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A clearer horizon for the education budget in Colombia

Amid the rise of the Forth Industrial Revolution, the development of new technologies produces drastic changes for the new generations with foreseeable effects on international trade, the occupational market, and the educational system.

While in some areas of the productive activity the promoters of the technical change prepare and open the doors to innovation and knowledge, other areas, sectors, and countries have reacted with fear and terror to the change, looking to recover the synergies of a past which will not return. The future will not be for those who place obstacles and restrain the processes, but for those who break barriers and produce new opportunities.

The transformations of international trade are overwhelming: from a past where the priority was in agricultural and mining (primary) products the world passed to a trade of manufactured goods of different degrees of transformation and technical complexity until reaching a society of IT and communications with high added-value products.

Currently international trade is focused on electronic, mechanical and electronic products, robotics and automation, high-speed transportation equipment, zero emissions, and self-driving vehicles, besides intelligent systems from new information and communication services. This is all consequence of the greater value-added that comes from innovation and technological development, with links between higher education institutions and technology developers.

Strengthen and make the education system accessible to all

Countries do not reach leadership positions randomly but they do it by projecting in time toward a growing and greater national competitiveness of their enterprises and citizens. Of those who have achieved it, there are several examples in the last two centuries, they had an aggressive all-access education strategy for their citizens, with demanding requirements and quality results.

The common denominator of countries such as Germany, Japan, South Korea and China is that they fortified and expanded their educational system which reflected in increasing schooling goals, adjusted to the times, from simple basic education to the more recent 12 + 2 and 12 + 4, which means 12 years of middle education plus 2 to 4 years of technical, technological or professional education.

Currently, competitiveness is not having abundant and low-qualified labor but having a high-capacity massive human resource. In face of this scenario, our goal of 10 years of compulsory education is laughable and frustrating.

The changes in the labor market are drastic and begin to specialize with time with the disappearance of multiple work positions and production of other alternatives, substituting low-technological work positions for other of greater capacity and added-value.

The greatest challenge for the next generations is to prepare adequately for that future with technologies which rapidly becomes obsolete and where the life-cycle of products is very limited.

For this it is not only necessary to learn a trade or obtain competences certificates as they don’t solve problems; however, people do need to learn new trades and become professional in activities with a risk of obsolescence; therefore it is more important to understand the fundamentals of a know-how and turn into innovations agents, as these are the work position of the future.

State instead of governmental policy

As a national purpose, we need to consolidate a comprehensive educational system and an education that responds to the requirements of an educated in science and technology society, which innovates and advances.

This purpose has to turn into a state policy and not of individual administrations and turn into a progressive advance strategy with the perspective of achieving a more educated country, where education is a condition for life, which develops technology and builds a high-complexity export offer, leaving aside our mining-export dependency.

We are far from this, and as a country, we need to solve three great issues which involve our children, adolescents and young people, whose results will only be visible on the mid-term; however, the solutions need to start on the short-term, in other words, right now.

The national efforts should lead towards: (1) childhood, with a universality guarantee of a three-year preschool education to set child brains for mathematical logic and bilingualism , (2) a sole school day for elementary and high school education, meaning a happy adolescence and devoted to education and growth, with an age control policy, ending with early tuition and gathering cohorts of the same age and schedules coinciding with the schedule of parents, and (3) an effective transition from mid to higher education, creating diverse education channels in regards to technical, technological and professional education without gender, ethnic or socio-economical discrimination with equal opportunities and respect for the differences, and a massive program of access to quality education. With this, we will diminish equality.

The administration that just began has allotted a budget of COL$41.4 billion for 2019, the equivalent of 4.4% of the GDP, with the purpose of starting to change the priorities of the national budget. Unfortunately for the discussion of the National Budget for 2019, there is not any change in priorities of the government, which began the debate claiming a lack of COL$25 billion, saying they will not improve the allotted for education but develop their own public expenditure agenda, with a hard to modify ceiling. In the end, they ended up adding COL$3 billion more for Defense, while haggling over the possibility of adding COL$0.5 billion more for education, contending that they don’t have enough money.

A long-term goal

What should be the budget for education? There is not an optimal budget, as it depends on the limitations posed on countries and their challenges. However, there are comparison trends and indexes. In Colombia, we have an allotted 4.4% of the GDP, probably the highest in our history and it is insufficient, while other countries, where they still have goals to reach, surpass 7% of the GDP.

The challenge of building a massively educated country and breach the current gaps are not achieved in a year as this requires more time and a growing projection of funds. If the goal was to reach 7% of the GDP, we need to add 2.6% to the budget and doing it in ten years means adding 0.26% every year; in terms of current money it is the equivalent to COL$2.35 billion. This is a start and we need to pass from the rhetoric to reality, will the government commit?

A comprehensive educational system requires allotting funds to finance investments, building today to maintain later, endow laboratories and workshops with equipment which depreciates and turns obsolete and materials which need to replenish frequently etc. For this, they could use the resources coming from royalties and not included in the national budget and unstable with time.

The educational system requires warranting permanent funds to finance recurring expenses, professors, administration, gratuity, school food, etc., so the needs of children and adolescents are taken care of. Higher education has been the Cinderella and as the population completes their high school education it turned into a barrier hard to overcome and that is exactly the challenge for the next 10 years and additional resources must be there.

Public higher education currently receives 0.5% of the GDP and has an accrued deficit of COL$18 billion, while funds approved by Law 1819 of 2016 have been denied as well as a Social VAT and modification of the Income-tax for equity (CREE, for its Spanish acronym).

The modifications of Law 30 requires establishing a healthy balance between providing input materials and results, guarantee operations on the short term and recovering the sources of funds allotted and diverted by the government for other plans.

Toward the future, entering into a new distribution rule, a proportional increase of the GDP until reaching 1.2% in the following ten years, coming from taxes and not donations and distributed in function of preconceived results and goals, building complete national technical, technological and professional quality network coverage.

Consejo Editorial