Primary Education

Colombia Table of Contents

The constant efforts to improve the coverage provided by public primary schools produced remarkable results. The fact that 90 percent of the children in the appropriate age-groups in urban areas and nearly 70 percent of children in rural areas attended primary school indicated that further expansion would require carefully developed regional strategies rather than a broadbrush approach.

This requirement was especially true of the ten-year old-age- group, which had not increased in the 1980s and was projected to grow by a mere 1 percent during the 1990s. Because many urban areas had achieved very high coverage levels, further expansion of the primary system was not needed. Substantial differences in enrollment rates among departments were directly correlated with levels of urbanization, although there were also other intervening variables: size of age-groups, population growth rates, and migratory patterns.

Although quality education was a difficult and subjective concept, many indicators suggested that there was substantial room for improvement. Rates of attrition had decreased, and rates of graduation had improved since the 1960s. The repetition rate had also gone down slightly. Nevertheless, only 62 percent of those students who entered primary schools in urban areas finished sixth grade, and in rural areas the rate was just 18 percent. In the departments, the variations were quite large, ranging from 34 percent to 81 percent in urban areas and from 9 percent to 41 percent in rural areas. The grade repetition rates were uniform by region but still quite high, ranging from 20 percent in the first grade to 7 percent in the fifth. Students in urban areas completed an average of 3.7 primary-school grades, whereas those in rural zones completed an average of only 1.7 grades.

The low quality of education was one of the reasons for the high rates of student attrition and the major reason for the high rate of grade repetition. To improve the quality of education, in 1985 the Plan of Curriculum Revision was approved after years of testing. But up until 1988, it had been implemented only partially because of administrative and financial problems.

Levels of teacher preparation have improved gradually since the 1960s. In the 1960s, 11 percent of primary teachers had only primary-school education or less; in the 1980s, only 1 percent fell into this category. In 1960 only 2 percent of primary teachers had any postsecondary education. In the 1980s, the corresponding figure was 13 percent.

A 1983 law stipulated that 1 percent of the education budget be targeted for the purchase of textbooks, but the law was not applied. In practice, the availability of materials was a function of the goodwill and financial situation of the individual teacher and the community in which he or she worked.

Thus, despite relatively better-qualified teachers and more classrooms, other ingredients essential for high-quality teaching were unavailable. Teacher orientation, teacher assistance, and administration of the system had degenerated dramatically, leaving many schoolteachers frustrated and demoralized.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress