Education in the government of change

Alejandro Álvarez Gallego
Universidad Pedagógica Nacional



Education in the government of change

These days we have been wondering if this government of change will bring great changes in education. We know that in such a short period of time it will not be possible to reverse the regulatory model imposed since the 1990s, which has distanced the State from its responsibility as guarantor of the right to education; however, we must create a basis for changing this model in the medium term.

What did the draft National Development Plan submitted to Congress last February 6 suggest?

Undoubtedly, the PND’s approach is different from what we were used to from previous governments. Before, we talked about authority, order, the rule of law, security, prosperity, productivity, competitiveness, reduction of inequalities, growth, social mobility (…), but now the key points are: territorial planning around water, human security and social justice, the human right to food, productive change, internationalization and climate action, and regional convergence; but what we are most interested in highlighting is the idea of the State assuming its responsibility as guarantor of rights. The PND clearly states:

“This vision of the country goes beyond the traditional approach based on physical security and defense. From a broader perspective, it emphasizes the role of the state as a guarantor of development opportunities by enabling the necessary towers to overcome deprivation and expand capabilities.”

The draft PND places education at the nexus of human security and social justice; this is a good thing, because previously it was understood as a matter linked to economic productivity. The new government has understood that education is a human right, and this should be strongly emphasized. We receive education not only to be more productive, but also and especially to be more and better people. This seems obvious, but we have forgotten it.

The PND mentions the expansion of services from 1.9 to 2. 7 million children for early education; creating a teacher training system that unifies the different levels and emphasizing placement training through the All to Learn Program (PTA); simplifying the current curricular architecture so that schools may implement more relevant and contextualized curricula; undertaking a curricular shift in secondary education towards a comprehensive education that takes into account the interests and needs of young people; continuing the implementation of the Special Plan for Rural Education (PEER) and emphasizing the development of the educational commitments included in the Territorial Approach Development Programs (PDET); strengthening the Certified Territorial Bodies for the expansion of educational services aimed at the young, adult and elderly population through flexible and relevant educational models; this would imply the recognition of higher education as a progressive fundamental right for human achievement, which would gradually advance to the policy of free enrollment in public IES, thus promoting access for 500 thousand new students; furthermore, there will be a reform of ICETEX that will transform its current banking logic and re-focus its mission on a social promotion of higher education (Quoted from the PND.)

We are in favor of these initiatives, but in our opinion they are scattered throughout the text, as if they were a sum of actions. Then it is necessary to make explicit the will to build a new educational project that contributes to a social transformation. Education is the condition that makes any kind of change possible.

Other concerns remain:


    • Teachers’ union relations: It is not possible to ignore the legitimacy of their demands. The PND should be more explicit and recognize that change includes them, otherwise it will not be feasible. The teachers’ union is a critical actor. Historically, it has been ignored, excepting a few periods in its history. As an essential actor of social change, it is time to give it back its voice.

    • ICETEX could embark on a more vigorous reform to make definitive progress towards a free higher education system.

    • The policy of science, technology, and innovation (Law 1286 of 2009) must be modified. It is designed exclusively to strengthen the logic of profitability of the productive establishment. This means a policy that is dominated by a reductionist vision of science, which influences the journals indexing and the classification of research groups; it is a stubborn logic that promotes competition for resources rather than collaborative work for knowledge generation.

    • The ICFES must once again become the Institute for the Promotion of Higher Education; the despicable rankings of the Saber Tests must be abolished. Tests must be developed to determine the added value of these institutions in training new generations by measuring the cultural capital that students have before and after school or university. As we have known for a long time, quality is not measured by results, it is merely an indicator.

Finally, we lack more vigorous programs aimed at transforming schooling and building a new higher educational system.

The UPN has a voice that it has not had in the Ministry of Education for a long time. Now we hope that the Congress of the Republic will be able to hold a debate that will include a clearer perspective of the pedagogical-political project that our nation deserves, i.e. a project that will powerfully show the basis for the great changes in the Colombian educational system that we have been waiting for so long.


Drawing on technological means, the best teacher in the Ibero-American States bets on educational inclusiveness

Sindey Carolina Bernal Villamarín has a bachelor’s degree of Technological Design and a master’s degree of Information Technologies Applied to Education from the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional (UPN).

Based on technological tools and novelties, she has contributed to educational inclusion of disabled children by focusing upon research processes in training realm.

Her professional career has led her to be recognized as the best teacher in Ibero-America by Foundation for Integration and Development of Latin America (fidal, by its Spanish acronym). The award was granted by the National and Ibero-American Contest for Educational Excellence, which seeks to recognize educators who promote the improvement of the education quality.

Among 105 domestic and forty-seven international projects that took part in the call, she was selected as winner due to her thirteen years of commitment to “Inclutec”, the research seedbed, which seeks an interface between inclusion and technology.

Bernal focuses her proposal on a strategic approach that allows students to be seen not only from the perspective of disability, but also of ability by conceiving education as a tool that allows children to escape from the many realities they experience at home.

What happened to education during pandemics?

Since more than a year it has been common saying that pandemic left important consequences regarding learnings, performance, and academic achievement of the students. But we prefer to talk about the impact on training processes. Firstly, because education is a concept that pedagogy has assumed to talk about what educational task means regarding its complexity beyond the school itself. Learning, achievement, or performance are categories addressed to measurable results, which do not account for such complexity and, therefore, the process itself.

Alejandro Gaviria, Minister of Education, has recently said that one of the priorities of his portfolio is closing the learning gaps because of the pandemic. We welcome such a goal since it is a pedagogical issue that must be urgently dealt with. But indicators measuring so-called learning fall short to assess what is really happening with educational processes. That is why we consider critical to identify better the issue and thus seek more relevant alternatives.

The Economics of Education Laboratory of Universidad Javeriana points out that considering those results the academic performance gap between public and private schools increased seven points; students in urban and rural areas went up from 24.1 to 26 points. At the same time, they point out that percentage of students who work increased 16 percent with a higher percentage of students in public schools than private schools.

The reason for increase of these gaps is ascribed to schools and teachers, usually on the basis that appropriate methodologies were not adopted, or the ill-prepared teachers are those in schools where lowest results are found. ECLAC-UNESCO Covid-19 Report (2020), mostly states that least-qualified teachers are in poorest regions, i.e., signifying they should be trained; some studies also point out that a lack of internet and accessing to virtual technologies as well as intransigence ways of performance assessment affected the so-called academic performance.

Although a part may be true, we believe this look is highly restrictive and therefore it does not guide us as we look for options to close gaps in the Colombian education system, which are undoubtedly very deep. What happened during pandemic was the poorest students were left without the only chance they must increase their cultural wealth and being trained considering the broadest sense of the word. Such an opportunity for those children and young people is found exclusively at school.

Then a choice is the state should take care of the educational offer that poorest families may not provide themselves. Minister Alejandro Gaviria declared the solution when he said that among his priorities will also be supplementing the so-called Extended Day in addition to improving pedagogical chances to recover lost options, besides training teachers, and increasing internet connectivity based on a provision of robust computer-generated programs.

Really, there is a need to bring a suitable number of chances to areas suffering greater socioeconomic deprivation, so students may use creatively out-of-school time, hopefully in conjunction with pedagogical projects that schools themselves are guiding. Sports, music, dance, targeted entertainment, handicraft and language courses, stories and poetry writing and reading, cinema, adventure games, astronomy, mathematics, and robotics clubs, in short, all of these are educational choices that state must deal with if we are to overcome shortcomings of the students. This is a very felt need even before the pandemic.

In that way, we can overcome such a judgment teachers and official schools as they hold them accountable for learning outcomes. This is not the main problem: although there is much to improve in conventional schooling, pedagogically speaking, really educational policies should be concerned to meet training requirements that beyond the school guarantee new generations will increase their cultural wealth in every aspect of their lives, taking into account of course the specificities of all the ethnic peoples who inhabit our country; moreover learning from many of those peoples to comprehensively address training of their children without worrying so much about performance results, or learning achievement.

Rector, Universidad Pedagógica Nacional

Pedagogy–between Science and Knowledge

A discussion about science, technology and innovation should not be constrained to number of resources the current government allocates to meet this purpose. Then, it is required to discuss what kind of science should be promoted and what kind of technology and innovation our country is requiring today. Fortunately, there is a debate in agenda thanks to paper: “Sistema Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (SNCTI) para el buen vivir, el vivir sabroso y el ejercicio efectivo de una democracia multicolor” –National System of Science, Technology and Innovation (SNCTI) for good living, tasty living and the effective exercise of a multicolor democracy–, written by Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez during their campaign in May 2022, but considered a controversial article by Moisés Wasserman in his column in El Tiempo newspaper because he questioned their epistemic injustice issue raised therein. Since then, a lot of academics, opinion leaders and politicians have spoken for and against their position.

I am not going to deal with debate itself; I prefer to take advantage to introduce a component that regularly it is not considered in any of epistemological points at stake. This is a question of a relationship between pedagogy and sciences, and a relationship between pedagogy and knowledge.

Whether there is a rational field to think in depth about how knowledge is generated, a way to disseminate and its transformation it is indeed pedagogy since its task is to grasp its own and produce what socially and historically has been regard as pertinent to let new generations to access the world. I speak about a relationship between pedagogy and science in some areas of the curriculum because there’s not only scientific contents in the school but also other ways of knowledge expression, such as art, sports, sexuality, democracy, ethics, and increasingly ancestral knowledge and popular cultures. That is what I mean a relationship between pedagogy and knowledge.

In the above-mentioned debate, some people think that science is a means to know more, something which reaches an epistemological threshold, but it is not comparable with those features related to aesthetic, ethical or political thresholds. Pedagogy enters this exciting game where true, fair, or beautiful is challenged to take it to another field of battle, i.e., the school. In fact, that place is where teachers must have cleverness to decide what and how to teach, of course related to official curriculum guidelines today translated into standards, competencies, and more recently into the Basic Learning Rights. A relationship that produces a big conflict because each of these ways of regulating knowledge embodies a bet about what is valid and necessary to teach, and this is not only a technical or methodological issue but also a political one.

Such a task is overly complex. To let access of new generations to the world of knowledge and insights, travelling from a real world to a codified universe, supported by languages that in fact are weird to a close environment where children and young people grow up, that is indeed the task of teachers who everyday find themselves in an environment and a time called school, also controlled, and governed by a grammar built in the midst of affection, epistemological debates and the politics.

Such a debate about authenticity from one or another way of producing knowledge is welcome by those of us who work with pedagogy because it helps us to perceive intelligently the approach, we are going to do to offer the world to new generations. We teachers are amid these exciting questions, and we sort out them with tools provided by pedagogy considering different traditions, and didactics, which helps us to specify the methodological path that each type of insight students require to grasp.

Questioning the origin of such insights, the threshold where they are, and recreating them so they may be accessible to different ages and cultural contexts of their students, by dialoguing with their own imaginaries, interest, and cultures, in fact all of this is what we teachers do sometimes in the midst of very harsh realities, precarious and sometimes even violent conditions. The intelligence of our teaching work is deciphering what is necessary and apposite to teach, how and purposes for those contexts. This is not a small task.

Therefore, we hope that debate about science, technology and innovation policy will serve to assess a demanding intellectual work involved with profession of teachers. Unfortunately, our job is compared to a mechanical profession, which simplifies a message to spread friendly. That is why people talk about pedagogy related to traffic, Constitution, taxes, human rights, etcetera, as a mere translation exercise. If were, there would be no need a professional career.

Universidad Pedagógica Nacional has a chance of leading the Colombian System of Teachers’ Training to face the tough task of transforming those imaginaries; and there is indeed where such system becomes powerful and rich because it is concerned with nothing more and nothing less than training those intellectual people who will escort children during their journey towards complex and unknown worlds, so they could reach their status of citizens capable of decoding and acting on the world.

Rector, Universidad Pedagógica Nacional

Master´s Degree in Foreign Language Teaching: languages and pedagogical practices changing lives

The Master’s Degree in Foreign Language Teaching at Universidad Pedagógica Nacional (UPN) offers a number of professional chances for those involved. Thus, foreign language teachers will be able to take their teaching towards increasingly satisfactory and promising prospects by a careful and thoughtful reflection on their own practices.

Research on pedagogy and didactics of foreign languages involves deepening into cognitive and linguistic processes that drive learning a language by coping with driven communicative and intercultural phenomena as two languages come into contact besides deepest and critical analyzes of components of teaching-and-learning scenarios of foreign language. These topics, among others, are part of curricular contents of this master’s degree program, which is marked by a critical and methodological thoroughness.

Each student entering the program may choose among three emphases: English, French, and Spanish as a foreign language. This will allow the pupil to focus his/her attention on a particular pedagogical-linguistic process, including of course a great involvement in paths and debates that shape research on teaching foreign languages at the beginning of the 21st century. It is worth mentioning that specific emphasis in French has a choice of a double degree with University of Nantes, France.

Professor Fabián Cruz, a graduate of the English emphasis, says: “Studying for this master’s degree has given us a lot of paybacks; one of them is a recognition because you know UPN as a training teachers institution guarantees to change better practices in the classroom thanks to a development of critical thinking and research principles-and-techniques of education.”

Professor Patricia Moreno García, Coordinator of the Program, states that her greatest challenge is to bring research and teaching of three foreign languages into dialogue, considering the characteristics of each. It is remarkably interesting and satisfying to see the enrichment achieved in the program’s day-to-day work because of the academic, research and cultural exchange of professors and students.

This master’s degree gives our institution continues its commitment to a comprehensive postgraduate training that allows professors to contribute to a generation of structural changes that Colombia needs through the practice of their teaching.