Poor quality of education: just lack of resources? | More Colombia

On Friday, January 8, 2023, it was read in Time (physical version, page 1.5) that the “Poor quality of education, [es] a problem linked to lack of resources”. But President Petro put his finger on the wound: Colombia is penultimate among OECD countries in mathematics and science.

“Here, one of the central causes of our lack of productivity, wealth, and our underdevelopment,” he added. In the same newspaper article, reference is made to the fact that graduates of bachelor’s degrees and educational sciences, “that is, those who are preparing to be teachers, are the ones who obtain the lowest results globally in the Saber Pro tests.”

Later, the Minister of Education, Dr. Gaviria, proposed some priorities: “Understanding where the learning losses are”, “Reform of the general participation system”, and “quality is not just a matter of money”, to which the The author of the note adds: “but of public policies”, and also refers to the fact that “it has even been proposed to update curricula, strengthen recreation and sports…”. The article also talks about underfunding and infrastructure problems.

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Nothing new under the sun! The academic, educational and scientific community, “those who know about it”, have been analyzing the situation for years, and have made coherent proposals, based on direct experience with the national educational environment. But be careful: now what is missing is for the government to convene “a high-level international commission”, at exorbitant costs, to come and tell us what to do.

In this column I want to remind our leaders of some of the most relevant and most recent contributions. The “oldest” is the Science, Education and Development Mission, convened by President César Gaviria in 1993, which in 1994 produced a series of documents entitled “Colombia on the Edge of Opportunity”.

There is the National Ten-Year Education Plan 2016-2026, in which ten challenges were identified that very well illustrated the emergencies and possible solutions. There are the documents of the Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences, “Challenges for 2030” and “Recommendations for the improvement of education in Colombia”, the “Decalogue” of the Permanent Forum of Science and Education for Development and Peace” and, finally, the conclusions and recommendations of the “International Mission of Wise Men 2019”. People who have worked in Education for many years have participated in the construction of all of them.

A simple exercise of comparing the proposals that appear in these writings makes it possible to identify several elements of consensus that they are recurring and that, for this very reason, they constitute true priorities for the country, since it is widely recognized that a comprehensive reform of the national education system is necessary.

All the proponents hope that the government’s National Development Plan takes into account these opinions of groups of people familiar with the system, its shortcomings, and its possible solutions.

First, the universally accepted proposals (Total Consensus) are summarized below. Then, other proposals (equally important) and some specific proposals of the International Mission of Wise Men 2019 are included, to end with some comments by way of conclusions.

full consensus

education is a fundamental right of all Colombians. A State policy on education is required.

It is necessary to make a Integral reform to the Colombian educational system that responds to the training needs of the students of the 21st century.

It is urgent to formulate a public policy for the teacher training and quality improvement; dignify the profession of the teacher and redimension its role to make it a living example of what it means to be an “apprentice” in the 21st century, with references of flexibility, openness, renewal of attitudes, knowledge and practices, without dispensing with rigor inherent to scientific and educational activity.

It points to the need to transform the dominant model (paradigm) in education, from one based on teaching to one based on contextualized learning that teaches to think and face challenges, that promotes constructive criticism and enables contextual solutions. A model that teaches to think, talk and live together and that, in addition, breaks down the borders between areas of knowledge, prioritizing interdisciplinarity and collaborative work.

It is considered a priority that there be deep, general, flexible, decentralized curricular reforms, and, above all, relevantthat promote the generalized and pedagogical use of the new available technologies, but that also and, above all, have a regional and differential approach, giving priority to the development of the rural population based on education, recognizing the ethnic, cultural and country society.

It requires the creation of a national education system that guarantees universal access to education from early childhood to higher education, and that is articulated with the science and technology system and with the various productive and social sectors.

It must guarantee the financing appropriate throughout the educational system. The importance given by the State to education is measured by the share of educational spending in GDP and in government spending at all administrative levels. This includes an urgent review of the General Participation System to, among other things, guarantee three years of initial education for all children, regardless of their regional, racial or socioeconomic status.

Other equally important proposals

educate for peace based on equity in all its aspects, inclusion and respect for ethics.

Promote a definition in education in STEM areas that is functional, based on scientific evidence and that makes it possible to close gender gaps from early childhood.

promote the arts education and Humanities and a substantial modification in school work to include music, dance, visual arts, literature, poetry, theater, and film. The relationship between Visual Arts and Education enables the integration of critical thinking, the development of creativity and the stimulation of cognitive and emotional abilities; early childhood is the basis for the beginning of artistic training, which should be encouraged at all levels of basic and secondary education. A specific program is needed for the education and training of teachers who are in charge of content related to art, culture, and creative and cultural industries.

Specific proposals of the International Mission of Wise Men

Although the MIS concurs with many of the above proposals, it places considerable emphasis on the education of boys and girls from the moment of conception to the age of fiveensuring that “they have access to an education designed for them, with adequate nutrition, access to health, affection, respect and attention” (MIS Proclamation).

And he adds: “When you think of the country of this new generation, comprehensive education from zero to five years becomes the highest priority. In that short space of time, more than 90% of the neural connections of the human brain are established, empathy and coexistence, ethics, acceptance of diversity, creativity are learned, and the ability to be happy is developed.

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The MIS also attached importance to the education for adolescentsstriving for a high-quality secondary education that opens up varied life options for them.

should be strengthened basic, social and human sciences and artistic creationsince only with the help of science and the arts will the country be able to develop its own technologies, innovate and strengthen its productivity, through the establishment of close relationships with the business sector.


A transformation towards an inclusive and sustainable knowledge society is only possible if access to education is universalized, content is reoriented and people’s capacities are connected to the needs of their communities and society in general.

Rubén Darío Utria, a brilliant Colombian economist, expresses this concept in an illustrative and clear way: “Education is not only the transmission of knowledge but also —and fundamentally— the development and liberation of the individual and collective conscience of the students…… That is, the full dignity of the human being and the unleashing of his intelligence, creativity, affectivity, reflexivity, sensitivity, vocations, courage, spirituality, capacity for transcendence and all the other amazing human attributes” (Rubén Darío Utria, 2016, p. 35).

And it is worth remembering, to finish, that General Francisco de Paula Santander implemented the most important educational reform that has been carried out in our territory, based on liberal ideas and the ideology of the European Enlightenment, in such a way that interest in promoting a democratic education was oriented to the improvement of elementary education.

Schools were established in the different regions of the country, open to all children, regardless of social class. Each parish was to have a primary school, each province a college, and each department (the country was made up of the departments of Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador) a university. From there the Central University was born, with offices in Caracas, Bogotá and Quito, created by Santander in 1826.

The journalist Andrés Oppenheimer recently commented that, according to the IMF, the main reason for the lag in developing countries is the low quality of education.

So one wonders: When will the leaders of our country really decide to make those much-needed structural changes in education? When will some Minister of Education and some President of the Republic decide to make a real “clean slate” and not continue putting warm water wipes on the problem? Will the proposals of the community be taken into account for the National Development Plan 2023-2026?

What you have to do is stop worrying about modifying articles “A” and “C” of Law “X” or decree “Y”, and really bravely face the profound changes that are claimed in this note. General Santander had that courage and had the vision of a country built on the pillars of education and science. And that was almost 200 years ago.

The IMF is telling us that low-quality education is currently our main barrier to development. It is not possible to continue postponing this urgent comprehensive reform for the 21st century.


Utria, R.. D. 2017. Education and Science for national development and peace. In: Science and Education for development and peace. Pages 24-45. Publ. Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences. Bogota D.C.

Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences. 2018. Challenges for 2030, Education. Public Policy Seminar to the year 2030, pp. 16-23.

Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences. 2022. Recommendations for the improvement of education in Colombia, p. 3-11.

Collection of books of the International Mission of Wise Men 2019.

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Poor quality of education: just lack of resources? | More Colombia