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Higher education in Colombia does not escape from inequity and inequality

Inequity and inequality of the education in Colombia show a negative correlation between different poverty indicators and performance of the SABER 11 tests; in other words, the greater the inequity and inequality, the lower the performance in these tests (refer to chart 1). Both are related to the regions which voted ‘Yes’  for the peace plebiscite or where the presence of the government is almost null and have hope the post-conflict will include them as a region in the road to development.

The educational model has contributed to strengthening the persistence of inequity and inequality privileging private over public education in all levels of education. As mentioned in a UNESCO report (2015), “The extensive privatization policies, understood as the process which allowed transferring activities, assets, management, functions, and responsibilities regarding education from the government or public sector to private institutions or agencies ” (p. 73) did not have the expected results.

The privatization and diminishing of the size of the government in providing good traditionally public –known as neoliberal policies– produced an educational model where the right to education provided by the private sector, ended up excluding many due to the costs and low quota.

In many cases, this situation has brought about social segregation, where private schools turned into clubs where only a few chosen have access. The UNESCO report shows that the issue does not lie in the private sector becoming involved in education, but in increasing its participation in terms of business.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to which Colombia is aspiring to become a member, has shown the causes and solution to the growing inequalities, where education plays an important role within the new knowledge society. However, the perspective of the current administration is to continue treating education as a public asset, and to a greater degree as a public asset whose policies privilege strengthening private institutions.

The results of the Saber tests and the high-quality school rankings show that only a few public schools are ranked among the first 300 best schools. In these rankings, most of the best private schools are in Bogotá and monthly tuition fees are between US $600 and $1100 (without including bonuses and other expenditures), allowing them to have the best quality by having improved educational infrastructure.

This reality contrasts with most public schools in terms of facilities, equipment, and libraries. Inequity and inequality are reflected in the results of the Saber 11 tests as evidenced in charts 2 and 3, which show the relationship between the tests and poverty indicators or gaps. There is also a negative relationship (more poverty, less educational performance) as indicated in the green diamonds (the ‘Yes’ vote won in the plebiscite); the closer to 70 on the horizontal axis (poverty), greater poverty and therefore low performance in the Saber 11 tests (10).

Besides the negative relationship between poverty and educational performance, the results show that most provinces which voted ‘Yes’ in the peace plebiscite have the greatest poverty levels and worse performance on the Saber 11 tests.

Chart 4 shows the results of the Saber 11 tests in 2015 and the results of the plebiscite. The gap is very clear between the green provinces where the ‘Yes’ vote won and the provinces where the ‘No’ vote won.

The most abandoned regions such as the Province of Chocó obtained 10 points in the Saber tests and belong to a province where the ‘Yes’ vote won (green) as opposed to the Province of Santander, where the ‘No’ vote won (orange) and the test results were 50 points. The gap is apparent with these two example provinces.

According to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE, for its Spanish acronym) agriculture census, illiteracy rates in the rural country are 23% and rural poverty is 45.7%. Inequality and government abandonment are focused on the most impoverished regions where illiteracy rates are higher.

The regions where illiteracy rates have been below the national average are the region’s peasant and cattle regions with greater and better opportunities. These areas have had a greater flow of funds coming from mining royalties. Chart 5 shows that the most impoverished regions are where the test results were worse.

Finally, in a country where the education system instead of bridging the inequality gaps it tends to open them even more, admission to quality higher education for people living in the most impoverished regions is just an illusion. The poverty cycle tends to be reinforced and persist with time. This situation is maintained, especially when remaining or overcoming the situation implies one or two generations.

In cities such as Medellín, Pereira, Armenia, and Manizales the performance of young professionals is very concerning. In the 13 main cities and metro areas, this performance reaches 17% and the sectors where they get jobs more easily are in commerce, hotels, and restaurants. These activities require youngsters with no preparation and a technical education level. In Colombia, half or the unemployed are younger than 29 years of age.


Read the whole research project here (in Spanish)

Consejo Editorial