; the actual range is from 3 hundred thousand to 3 million pesos per month.

While a government edict was made some time ago that private schools had to be bilingual, with English as the second language, this was easier to talk about than to put into effect. The net result has been that the English offered has been second-rate instead.

Instructors forced to learn English and then teach in it were not as successful in achieving that goal as the decision makers assumed. If you are looking at putting your child into a bilingual private school, you might want to test the level of English being used first.

The website Los Mejores Colegios (The Best Schools) provides a good overview over the many private schools in Colombia, with a short description of the school’s mission and their contact details.

Colegio Andino (German School) in Bogotá, ColombiaSchool Grounds of the German School in Bogotá, Colombia

There are also International Schools in Colombia, again in the major cities. They are administered by the school system of their country of origin and both the home language and Spanish are used in instruction.

All International Schools listed below are in Bogotá except the Spanish school which is located in Santiago de Cali.

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