Vicky Colbert, Director of the Escuela Nueva Foundation (ENF) in Bogotá, Colombia, with over 20 years of experience working with children in multi-grade rural schools, marginalized urban schools, and with migrant, displaced, and hard to reach children, has committed to assist and oversee the progress of the implementation process, done by seven local operators, of the Escuela Nueva Learning Circles Program that promotes child-centered, active, participatory, and collaborative learning as a key strategy to reestablish the right to quality education for 8,700 war-affected children of conflict.
Due to ongoing conflict in Colombia between guerilla, paramilitary groups and government forces, there has been a massive displacement of families to poverty belts around the major towns and cities of the country. With over two million internally displaced, Colombia has one of the largest displaced populations in the world. Of these, thousands are children suffering from extreme poverty, inadequate social services, violence and numerous barriers to education.
Faced with this challenge, in 2001 the Escuela Nueva Foundation in Colombia, under Vicky Colbert´s leadership, created the Escuela Nueva Learning Circles Program in response to this national crisis. The program provides quality education to children, ages 6 to 15, who have been internally displaced by violence and are unable to enroll in school. It addresses the needs and realities of these children with a friendly environment and flexible strategies that adapt to their mobility situation, age and cultural heterogeneity.
The Escuela Nueva Learning Circles facilitate the transition of migrant, displaced children into schools, attracting them and maintaining them when conventional schools fail to adapt to their needs. In addition, this innovative program contributes to conflict management, developing habits of peaceful coexistence, constructive behavior and social integration.
This commitment to action was inspired by ENF´s strong belief and conviction that through the Foundation's Escuela Nueva Learning Circles Program, ENF has a proven solution that reestablishes and recovers the right to quality education of displaced, migrant children, affected by war and conflict.
Taking action on this commitment will enable ENF to continue to lead and expand this program nationwide; approaching education issues in conflict areas and emergency situations. It will also follow through on the Foundation's current efforts for primary-aged children who have been displaced by internal warfare. ENF seeks to encourage the roll out of this program for children in other countries who have been caught in the middle of conflict, while sharing lessons learned and inspirational stories of children overcoming the odds to regain their right to education in Colombia.
Through this commitment, Escuela Nueva will work in the departments of Nariño, Valle del Cauca, Magdalena, Norte de Santander and Cundinamarca - Colombia, which are departments that have been significantly affected by violence and displacement and they continue to suffer from high rates of poverty and incidences of child labor. ENF commits to assist and guide the seven local program implementers to: a) increase access to and the quality and relevance of educational services; b) increase awareness of relevant stakeholders on the value of education; c) improve capacity of municipal, departmental, and national education and other public/private institutions to sustain and support education activities; d) strengthen capacity building of the seven implementers to replicate and expand the program throughout the country; and e) set quality standards and criteria for its expansion.
The Escuela Nueva Learning Circles Program is founded on the premise that education should be of high quality, relevant to child's life, and undertaken within an enabling environment.
The Escuela Nueva Learning Circles are places of learning located within local communities, and are comprised of groups of between 12 and 15 students who work together with the aid of 'youth tutors' who facilitate learning and provide personalized attention.
- EN Learning Circles operate off-site from mainstream, formal 'mother schools,' but are officially linked to them through shared academic calendars, grading systems and extracurricular programs.
- Children are officially enrolled in the mother school, but study in 'learning circles,' receiving classes in community centers, local churches, and family homes until they are ready to transfer to the mother school.
- This strategy is not a parallel system. It is integrated into and recognized by the Ministry of Education to ease the transition from the street to school. The Escuela Nueva Learning Circles are an innovation of the proven Escuela Nueva Pedagogical Model, adapted to meet the distinctive needs of these vulnerable displaced children. They also provide basic skills, counseling and social services for children who have special needs for their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
In addition, 'youth tutors' from the community are trained in the Escuela Nueva system and methodology to lead the Learning Circles. By interacting with their peers, they gain practical teaching experience and develop their potential as community leaders. Youth advocacy groups expand the program and advocate for displaced children's rights. The key message is that education can be life saving and life-sustaining through the dissemination of basic skills and social support.
The program gains its strength from a cost effective, systemic approach that is flexible, adaptable and replicable. Its ability to create unique connections between the Learning Circles and local 'mother schools' provides previously marginalized children a chance for inclusion. Escuela Nueva Learning Circles ensure that vulnerable children can gain academic competencies, obtain life skills relevant to their lives, and build conflict resolution and social skills for peace building to strengthen their self-esteem. Each of the components is underwritten by a commitment to strengthen family, community, government, and private institutions.
As authors and leaders of this Escuela Nueva innovation, ENF will oversee and pedagogically and technically assist seven local implementers of the program, to strengthen their capacity and set quality standards, for this gradual roll-out in five departments. This technical assistance will be provided through:
a) Workshops to provide pedagogic support; targeted to each of the seven program implementers with the purpose of unifying pedagogic criteria and validate and adjust training strategies for the 'youth tutors' and advisors.
b) Evaluation Workshops; targeted to each of the seven program implementers with the purpose of evaluating the actual implementation process and progress of the Learning Circles and following up on the action plans previously defined.
For each of these workshops and activities, ENF will take into account the results obtained throughout the monitoring process and the support strategies implemented.
c) Monitoring of Workshops for teachers and tutors; ENF will supervise and orient the seven implementing technical teams in their delivery of the training and follow up workshops for teachers, tutors, head teachers and teams of the Secretaries of Education. Following through on previous monitoring results, plans of action, agreements, evaluations, etc., ENF will use specially designed instruments to gather and systematize information and provide implementers with technical support in the specific areas, thematic or subjects that need reinforcement.
d) Microcenters; microcenters, or teacher learning circles, are a strategy of the Escuela Nueva training and follow up component. They promote permanent feedback; follow up, interaction and exchange of experiences among teachers and tutors for a social construction of knowledge. The seven implementers will lead these microcenters on a monthly basis to formalize a space for horizontal communication and sharing of experiences among the tutors, teachers and the local teams that will generate new knowledge and enrich and improve their pedagogical practices. ENF will oversee these microcenters, providing technical support in the specific areas, thematic or subjects that need reinforcement.
e) In situ assistance to classrooms; this is also a strategy of the Escuela Nueva training and follow up component. It promotes direct observation and follow up to the schools. An adequate organization of the classroom, school, the family and the community, and adequate educational processes serve as empirical references to promote positive attitudinal changes towards improving and innovating. The seven implementers will lead these in situ visits twice a week to each learning circle aiming to guide the tutor, define with them work plans and promote evaluative reflection for continuous improvement. ENF will also be present in these visits to provide technical support in the specific areas, thematic or subjects that need reinforcement.
f) Ongoing professional support; via teleconferences, emails and the EN portal's chats, forum's and discussions each of the team members of the implementing organizations will have permanent and ongoing contact with ENF´s Program professionals and specialists. Through a careful tracking record of all these exchanges, ENF is enabled to effectively and accurately follow up on the specific requests for support.
MEASURES OF SUCCESS
Measures of success include the 8,772 war-affected children ages 6 to 17. ENF will oversee and pedagogically and technically assist seven local implementers of the program for this gradual roll-out in five departments. In addition, the following actions will be targeted:
a) Mechanisms to increase access to educational services: overall # of displaced children and vulnerable youth reached through the Program disaggregated by age, IDP status, and gender; # of new learning circles created; percent of children who identified demand-side barriers to access to education, e.g., direct and opportunity costs, lack of value placed on education, scheduling, age restrictions, documentation requirements, distance to educational institutions, limited available spaces; and those children and youth who no longer face these barriers.
b) Proven educational programs that improve quality and relevance of educational services: percent of days during the school year the targeted children attend school; # of tutors/teachers using Escuela Nueva teaching/learning methodologies;
c) Strategies that increase awareness of relevant stakeholders on the value of education: percent increase in the level of knowledge and attitudes about the value of education disaggregated by children, parents, teachers, school administrators, and government officials; # parents participating and average frequency of participation in school-based activities; quantity of resources (disaggregated by type) provided by private sector entities;
d) Strategies that improve capacity of municipal, departmental, and national education and other public/private institutions to sustain and support education activities for war-affected, displaced children: Municipal/departmental education offices that have education plans detailing actions on issues of migrant, displaced children of conflict;
e) Lessons learned from the implementation of pilot projects which have contributed to refining broader policies and implementation strategies aimed at improving access to and quality of education for displaced, migrant children: Qualitative case studies and lessons learned referenced; percent of project staff and beneficiaries that identify concrete lessons learned from local action research which have led to changes in implementation and improved services (as per their subjective opinion.)
ANTICIPATED TIMELINE: December 2007
First Anticipated Milestones
Planning Phase: Advertisement, selection, hiring of additional national project staff and timeline of activities; design of communication strategies, documentation plan and plan to systematize the information.
Operation Phase: Start-up meetings with implementers, partnering NGOs, Ministries, municipal, departmental and national government; running of workshops, monitoring, microcenters, in situ assistance and ongoing support.
Final Phase: Monitoring results, final reporting, and document with recommendations