How do you develop a cost-effective quality learning model for the 21st Century for disadvantaged children in small rural schools scattered across Colombia?
Beginning in the 1970s, Vicky Colbert rose to the challenge. She focused on building an innovative education model in which key strategies were cooperative learning and cross-peer tutoring. Colbert and her team at Fundacion Escuela Nueva essentially pulled off a paradigm shift, moving their schools from a teacher-centered education to a student-centered learning model that integrates curriculum and teacher professional development and engages local communities in the education journey of their students.
The world is paying attention. Colbert has been recognized for numerous awards and distinctions in the fields of education leadership and social entrepreneurship. Most recently she won the Yidan Prize for Education Development for demonstrating that the Escuela Nueva form of schooling can improve education for disadvantaged children around the world.
It is our pleasure to welcome to The Global Search for Education Vicky Colbert, founder and director of Fundación Escuela Nueva.
Vicky, what are the most significant elements of the Escuela Nueva Model?
There are many important facets of the Escuela Nueva model, including its systemic approach, being child centered, involving active participatory learning, children finishing academic units at their own pace, cooperative learning and children learning through dialogue and interaction. In addition, we have established a new role for the teacher as facilitator and guide, school-family-community relationships, experiential teacher training, and professional collaboration among teachers.
How has the changing world inspired the Escuela Nueva model? How would you describe the commonalities of your system with the systems you most respect around the world?
What started as a response for rural isolated multi-grade schools then became a national policy in Colombia to universalize primary education. We set up the NGO, Fundación Escuela Nueva (FEN), to continue innovating it and adapting it to new populations and contexts (urban and displaced migrant populations), and further conceptualized, developed and enhanced it to current needs for the 21st century. Now it is more relevant than ever because it strengthens socio-emotional skills, especially the ability to work in teams, and unlocks the leadership and entrepreneurial skills required in the 21st century. In our organization, we also introduced complementary virtual resources to the printed learning guides for children. However, in the rural schools of Colombia, there is no connectivity.
Our world is volatile, uncertain, and full of challenges for youth. What should a curriculum for a student living in a globalized world look like? What competencies would this curriculum address?
We need to have curriculums that unlock entrepreneurial skills in the ways of thinking, in the ways of working, and how to live in the world. For example, in the ways of thinking: learning to learn, creativity and innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, learning to synthesize information. In the ways of working, we need the ability to work in teams and follow instructions and meet deadlines. ICT literacy is crucial. We also need to strengthen collaboration, listening, networking, relationship building, empathy, courage, negotiation, group work, and handling of diversity. In relation to strengthening skills to live in the modern world: learning to lead processes and take initiatives, learning to positively criticize and accept criticism, to take risks and test knowledge.
What are you particularly proud of in the Escuela Nueva model?
That it is systemic, replicable and scalable, has proven results, and has contributed to reducing inequity in education. An outstanding contribution of Escuela Nueva is that it has an impact on democracy and peaceful behavior in children.
How does Escuela Nueva include the parent and employer communities, and why is that even more important today in a student´s education?
We had to think of a very simple way to bring parents into the learning process of their children. Since parents in rural areas work hard, they do not have a lot of time to attend many meetings. One way we introduced their participation was that in every learning guide that delivers a lesson plan, the last activity is an application activity in which students dialogue with their parents and apply their activities with them. The “homework” is to dialogue with their parents and apply knowledge together, especially in health and environmental issues where they can apply concrete knowledge to their community related to what they are studying. In this way, children become agents of change in their family and community. This also brings the traditional knowledge of parents into school. It is a simple and practical way to strengthen the school, the family and the community relationship.
Where do you see the Escuela Nueva model 10 or 15 years from now?
To achieve our goal of advancing a sustainable Escuela Nueva (EN) movement that supports continuous learning around active, cooperative, and personalized approaches, FEN has worked intensively in structuring the community of practice of Escuela Nueva, which brings together a broad and diverse range of EN stakeholders. EN’s community of practice seeks to promote processes of dialogue, interaction and knowledge management at different levels, enabling its members to reflect on and strengthen their practice, as well as to develop research and networking processes. One of the main tools of the community of practice is Renueva, a virtual campus based on Moodle, launched in 2014, through which FEN has provided ongoing support mainly to teachers and principals of project schools. In 10 years, we would like to see that EN’s community of practice actively promotes the appropriation and expansion of the EN model, extending the reach of the EN community of practice beyond FEN’s work. In other words, the expectation is that in 10 years the EN model will transcend limits of organizations, projects, and countries in the voice and work of multiple actors who, in turn, promote a social change towards a pedagogical shift in education.
(All photos are courtesy of Escuela Nueva and CMRubinWorld)