Mostrando entradas con la etiqueta multigrade. Mostrar todas las entradas
Mostrando entradas con la etiqueta multigrade. Mostrar todas las entradas

Escuelas multigrado, ¿escuelas de segunda?


Rosa María Torres
Iriga Multigrade School- Filipinas

Una escuela multigrado (llamada también unidocente, unitaria o multi-edad) es una escuela que reúne a alumnos de diferentes edades y niveles en una sola aula, por lo general a cargo de un docente o de dos. Abunda en zonas rurales, escasamente pobladas o donde la población está dispersa.

En nuestros países está extendida la idea de que la buena escuela, la deseada, la "regular", la "normal", es la escuela graduada, con alumnos organizados por edades, con un aula y un profesor para cada grado. La escuela multigrado - varios grados en una sola aula - es considerada escuela de segunda, para pobres y para zonas ru­rales, mal a descartar no bien pueda pasarse a la escuela graduada.

Esto es lo que viene sucediendo en el Ecuador. La "revolución educativa" impulsada por el gobierno de Rafael Correa desde 2007 se propuso cerrar las escuelas unidocentes y las comunitarias, consideradas "escuelas pobres para pobres", e instalar en el país un único modelo escolar: las llamadas Unidades Educativas del Milenio. En 2015, después de haber desmantelado y abandonado cientos de escuelas unidocentes, muchas de ellas en efecto precarias, el gobierno decidió mantener 1.500 - ahora llamadas "escuelas de excepción"- y mejorarlas en vez de eliminarlas. Es de esperar que el mejoramiento no consista solo en adecentarlas sino en crear un sistema multigrado de calidad en el país.

Es importante tener en cuenta que:

1. La escuela multigrado está en los orígenes del sistema escolar y está extendida en el mundo

One room school - EE.UU.
La escuela multigrado está en los orígenes del sistema educativo formal. Lo que hoy es un sistema complejo organizado en niveles, grados y asignaturas, se inició con escuelas de una sola aula y un único maestro, donde confluían alumnos de diversas edades y se aprendía de todo. La escuela organizada en edades y grados fue una evolución bastante posterior en la mayoría de países.

En la década de los 1950s, la UNESCO desarrolló e impulsó la metodología de la llamada Escuela Unitaria, de la que surgirían, en los 1970s, políticas y programas nacionales de escuela multigrado como Escuela Nueva en Colombia, que continúa funcionando y ampliándose, como modelo, a otros países.

La escuela multigrado sigue extendida en el mundo, no solo en los 'países en desarrollo' sino también en los 'países desarrollados', a menudo funcionando como una mala escuela graduada, al no contar con las condiciones y los apoyos necesarios.

2. El multigrado es un tipo específico de escuela y requiere atención adecuada a esa especificidad

Escuela Nueva - Colombia
La escuela multigrado tiene una lógica y una organización distinta a la de la escuela graduada, y requiere por ende un tratamiento también distinto en todos los ámbitos: administración, currículo, pedagogía, organización y manejo del tiempo, infraestructura, evaluación, etc.Contar con vivienda para el docente es asimismo fundamental si la escuela se asienra en lugares apartados.

Las modernas metodologías diseñadas para el multigrado incluyen trabajo en grupos, aprendizaje auto-dirigido, materiales auto-instruccionales, aprendizaje entre pares, alumnos tutores, entre otros. Para poder atender a un grupo de alumnos de diversas edades y niveles, también el maestro necesita una formación específica, que enfatice el manejo de grupos heterogéneos. 

3. El multigrado puede ser de calidad

La escuela multigrado no tiene por qué ser una escuela de segunda. Bien planificada, organizada y dotada, puede ser una alternativa pedagógica altamente innovadora y ofrecer muchas ventajas.

Shidlaghatta school - India

Experiencias exitosas en varios países muestran que los alumnos en estas escuelas pueden sentirse más a gusto y lograr mejores resultados que los de las escuelas graduadas. La diversidad de edades estimula entre los alumnos la empatía, la cooperación, la responsabilidad, la autodisciplina, el fortalecimiento de la autoestima, el "aprender a aprender" y el "aprender a enseñar", cuestiones todas ellas muy importantes para el aprendizaje a lo largo de la vida y para la vida misma.

Dos factores son claves en la calidad de un sistema multigrado: la formación docente y la disponibilidad de mate­riales adecuados para la enseñanza y el aprendizaje en este tipo de entorno. El profesor tiene efectivamente el rol de un facilitador que debe repartirse entre todos los alumnos, orientando y resolviendo preguntas. Los alumnos deben trabajar solos y en grupo, con la ayuda de otros alumnos.

One room school - EE.UU.
Son estas dos condiciones - formación docente y materiales/metodologías apropiadas - las que a menudo no se dan. Se trata a la escuela multigrado como si fuese la escuela graduada convencional. Se abandona al profesor a su suerte, asumiéndose que podrá arreglárse­las solo.  En tanto catalogada de entrada como escuela para pobres, no se invierte en infraestructura ni en mobiliario o equipamiento adecuados. De este modo, se condena en efecto a estas escuelas a ser pobres para pobres.

4. Escuelas y sistemas multigrado en el mundo

Summerhill -Reino Unido
Hay políticas y sistemas multigrado de calidad, como por ejemplo el programa Escuela Nueva de Colombia o las Escuelas No-Formales del BRAC en Bangladesh. Ambos han recibido muchos premios internacionales.

Hay escuelas multi-edad y no-graduadas de renombre mundial como la escuela (privada, de élite) Summerhill en el Reino Unido.

La "escuela de una sola habitación" (One Room Schools) sigue vigente en Estados Unidos y vuelve a concitar la atención como un modelo válido para los tiempos actuales, del cual hay mucho que aprender, y el cual cabe retomar y adaptar.

El sistema unidocente o multigrado es - sigue siendo - una solución real y un modelo adecuado en aquellos lugares - rurales o urbanos - donde la población es escasa o donde hay insuficiente número de alumnos o profesores para organizar una escuela graduada. En el caso de Escuela Nueva, en Colombia, la escuela incluye vivienda para el docente, lo que hace de ésta una opción real, profesional y de vida, para los docentes y sus familias.

La escuela multigrado puede ser un modelo productivo para estimular la innovación educativa y especialmente la innovación pedagógica, la diversidad como recurso antes que como problema, el trabajo en grupo por sobre el trabajo individual y la cooperación antes que la competencia entre alumnos.

Las tendencias más innovadoras en educación hoy, justamente, se inclinan a eliminar paredes y fronteras entre asignaturas y niveles, a valorar la mezcla de diversas edades (grupos multi-edad), a crear espacios integrados e inclusivos, a favorecer el trabajo en grupo así como la comunicación y el aprendizaje entre pares.

Textos relacionados en este blog
Un aula de clase ancha, ancha
Reaching the Unreached: Non-formal approaches and Universal Primary Education
"Antes, aquí era escuela vieja"(Una visita a Escuela Nueva de Colombia)
Escuelas sin aulas, aulas sin escuelas
Los laureados con el Premio WISE a la Educación
Escuelas pequeñas, escuelas del futuro

"Antes, aquí era Escuela Vieja"


Rosa María Torres

Visita a la Escuela Nueva "Antonio Villavicencio" Nº 29,
El Jordán, Departamento del Valle, Colombia, 29/05/91



En 1991, siendo Oficial de Educación en la oficina de UNICEF en Quito, organicé una visita de estudio al "Programa Escuela Nueva" de Colombia, programa dirigido a las escuelas multigrado y ya entonces convertido en política nacional para las zonas rurales. La delegación ecuatoriana se integró con nueve funcionarios del Ministerio de Educación, además de yo misma, como funcionaria de UNICEF.

Había leído sobre Escuela Nueva y creía que allí podíamos encontrar claves importantes para fortalecer y renovar la educación multigrado (unidocente) en el Ecuador. Nuevamente, en 2003, siendo Ministra de Educación y Culturas, organicé una visita a Escuela Nueva por parte de un grupo de funcionarios del Ministerio, esta vez en el marco de una propuesta que elaboré como parte del paquete de políticas a desarrollar durante mi gestión: la creación de un Sistema de Educación Bi-docente de Calidad (dos profesores en vez de uno, en cada escuela multigrado, trabajando en equipo).

Lastimosamente, ninguna de las dos iniciativas prosperó. Pese al alto número de escuelas multigrado que existen en las zonas rurales, el gobierno ecuatoriano y las sucesivas administraciones nunca se han interesado en la educación unidocente o multigrado; siempre la han visto como educación de segunda, pobre para pobres, transitoria, mientras llega la escuela graduada, con un profesor o profesora para cada grado. Ahora mismo, el gobierno de Rafael Correa se propone erradicar las escuelas multigrado, así como las comunitarias y alternativas, y sembrar el país de las llamadas Unidades Educativas del Milenio.

Entretanto, y aunque de manera accidentada, Escuela Nueva ha seguido avanzando en Colombia, se ha extendido a otros países y ha venido recibiendo innumerables reconocimientos y premios como modelo de educación de calidad para las zonas rurales y para los más pobres. (Ver, en este mismo blog: Los laureados con el premio WISE a la educación)
El texto que sigue lo he tomado del pequeño libro que escribí con impresiones de la visita en 1991: Escuela Nueva: Una innovación desde el Estado, Colección Educación, Nº 2, Instituto Fronesis, Quito, 1991.


Después de casi tres horas de recorrido, el bus se detiene. Está atorado, nos comunica el chofer. La tupida lluvia del día anterior ha dejado el camino en lodo puro, y no sube más. Hay pues que seguir a pie unos cuatro kilómetros. Lo cierto es que hay que llegar. Los niños, los maestros, los padres de familia, la comunidad entera están esperando la llegada de los visitantes.

Media hora más adelante, Emilio y yo nos detenemos junto a una casa donde padre e hijo, cubiertos de lodo y paja hasta las orejas,se encuentran en plena acción de construir un agregado en el segundo piso. Resulta, en la charla, que Don Juan y Doña Martha - quien se acerca enseguida - son padres de familia de la escuela.
- "Dicen que hay un festejo. Así pasaron comunicando", me informa Don Juan. "Ya nos limpiamos y vamos".
El, jornalero. Ella, ama de casa. Tienen cinco hijos y viven desde hace siete años en El Jordán. El, ahora desocupado, se lamenta de lo difícil que se ha vuelto conseguir trabajo.

Tres de los hijos van a la escuela de la comunidad, la Escuela Nueva "Antonio Villavicencio" Nº 29. Horas después, ya en la escuela, veremos llegar a Don Juan y a Doña Martha, bien vestidos y peinados, y sabremos que el Presidente del Gobierno Escolar, Carlos Jesús Ordóñez, recientemente elegido, es uno de sus hijos.

Les pido que me cuentan cómo es la escuela. Don Juan empieza, Doña Martha le ayuda.
- "Allí, los mismos niños tienen que quebrar cabeza. Les toca pensar para estudiar. Antes no era así".

- "En la escuela de antes a uno le quedaba más fácil, porque uno copiaba. Aquí es más trabajoso porque tienen que pensar mucho". 
- "No hay calificaciones. No hay castigo. Hasta que hagan la tarea están".
- "En un año avanzan mucho. Si un niño es muy capacitado, lo adelantan. Si va lento, lo esperan".
- "Al principio, no estábamos de acuerdo. Nos parecía algo raro. Que se pasaban jugando, decían. Mandaban a los niños a atrapar animales. Después los abrían. ¡Quién sabe qué cosas!".
- "Nosotros estuvimos en la escuela tradicional. Pero hoy ya estamos bautizados con esa escuela. Escuela Nueva se le llama".
- "Ellos están muy amañados ya. Cuando comenzaron, les parecía muy trabajoso. Es que tienen que reventar cabeza". 
Nos despedimos. En el trecho final del camino nos unimos a un grupo de padres y madres. Vestidas con sus mejores galas, apresuran el paso. Los hombres van cargando al hombro tres guitarras desvencijadas.

La escuela 

Aparece finalmente la escuela, en un recodo del camino. Afuera, el pequeño rótulo con el nombre. Al entrar, en el corredor, un mural del que copio:

Entendimiento
Sociabilidad
Creatividad
Unidad
Entusiasmo
Libertad
Aprendizaje

Novedad
Universalidad
Entereza
Virtudes
Actividad

Estas y más cosas experimentaré en esta visita a la que me enfrento con ganas de ver con ojos buenos, nuevos, no condicionados.

Al entrar al aula está ya instalado el acto de recepción con los que han ido llegando antes. Hernando Gélvez, Coordinador Nacional de Escuela Nueva, quien nos acompaña en la visita, se ha sentado junto con cico niños grandes, en su pupitre colectivo. Mis compatriotas de la delegación ecuatoriana están alineados frente a la pizarra, ya empezando a presentarse uno por uno. Intuyo entre las caras todavía desconocidas al profesor (sé que solo hay uno, y que hace de director, conserje y todo), y a alguien más que supongo del Comité de Padres de Familia.

Mientras la presentación individual sigue su curso, en la acostumbrada fila india, me concentro en registrar con la vista cada detalle.

El aula es pequeña, con banco y mesa para parejas, están organizados formando grupos de dos o tres, de modo que en cada grupo hay entre cuatro y ocho niños sentados. Los niños, vestidos con un pulover gris claro, son de todas las edades y tamaños: desde muy pequeñitos hasta dos o tres semiadolescentes.

Las parejas están tapizadas con objetos diversos. En las dos esquinas del fondo, con sus respectivos carteles colgados en lo alto, están el RINCON DE SOCIALES y el RINCON DE CIENCIAS, cada uno repleto de coas que llaman la atención e invitan a curiosear de cerca. En el centro de la pared hay una lámina grande que dice MURAL DE ACTIVIDADES DEL MES y que, según sé después, está bajo la responsabilidad del Comité de Bienestar. En él se registran, con tarjetas móviles, las principales actividades previstas y cumplidas por cada comité, mes a mes.

En una pared lateral hay un botiquín y junto a él una pizarra pequeña con el título AUTOCONTROL DE ASISTENCIA: contiene verticalmente la nómina de los alumnos y horizontalmente los días del mes. Según me explican después, son los propios alumnos quienes registran su asistencia.

A mi lado, junto a la puerta de entrada, está colgada una repisa de cartón con casilleros. Tiene el título NUESTROS COMPROMISOS. Dentro de cada casillero hay una hoja escrita a mano por algún niño o niña y encabezada con el nombre de algún Comité.

Soy la última en presentarme. Solo acierto a pedir a los niños que nos cuenten de su escuela, que nos digan cómo se sienten en ella. Debe sonar formal, pero es un pedido auténtico, cargado de emoción y expectativa.

Hernando les pide que vayan alzando la mano, a medida que él va nombrando los niveles. Así podemos saber que, de los 36 niños presentes, 3 están en primer nivel, 11 en segundo, 10 en tercero, 5 en cuarto y 7 en quinto. (Nota: En Colombia, la escuela primaria tiene 5 niveles o grados).

Ahora, Hernando aborda el tema del Gobierno Escolar. Empieza preguntando quién es el Presidente. Se para un chico delgado, nervioso. Se le pide que cuente cómo fue su elección, con cuántos votos ganó, en qué nivel está.
- "Todos los alumnos hicieron una votación ...... Gané con 19 votos ...... Yo estoy en cuarto nivel".
Tres oraciones dichas con angustiantes pausas entre una y otra. El muchacho está paralizado por los nervios. Hernando trata de salvar el trance con tino, pide a los demás que ayuden a contar cómo fue la elección. Las respuestas, de todos modos, salen forzadas. En nuestra segunda visita a una Escuela Nueva, dos días mas tarde, y ante una situación similar, llegaré a pensar que es desmedido el énfasis y el tiempo dedicado en estas visitas (y quizás en el propio Programa) al Gobierno Escolar, sobre todo porque se somete a los alumnos a un interrogatorio que, a partir de las mismas preguntas, obtiene las mismas previsibles respuestas.

Ahora empiezan a pararse y explicar lo que hacen los restantes miembros del Gobierno Escolar. Empezamos con los Ayudantes de Nivel. El de segundo nivel dice que su función es "poner cuidado a las Guías y avisar cuando están dañadas". El de tercero dice que se encarga de "prestar las Guías y colocar las faltas en el Autocontrol de Asistencia. Cuando alguien llega atrasado, le borro la falta". El de cuarto dice que le toca "colocar las Guías en el puesto y ver la asistencia". Finalmente, el de quinto dice: "Presto las Guías y oriento el trabajo a los demás".

Ahora hablan los Líderes, explicando las funciones de sus respectivos Comités (cada escuela decide qué comités quiere tener):
- Huerta: "Limpiar la huerta, echar agua, traer abono. Ahora tenemos sembrado repollo, cebolla, tomate y zanahoria. Todo esto nos sirve para nuestro restaurante escolar".
- Aseo: "Limpiar los baños, las ventanas".

- Deporte: "Arreglamos hace poco el pasamanos para Educación Física y estamos organizando ahora un paseo a Cali, al que va a ir toda la escuela". 
- Bienestar: "Nosotros izamos las banderas".

- Cruz Roja: "Hay que echar agua al filtro, surtir el botiquín".

- Biblioteca: "Prestar los libros".
- "¿Cuántos de ustedes han leído libros de la biblioteca?", pregunta Hernando. La mayoría alza la mano.

- "¿Qué títulos han leído?". Y empiezan a responder uno a uno:

El coronel no tiene quién le escriba.
La Vorágine.
El Quijote.
La Leyenda del Dorado.
Ciervo sin tierra.
Manantial de lectura.
Alicia en el País de las Maravillas.
Leamos A, B y C.

Esperanza, Líder de la Biblioteca, aprovecha para informar a los visitantes que la biblioteca funciona con dos turnos - 8 a 12 am y 2 a 6 pm - y que hay un plazo de cinco días para devolver los libros.

Hemos estado ya más de una hora en este lugar y tomo conciencia de que hasta este momento no he podido saber a ciencia cierta quién es el profesor. Los niños se desenvuelven solos. Ningún adulto habla por ellos, nadie les "sopla", nadie les corrige, nadie les interrumpe.

Fantástico. Sencillamente excepcional. Y esto es lo que seguirá ocurriendo en el resto de la visita, en el resto del día. No puedo dejar de sorprenderme y admirarlo. De hecho, éste será el comentario unánima de nuestra delegación en la reunión nocturna de evaluación de la jornada.

Continuará... (Los niños nos muestran su escuela)


Para saber más sobre Escuela Nueva
» Colombia Aprende: Escuela Nueva en Colombia
» Vicky Colbert, Mejorando el acceso y la calidad de la educación para el sector rural pobre: El caso de Escuela Nueva en Colombia (1999)
» BID: Homenaje a Oscar Mogollón, fundador de la Escuela Activa y co-creador de Escuela Nueva 
» Active Schools: Our convictions for Improving the Quality of Education, by Oscar Mogollón and Marina Solano de Mogollón, AED/FH1360, Washington, D.C., 2011.
» Fundación Escuela Nueva
» La escuela rural como laboratorio de innovación educativa, El País, 3 nov. 2013
» Lo que el mundo está aprendiendo de las escuelas rurales colombianas, BBC Mundo, 2 enero 2014

Textos relacionados en este blog
» Rosa María Torres, Escuela Nueva: An innovation within formal education (Colombia)

Escuela Nueva: An innovation within formal education (Colombia)


Rosa María Torres




This article was published by IBE-UNESCO Prospects (second issue of 1993). I wrote it while working as a Senior Education Adviser at UNICEF Headquarters in New York, and following a study visit (1991) to the Escuela Nueva (EN) Program with an official delegation from the Ecuadorian government. The article looks at the evolution of EN from its creation in 1975 to the early 1990s, period in which it expanded in Colombia, became a national policy for the rural areas, and a regular program within Colombia's Ministry of Education. We also discuss topics related to the survival, scaling up and replicability of the innovation.
In 1987, the Escuela Nueva Foundation was created by the team that developed EN in the 1970s, in order to help strengthen the program, diversify and adapt it to urban areas (Escuela Activa Urbana), and promote its expansion to other countries. The EN model has been experimented in 16 countries. Over the years, it has received numerous international awards, including a WISE Award in 2009 and the 2013 WISE Prize for Education given to Vicky Colbert, co-creator of the EN model together with Prof. Oscar Mogollón.


INTRODUCTION


Colombia's Escuela Nueva (EN) 'New School' Program has become an international reference. UNESCO, the World Bank and UNICEF have lent their support to the program and promoted it. UNESCO described it as "an experience of unquestionable international value." The World Bank recommends disseminating its lessons among education planners and policy-makers. Study missions visit Colombia to find out more about it. Several countries are interested in replicating it.

What makes EN so special? 1) the fact that it is an innovation within the formal school system; 2) the long time over which it has evolved; 3) the system approach adopted; 4) the focus on the curriculum and pedagogy; and 5) its results.

We examine here these five points and conclude with some considerations about the program's survival and potential for replicability in other contexts.

1. ESCUELA NUEVA: AN ALTERNATIVE WITHIN FORMAL EDUCATION

It is common to associate educational innovation with NGOs, grassroot organizations, out-of-school or non-formal education. Many people think Escuela Nueva is a NGO program, like other primary or basic education programs highlighted by international organizations (such as BRAC's non-formal primary schools in Bangladesh). However, perhaps EN's greatest merit is that it is a transformative innovation within the formal, public, mainstream education system. Colombia's EN shows that systemic innovation is possible within government structures.  

2. ESCUELA NUEVA: FROM LOCAL PROJECT TO NATIONAL POLICY

"Pilot projects" have lost credibility. Many pilot projects remain local experiments. At the same time, we also see massive-scale programs rushing without going through a gradual process. Escuela Nueva has grown from a micro experiment to a national education policy.

UNESCO's Unitary School model (1960s)

EN emerged from the Unitary School model promoted by UNESCO in 1961 at a Ministers of Education meeting held in Geneva and adopted in several "developing countries". The Unitary School was characterized by:

a) presence of one teacher in the school,
b) automatic promotion,
c) active learning, enabling children to learn at their own pace,
d) instructional cards ("fichas") for the teacher to work with various groups at the same time,
e) provision of a complete primary education cycle, and
f) application in disperse areas, with low population density.


In Colombia, the first Unitary School was set up at the Instituto Superior de Educación Rural (ISER) in Pamplona, department of Santander, under UNESCO Project 1 for Primary Education. The teacher in charge of that school was Oscar Mogollón, a public school teacher who would later become Escuela Nueva's National Coordinator at the Ministry of Education (See Note below)
- By the mid-1960s, the small unitary school had multiplied into 150 schools. 
- In 1967, the government adopted the Unitary School methodology for all single-teacher (multigrade) schools in the country. A Manual was published and Departments of Education started to train rural teachers in this methodology.
- In 1975, the Escuela Nueva Program was created on the basis of the Unitary School model and experience.
Oscar Mogollón, together with Vicky Colbert and Beryl Levinger, from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), worked on the EN model.
-
Between 1975 and 1978, with USAID support, EN was implemented in 500 schools in three departments. Later, with the support of the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB),
private Colombian organizations such as the Coffee Growers Association, and FES (Foundation for Higher Education), the program expanded to 3,000 schools. 
- Between 1982 and 1986 EN expanded to the Pacific Coast. Learning Guides were adapted for this region, with UNICEF technical and financial co-operation.

- In 1985, the Colombian Government adopted EN as a strategy to achieve universal rural primary education. By then, there were 8,000 EN schools in the country.
- In the late 1970s and early 1980s the government negotiated a loan with the World Bank in order to expand and improve basic education in rural areas. In 1987, a second loan assisted the Universalization Plan. The EN program received educational materials, teacher training, sanitary installations, furniture and school improvements (Ministry of Education-UNICEF, 1990). Investments were expanded until the mid 1990s.
- Since 1987 there was a rapid expansion. The program reached 17,984 schools by 1989.
- In 1990 EN received the Simón Bolívar national award. Internationally, it was chosen by the World Bank as one of the three most important basic education models for rural areas.

- In 1991, 20,000 of the 27,000 rural schools were involved in the program, with an estimated coverage of one million children. 
3. ESCUELA NUEVA: A SYSTEM APPROACH

Escuela Nueva is not a methodology. It is an integrated system that combines four components: (a) curriculum, (b) training, (c) administration, and (d) community. None of these components stands on its own. Their interrelationship is what makes the model both coherent and feasible.

(a) The curriculum
Emphasis is placed on the curriculum. Key features include: active learning, learning materials known as "Learning Guides", Study Corners, School Library, School Government, and Flexible Promotion.

The EN Program was devised for rural areas, primary education (five years in Colombia), and multigrade teaching (one or two teachers in charge of all grades). Children study in small groups using Learning Guides, supplied by the State free of charge. The Guides are organized by subjects (mathematics, natural science, social studies, and language) and by grade (from second to fifth grade; there are no guides for the first grade). They are designed for self-instruction, with graded activities and detailed instructions, so that students can work to a large extent on their own, helping one another. This saves teachers' time, reduces their burden, lessens the need for highly qualified teaching staff, and enables students to progress at their own pace. Teachers are trained to adapt the Guides to the specific characteristics of the children and the local environment -- although they seldom do it.

The Study Corners are arranged by field of study and comprise objects collected or made by the children or provided by the parents and the community.

Each school has a small Library: the idea is to encourage reading among children, teachers, families and the community. The school libraries have a stock of about 70 books, including reference books by subject, reference works (encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases), literature, and materials on community-related topics.

The School Government is a student council responsible for organizing children's school activities. Its purpose is to involve children in school management, initiate them in civic and democratic behavior, and foster attitudes of cooperation and solidarity. The School Government comprises a President, Vice-President, Secretary, Committee Leaders and Assistants for each grade, is elected by the students following democratic procedures, and is renewed periodically to enable all children to gain leadership experience.

Assessment and grade promotion differ substantially from the conventional school system. Its main role is making teachers and students aware of areas needing reinforcement. There is Flexible (not automatic) Promotion. Each child moves on to the next grade when he/she achieves the educational objectives set. This can take more (or less) time than a regular academic year. Any children temporarily absent from school can resume their studies without having to drop out.

The learning environment expands beyond the classroom. EN schools have a vegetable patch and a garden; sports grounds and community facilities form part of the wider school environment. Inside the school, there is space for the study corners, library, kitchen, dining-room and washroom facilities. Teachers often have living facilities for them and their families on the school premises. The natural environment is the main object of study and provides most of the resources for teaching and learning.

(b) Teacher training
EN teachers have a role of facilitators - guiding, directing and evaluating learning - and of  community leaders and organizers. These roles imply major attitudinal changes. Therefore, attitude changes - pedagogical and social - are given emphasis in teacher training.

Initial training (for new teachers) includes three sequential workshops - 
initiation, methodology and organization - each of one week's duration, and use of the library. After the first and second workshops, there is a six-month and a three-month interval, respectively, so that teachers put in practice what they learned. Attending the first workshop is a requisite for including the school in the EN program and for teachers to start working with it. The idea is to reproduce in teacher training the methods and real-life situations that the teachers will encounter in their classrooms and in their relations with the students.

In-service training takes place through so-called Rural Micro-Centers, where teachers can exchange, update and upgrade their knowledge and experience on an ongoing basis. They operate with groups of 10 to 15 teachers from neighboring areas.


(c) The administrative component
This is the one that has received least attention. It is a crucial and complex area, involving political and institutional factors that go beyond administrative issues. Administration "has more to do with giving direction than with controlling" (Ministry of Education-UNICEF, 1990), which means that administrative officials, too, must familiarize themselves with the program's objectives and components, and especially with its pedagogical aspects.

EN is a decentralized program. A coordinator and a small team (ten persons in 1991, most of them involved with EN in leadership positions since its inception) are responsible for co-ordinating and designing policies and strategies, and evaluating implementation. At the departmental level, the structure comprises a representative committee, a coordinator and a team of multiplier agents. From 1987 onwards - when the Plan for the Universalization of Rural Primary Education was launched and the EN expansion process began - several changes were introduced in the administrative structure with emphasis on decentralization. Two new structures were created: a universalization committee at national and departmental levels, and educational units (Ministry of Education-UNICEF, 1990).

(d) The school-community relationship
The EN school is expected to operate as an information center and a focal point for community integration. The school-community relationship is one of mutual benefit, with parents and the community joining in school activities, and the school promoting activities to foster local development and improve the quality of life of the population.

In order to facilitate teachers' understanding of the community and the local conditions, EN uses various tools: the Family Record (information about the agricultural activities of the area and its seasons), the Neighborhood Map and the District Monograph. Students, parents and the community participate in their elaboration.

EN tries various ways of involving parents in their children's activities and stimulating children's interest in learning more about their parents and their lives. The library, the school premises and cultural and recreational activities are open to the community. Achievement Days - days when academic results are announced and the school government reports on its activities - are opportunities for sharing school and community activities.

Demonstration Schools, organized in each department where the program operates, are schools in which the four components can be "seen" operating in exemplary conditions. Visiting a Demonstration School is a key strategy for teacher motivation and training.

4. ESCUELA NUEVA: A PEDAGOGICAL INNOVATION

Educational innovations often give prominence to organizational aspects and neglect the pedagogical ones. Many innovative experiences are recognized as such for the changes they introduce in management, planning and evaluation, infrastructure, and/or curriculum content. Teaching and learning relationships, approaches and methodologies, the corner-stone of educational change, are often overlooked. The central role of pedagogy and of pedagogical change is one of EN's most remarkable features.

EN combines features of progressive educational theory. The program is based on the philosophy of the Unitary School (derived from the Active School): multigrade teaching, individualized instruction, active learning, educational materials that enable the teacher to work with several groups at once, and automatic promotion.

EN's methodology includes learning by doing, linking theory and practice, individual and group work, study and play, guidance and self-instruction. Children learn to think for themselves, to analyze, investigate and apply what they have learned. Active learning principles are also applied to teachers in their own training and in their daily work in schools. The conventional duties of the teacher-instructor are shared the learning guides (contents and methods), the library (an additional reference source), the study corners (observation and experiment areas), the group of students (who work together and help each another) and the school government (where children learn democratic values and procedures).

Teacher training emphasizes teaching and the capacity to innovate. The micro-centers promote team work, experience sharing and critical analysis of teachers' practice.

EN's slogan "More and better primary education for rural children in rural areas", describes this attempt to reconcile quantity and quality. It is not just a matter of providing children in rural areas with access to education: they deserve and need good education. Departing from conventional teaching practice -- top-down, authoritarian, rote and passive learning -- is a crucial element in EN's development and achievements.

5. ESCUELA NUEVA RESULTS

Comprehensive evaluations of the EN program have been conducted so far by Psacharopoulos et al. (1992), and Rojas and Castillo (1988). Both utilize data collected in 1987 in 11 Colombian departments. 

Psacharopoulos found that EN students achieve higher scores than their counterparts in conventional rural schools (except in fifth grade Mathematics) as well as improved self-esteem, creativity and civic behavior -- co-operation, responsibility and solidarity. EN has increased community participation in school-related activities and has reduced drop-out rate among children completing fifth grade (however, not third grade). Rojas and Castillo found that EN has had a significant impact on adult education, agricultural extension, athletic competitions, health campaigns, and community celebrations.

EN has changed the face of rural education in Colombia. It is proving that it is possible  to design an educational model tailored to the rural context, that includes both quality and efficiency. EN is showing that some of the traditional disadvantages of rural areas can be turned into advantages - ample space, linkages with nature, natural resources, contact with the community, central role played by the school and the teacher in community life, etc.

6. SOME CONCERNS 

As with other acclaimed innovative experiences, there is a tendency to deny or minimize problems and limitations. However, we know there are always discrepancies between the ideal, desired model and its implementation.

A study trip (1991) to see EN operating in the field allowed me first-hand contact with the many EN strengths and also with some of its weaknesses (Torres, 1991). So far I have referred to the former; I shall now refer to the latter.

There is room for improvement in all the components and elements described. In fact, the EN coordinating team is not satisfied with any of them. The Guides require thorough revision (three revisions have been carried out to date), especially in Mathematics and Language. Many contents and activities need to be better adjusted to the circumstances and needs of a rural child. Not many teachers are using the adaptation mechanism built into the Guides. There are limitations in the instructional design, too formal and inflexible for the requirements of do-it-yourself learning materials such as these.

There are shortcomings in teacher training -- coverage and quality. The rural micro-center strategy is not yet fully understood or established in all areas. School governments are not always set up or, where they are, not always as planned. A controlling or paternalistic approach by teachers and adherence to form and ritual may defeat the objective of the school government. The school-community relationship depends to a great extent on the teachers' initiative; their characteristics, training and personal motivation determine the quality of that relationship, which often replicates conventional school patterns.

The teaching of reading and writing - basic skills and the factor which largely determines children's academic future - is still one of EN's main shortcomings. As indicated, there are no Guides for first grade, leaving teachers free to choose the literacy methods and techniques they deem most appropriate. This is an open invitation to the conventional teaching approaches and outdated methods that prevail in literacy education. One of the major challenges facing EN is coming up with new ideas in this area, drawing on the important knowledge and experience gained in the region and internationally.

The teacher-student relationship proposed by EN has yet to be fully owned and applied. While some teachers are moving towards a new teaching role, others continue to apply conventional teaching approaches. Translating EN principles and strategies into practice implies a long and complex process.

EN demands two main roles from teachers: a teaching role and a community role. It is not easy to strike a balance between the two. Demonstration Schools seem to be placing more emphasis on the community relationship than on teaching. 


There is a conflictual institutional issue. Although EN is a government program framed within the Ministry of Education, the relationship is difficult and never fully clarified. From open boycott to passive resistance, EN has often had to swim against the tide or operate on the fringes of the system, looking for the support of international organizations and private Colombian organizations. Its precarious situation within the government structure weakens the program's capacity to consolidate and expand.

A long evolutionary process such as the one EN has witnessed can lead to development and progress, but also to stagnation. Efforts are necessary to rejuvenate it continually. The aging of Escuela Nueva is a recurrent concern among those involved in the program. 

Expansion has brought both an aggravation of old problems and a series of new ones. As stated (Ministry of Education-UNICEF, 1990), the "cost of going for scale" has included "inevitable sacrifices in terms of effectiveness and efficiency" and has resulted in "a reduction in the number of days spent on training workshops or, in some places, a failure to provide the study guides in time for the training sessions. One consequence of these problems is, of course, a weakening of experiential learning in teachers' training, added to teacher apathy and criticism of the program." The new administrative structure that has emerged as a result of the program's expansion has led to conflict with the technical teams, not always consulted, and has caused a sharp rise in the number of administrative officials with training demands that the program has been unable to meet.

Another factor is the proliferation of "demonstration schools" during the expansion phase. Although such schools are considered to be a key strategy to maintain quality, their introduction on a massive scale may have the opposite effect.

6.1. IS ESCUELA NUEVA A MODEL THAT CAN BE REPLICATED?

The combination of innovation and replicability is highly valued, especially by international organizations. Innovative experiences are expected not only to expand, but also to adapt to other contexts.
In fact, many would like to find a magic one-size-fits-all formula for primary education in rural areas in "developing countries". A few comments on EN in this regard.

In the first place, the specific nature of EN as it has developed in Colombia must be born in mind. It is a formal, public, rural, multigrade, primary education program. These characteristics must not be overlooked when considering possible adaptations or variants. Nor must it be forgotten that EN is a system organized around four components (curriculum, training, administration, and community), not an assortment of isolated elements.

There are a number of factors of Colombia's EN Program that are unique and not readily available or easily replicable in other contexts. 


"Rural school"  "Rural schools" are very different in different places. Colombian "rural schools" are generally well endowed with infrastructure and equipment (government loans with the World Bank in the late 1970s and in the 1980s improved the physical infrastructure of rural schools in the country). Many EN schools have housing facilities for the teachers and their families. Many have a kitchen, a dining-room, washrooms, running water, electricity, television. This is not the reality of rural schools in many Latin American countries and in most "developing countries". 


Languages  Colombia is a rather homogenous country in linguistic terms. The EN program has a tremendous advantage in dealing with one language: Spanish. In the majority of Latin American countries and throughout the world, multilingualism is the norm. Introducing the EN model in bilingual or multilingual contexts means venturing into entirely new territory.

Teachers' educational background  According to the World Bank study (Psacharopoulos, 1992), most EN teachers have secondary or higher education. Also, compared with other rural schools in Colombia, EN has more teachers living on the school premises. Both factors - teachers' level of education and teachers living in the school - have a positive impact on students (a university education was associated with better cognitive outcomes; teachers residing in the school was associated with better scores in creativity and civic behavior).
 

A long process  EN has made a long and distinctive process. "In Escuela Nueva, the necessary technical conditions have been met, since the program has been designed and put to the test over a period of 15 years. Furthermore, the present government has fulfilled the necessary political conditions. In addition, adequate financial conditions have been assured through the allocation of government funds, a loan from the World Bank and the cooperation of UNICEF, which has lent its support to maintain the quality of the program as it expands" (Ministry of Education-UNICEF, 1990). How many countries and governments can offer such a combination of technical, political and financial circumstances?

Technical capacities  Let us mention only one crucial component of EN: the Learning Guides. As acknowledged by the World Bank, elaborating good textbooks needs highly specialized technical competence that is not easy to find: "Translating curriculum specifications into good textbooks requires considerable expertise. Textbooks must have the appropriate content and reading level; be consistent in approach, method and exposition; be properly sequenced; motivate the students; and finally, be readily taught by less qualified teachers, yet allow good teachers to expand upon them. Throughout the world, few individuals possess the expertise required for writing good textbooks" (Lockheed and Verspoor, 1991). How many programs can avail themselves of such human and technical expertise?

Financing  In addition to government funds channeled through the Ministry of Education, EN has been receiving regular financial support from various international agencies - USAID, IDB, UNICEF, the World Bank - and from private organizations. The estimated cost of EN is between 5% and 10% higher than that of conventional schools (Schiefelbein, 1991), while teacher training costs at least three times higher (Psacharopoulos, 1992). Can similar financial support be expected in other countries? Can EN itself expect sustained support to enable it to continue to expand while improving its quality?

Survival  In a world where policies and programs are easily discontinued by government changes or international decisions, EN stands out as an exceptional innovative experience. How has EN been able to survive the political and administrative instability characteristic of Latin America and of Colombia specifically? Someone has attributed EN's success to "a mixture of advertisement, strategic support, academic standing of the developers, and simple luck" (Schiefelbein, 1991). The "luck" factor no doubt covers a wide range of unpredictable, inexplicable and non-reproducible factors.

Leadership  Studies show that one of the characteristics of successful programs and effective schools is the role played by specific individuals with drive, vision, leadership, charisma, and perseverance. This is true in the case of EN. The original team remained relatively stable. Individuals in key positions have had a decisive impact on the program's development, locally and nationally. "Even though Escuela Nueva has been institutionalized in the whole country, the support it receives in some provinces largely depends on the personal preferences of local administrators" (Psacharopoulos, 1992, p. 19).

Ten years elapsed between EN's official establishment as a program in 1975 and its adoption as a national education policy in 1985. The process has followed three stages (Ministry of Education-UNICEF, 1990): (a) learning to be effective (1975-1978), (b) learning to be efficient (1979-1986), and (c) learning to expand (since 1987). Even with the time, resources and planning that went into the program's development, everything indicates that EN was not equipped to cope with its rapid expansion, at least not without jeopardizing its quality. If this happens with a resourceful program such as EN, what can be expected of programs that are required to expand and even achieve universal implementation without having gone through the stages and met the requirements essential to their very survival? Pressure from governments and international organizations to reach big numbers, show results and become successful models in record times does not help real, transformative, sustainable innovation in the educational field.

There is a great deal that Colombia and other countries can learn from EN. There is also a great deal that can be done to consolidate and improve the program, while protecting it from the hazards of fashion and the risks of domestic shifts.

Radical changes required in education today takes second place when concerns continue to focus on access rather than on effective learning. Universalizing access to education without universalizing quality education, is delivering more of the same that produces non-learning, frustration, drop-out, repetition, and wastage of resources.

Transforming formal education is a major challenge. Schools must become less formal and more flexible, relevant, useful, creative, enjoyable, responsive to students' and teachers' needs, respectful of diversity, open to participation by parents and the community and accountable to society. EN is showing a way to do it in Colombia. It is important to know the program better and learn from its many lessons.

ADDED NOTES


[1] In 1992, professor Oscar Mogollón joined the Academy for Educational Development (AED) - a US-based non-profit -  to work on the design and implementation of the Active School approach in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru and Equatorial Guinea. He passed away in 2010. See: Oscar Mogollón and Marina Solano de Mogollón, Active Schools: Our Convictions for Improving the Quality of Education, AED, 2011.

REFERENCES

COLBERT, Vicky and Jairo Arboleda, "Universalization of Primary Education in Colombia: The New School Programme", UNESCO-UNICEF-WFP Co-operative Programme, Paris, July 1990. 


COLOMBIA Ministry of Education-UNICEF, El Programa de Escuela Nueva. Más y mejor educación primaria para los niños de las zonas rurales, Bogotá, 1990.

LOCKHEED, M. and VERSPOOR, A., Improving Primary Education in Developing Countries, Oxford University Press, a World Bank publication, Washington, 1991.

PSACHAROPOULOS, George, ROJAS, Carlos, and VELEZ, Eduardo, "Achievement Evaluation of Colombia's Escuela Nueva", in Working Papers, World Bank, Washington, D.C., April 1992.

SCHIEFELBEIN, Ernesto, In search of the school of the XXI century: is the Colombian Escuela the right pathfinder?, UNESCO-UNICEF, Santiago, 1991.

TORRES, Rosa María, Escuela Nueva: Una innovación desde el Estado, Fronesis, Colección Educación Nº 2, Quito, 1991.



Related texts in this blog 
» Rosa María Torres and Manzoor Ahmed, Reaching the Unreached: Non-formal approaches and Universal Primary Education
» Rosa María Torres, Transforming formal education from a Lifelong Learning perspective
» Rosa María Torres, On Innovation and Change in Education
» Rosa María Torres, "Antes, aquí era Escuela Vieja"

Reaching the Unreached: Non-Formal Approaches and Universal Primary Education


Rosa María Torres
and Manzoor Ahmed

Photos: BRAC, Bangladesh


Photo: CONAFE indigenous school, Mexico

This text is part of a dossier prepared by Manzoor Ahmed and myself in 1993, while both of us worked at UNICEF/HQ Programme Division in New York. The dossier was one of many UNICEF/ Education Cluster contributions to the policy-making process following the World Conference on Education for All - EFA (Jomtien-Thailand, 1990). The dossier included this conceptual text and a selection of twelve innovative primary education programmes from all over the world. Some of them are now over forty years old, such as BRAC in Bangladesh, Cursos Comunitarios - CONAFE in Mexico or Escuela Nueva in Colombia (BRAC and Escuela Nueva won recent WISE Awards). The term "non-formal" - adopted mainly from the South Asian experience - refers to the innovative, flexible and alternative nature of these programmes.
There was no Internet back in 1993. The dossier was printed and distributed by mail to all UNICEF offices. Two decades later, many of the ideas contained here remain valid. Many things have changed in the world, for good and for bad, and opportunities for education and for lifelong learning have widened, but many of the key educational problems addressed by the six EFA goals are still unsolved. Universal Primary Education - UPE (EFA Goal 2) remains a major challenge - not only universal access and retention but, most importantly, universal learning.
In 1990, at the launch of the global Education for All initiative (World Conference on Education for All, Jomtien), according to UNESCO there were 106 million children out of school. The year 2000 was established as the deadline for achieving UPE. In 2000 (World Education Forum, Dakar), the promise was postponed until 2015. However, in 2013 (data from 2001-2012):

- "More than 57 million children continue to be denied the right to primary education, almost half of whom will never enter a classroom."
- "Progress in reducing the number of children out of school has come to a virtual standstill just as international aid to basic education falls for the first time since 2002." (EFA Global Monitoring Report/UNESCO-UIS, Policy Paper 09, June 2013).
- Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, India, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Niger, Yemen, and Mali are the 10 countries with the largest number of out of school children.
- About 25% of children who enroll in school drop out before completing primary education.
- 120 million of those who complete four years of primary education are not able to read, write, and calculate.
“We are at a critical juncture. The world must move beyond helping children enter school to also ensure that they actually learn the basics when they are there. Our twin challenge is to get every child in school by understanding and acting on the multiple causes of exclusion, and to ensure they learn with qualified teachers in healthy and safe environments. Now is not the time for aid donors to back out. Quite the reverse: to reach these children and our ambition to end the learning crisis, donors must renew their commitments so that no child is left out of school due to lack of resources, as they pledged at the turn of this century.” Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director General, June 2013.

The proximity of the 2015 deadline - both for Education for All (EFA) and for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) - has revived old concerns, discussions and ideas with a long history. Governments and international agencies have weak institutional memories; documents that are not on the web are invisible today. These are some of the reasons why we resuscitate this text and make it available in digital format, as a contribution to current reflections and analyses on primary schooling, educational innovation and education reform worldwide. 
Reaching the Unreached:
Non-Formal Approaches and Universal Primary Education

Dossier Prepared for the Second EFA Forum by UNICEF,  New York, 1993
This paper is the product of a collaborative effort. A draft prepared at UNICEF by Rosa-María Torres and Manzoor Ahmed was circulated to the international EFA Forum Steering Committee and others. Comments received were taken into account in preparing a longer draft that was reviewed in a meeting held at UNICEF headquarters in New York on 7-8 June 1993. The meeting was attended Olivier Berthoud, Anil Bordia, Frank Dall, Lavinia Gasperini, Aklilu Habte, Khadija Haq, Aster Haregot, Anthony Hewett, Uyeng Luong, Frank Method, Nyi Nyi, Heli Perrett, Ana Maria Quiroz, Elsie Rockwell, Kate Torkington, Daniel Wagner and Fred Wood. All these contributions are acknowledged gratefully.
INTRODUCTION

The term Non-Formal Education (NFE) denotes here an approach to education rather than an educational domain or sub-system. Such approach introduces greater flexibility with respect to formal education: a decentralised structure, more democratic management and relationships,  adapting programmes to specific contexts and people (families, learners, educators), learner-centred pedagogies and content, creative ways of mobilising and using education­al resources, community ownership and participation in planning and management. Non-Formal Primary Education, as it is called in South East Asia, refers thus to non-conventional school programmes that "deformalise" schools in a number of aspects. In order to reach the unreached - the hardest to reach, the poorest, the most vulnerable and distant, those trapped in conflict situations - flexibility is essential. Rigid and homogeneous school patterns, imposed to all, have not and will not serve the purpose.

"Non-formal" approaches can be applied to all modes and levels of education - including initial, primary, secondary and tertiary education, as well as adult education, and vocational training.  Given the paramount importance of universal primary education (UPE) -- UPE being recognized as the core and the cutting edge of 'basic education for all' within EFA efforts -- this paper concentrates on NFE's potential for achieving UPE.

I. UNIVERSAL PRIMARY EDUCATION: THE CHALLENGE 

The main delivery system to ensure children's basic education outside the family is the school. Primary education must be universal, meet the basic learning needs of children, and take into account the culture, needs and expectations of families and of the community. Non-conventional, alternative programmes can help meet such basic learning needs, even in highly disadvantageous situations, if they are given the necessary conditions to facilitate children's access, wellbeing and learning.

Achieving universal primary education has been an explicit aim for most countries since the early 1960s. However, UPE was understood in terms of enrollment, regardless of retention, completion, and actual learning. This model, centered on a linear and homogeneous expansion of the regular school system, overlooked the different contexts and needs of the population, the actual teach­ing/learning conditions and processes, and ultimately, the learning results. Access and enrollment, infrastructure and central administration consumed most efforts and budgets destined for education, to the detriment of the quality of teaching/learning conditions and results. Non‑enrollment, repetition, dropout and low learning achievement are still major challenges, particularly for 'developing countries' and for the most disadvan­taged groups of society.

Although progress in the last three decades has raised net enrollment rate in developing countries from around 50 per cent of the primary school age-group to over 80 per cent, there are still at least 130 million eligible children who are not enrolled in primary schools. And of those who enroll, at least one-third, do not complete the primary cycle because of a combination of poverty and other socio-cultural disadvantages of children and their families, and the poor quality of the education offered. These figures hide profound disparities, such as those between rural and urban areas, between and within countries, and between boys and girls.

"Education for All" launched and approved in Jomtien (1990) re-defined UPE beyond enrollment or numbers of years of schooling; UPE must ensure "meeting basic learning needs" and "alternative programmes" must ensure:

(a)  quality,
(b)  linkages with the regular school system ("the components should constitute an integrated system, complementary and mutually reinforcing"), and
(c)  adequate support.

(a)  Quality: Quality is a major concern in all forms and levels of education. In particular, quality remains a key issue within the NFE field, historically marked by low academic status and weak political and social recognition. The most effective way to gain legitimacy, indispensable to success, is by demonstrating results. Achieving equal results as those of the school system -- often claimed as a proof of success-- is important but not enough if we consider the low learning outcomes of the school system and the ongoing efforts to improve them.

(b)  Linkages with the regular school system: The battle for UPE requires convergent -- although diversified -- efforts, integrated within a unified system. Not only is the school system the most widespread educational institution worldwide, but it also defines and influences social perceptions and expectations about educa­tion in general. Associating NFE with "out-of-school" education has contributed to its marginalisation. Rather than developing two parallel systems, it is necessary to create linkages and coordination between school and out-of-school, formal and non-formal, based on complementarity, mutual exchange and mobility between them. NFE approaches have much to contribute to the renovation and the "deformalisation" of the school system as well as to the creation of non-conventional programmes complementary to regular schools to serve the difficult-to-reach groups. 

(c)  Adequate support: NFE has been traditionally viewed as a cheap compensatory alternative to the school system, operating with untrained, underpaid and voluntary personnel, with low budgets and precarious management. NFE primary education programmes are required to achieve the same or more than the mainstream school system under more difficult circumstances -- serving the most disadvantaged populations, most heterogeneous groups, in hard-to-reach zones - with fewer resources. If NFE is to improve its quality and play an effective role as a national UPE strategy, it will require greater resources and support at all levels of the educational and administrative hierarchy. Govern­ment policy and decision-makers must assume a lead role in promoting diversified educational approaches, in mobilizing and sustaining a favourable climate of opinion towards them, and in guarantee­ing the conditions (political, financial, legal, techni­cal, and managerial) required for success.

 II. DIVERSIFIED APPROACHES TO PRIMARY EDUCATION: THE NFE ROLE 

There are today, in broad terms, three main strands of organizational and institutional arrangements in primary education: a) the formal school system, b) traditional indigenous education systems and institutions and c) non-conventional programmes generally labelled as NFE programmes. The three are present in all regions, although operating under very specific realities, with different emphases, approaches and strategies. All three require major changes and improvement.

a.  Innovations within the formal school system

The need to reform and revitalise the formal school system is evident all over the world. Counterbalancing the growing tide of criticism and skepticism about schools and public education, identify­ing and disseminating "success stories" ("good practices", "effective schools") have become a major thrust both nationally and interna­tionally. Programmes such as Colombia's Escuela Nueva, Chile's Programa de las 900 Escuelas, Mexico's Cursos Comunitarios, Zimbabwe's Educational Reform and the "Community School" approach revived in several African and Asian countries, show that change is possible and taking place within school walls in state-run public education systems. Many of these reforms have been inspired or become acceptable and possible as a result of the legitimacy of change and innovation spawned by NFE practices and research. Since formal primary schools serve the large majority of children, the greatest potential for NFE's contribution to universal primary education lies in its possibilities to trigger change and innovation in the public school system.

b.  Traditional indigenous education institutions

Traditional indigenous institutions, primarily stemming from the religious tradition predating European colonialism, are widespread in 'developing countries' and can be found in many countries under different denominations (Buddhist temple schools in several Asian countries, African bush schools in Liberia, Islamic schools in Asian and African countries, Church Schools in Ethiopia, etc). Many of them are elaborate systems that have been maintained outside the standard school system, have not been incorpo­rated in educational diagnoses and statistics, and have been overlooked by policy makers and researchers. Some provide an alternative to modern schooling, including a whole range of levels and modalities that play an equivalent role to the conventional "ladder" from pre-school to middle and even special­ized education. Some of them have been undergoing changes and introducing innovations in an effort to adapt to changing times and to "modernization". This is particularly true of the Islamic or Koranic school system, prevalent in over 40 countries and a large school population numbering in tens of millions of children.

Today, with ongoing educational reforms and a sense of urgency promoted by EFA, there is an increasing interest - particularly in Africa and Asia - in studying, documenting and revitalizing these traditional indigenous education alternatives, incorporating them within UPE efforts, and nourishing them with new curriculum and pedagogical methods, some of which are derived from NFE  approaches. 

c.  Non-formal primary education programmes

Primary education programmes categorically labeled as "non-formal" have been emerging since the early 1970s, with a marked increase during the 1980s, particularly in South Asia, the region with the highest percentage of out-of-school children in the age group 6-11.  (Bangladesh's BRAC Non-formal Primary Education is one of the best known programmes of this type). These programmes are still incipient in Africa and rather unfamiliar in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the term "non-formal" continues to be associated with adult education and out-of-school activities.

Non-formal primary education is aimed at out-of-school children/ youth, covering both the non-enrolled and the drop-out; most programmes operate in the rural areas; some are specifically designed to deal with gender disparity through a range of measures including gender-segregated programmes; some are addressed to very specific groups such as working children/youth, abandoned or street children, refugees, nomads, etc;  many derive methodology from adult education programmes, and some have maintained that link and even developed an integrated child/adult education framework; and some have attempted systematically to establish links with other development activities such as community development projects, women's groups, recreation and reading centers, etc.

These programmes present a great variety in terms of magnitude and scope, management, modes of delivery, curriculum, teaching approaches, and relation­ship with the school system. Some common features of the more effective non-formal primary education programmes can be identified:

Organization of the programme: annual calendar, daily schedule and number of total yearly hours determined by local circumstances, including part-time and spare-time schedules as well as multiple-shift arrangements. Emphasis on utilizing shorter hours more effectively.  Local and community involvement in planning, management and budget with accountability to community and parents.

  Teachers: Para-professionals and community members, including part-time and volunteer staff for all or most of the teaching personnel. Flexible formal education requirements, short pre-service orientation/training; reliance on on-the-job learning and supervision for maintaining teaching quality and teachers' motivation.

Learners: Flexible age requirements and no pre-requisites, although usually "affirmative action" approach in favour of the disadvantaged is followed.

Curriculum and teaching-learning methods: Curriculum and learning materials are adapted to local needs through simplification, shortening, condensing or re-structuring the curriculum. Flexible evaluation, promotion and certification criteria and procedures. Pragmatic mix of a variety of approaches and methods: self-learning, group and individual work, peer-tutoring, ability and interest grouping; self-paced learning; multigrade classes and arrangements.

Physical facilities: Any convenient physical facility (including private homes or even open spaces), multiple use of building, no capital investment for building within the primary education budget.

Types and degrees of linkages with the formal school system vary considerably from one programme to another, as well as the understanding and operationalization of the issue of "equivalence", depending on the role seen for NFE in the total UPE effort.  Many programmes run parallel to the regular school system and have no connection with it. A number of them seek equivalence either with the complete primary cycle or with some initial grades -- usually the first three or four grades. Some have lateral entries to the school system at several points. A few have a much wider and more complex relationship with the formal system, collaborating with it in areas such as teacher training, planning, learning materials, etc. Others operate in a compensatory role, as school reinforcement, providing poor and deprived children a substitute for elitist private tutoring (e.g. the Explicaçâo - "Explana­tion Schools" - in Guinea-Bissau and other countries). Establishing a modus operandi for links between the regular primary system and the non-formal programmes is critical for realizing the full potential of NFE for universal primary education.

III. TEN CONDITIONS FOR EFFECTIVENESS

Experiences have accumulated and lessons have been learned over the past decades to help avoid common mistakes, anticipate common problems, and limit the search for strategies, approaches and measures that have proven useful in different circumstances. Major requisites for effective application of NFE approaches in UPE can be identified from the wide vista of practice and experience in all regions of the world.

1.  A unified comprehensive system for UPE.  NFE and diversified approaches to primary education need to be seen as components of a unified system.  Major non-conventional and non-formal primary education initiatives must be a key component of the total UPE strategy to reach all those not reached by the regular system. This unified approach requires:

(a) decentralized local structures of planning, management and monitoring of the UPE strategy in geographical units small enough to allow meaningful involvement of communities; and

(b) a partnership for basic education and UPE at community and other levels among government, private sector, community organizations, parents, teachers and local government.

An unplanned voluntary sector expansion of NFE programmes, in a general climate of heavy criticism of public education and a government withdrawal, is not the answer.  Governments have to assume a strong and pivotal role in UPE in establishing general policies and indicators, guaranteeing basic inputs, compensating for regional imbalances, creating the conditions for local actions, and providing professional support for making a unified system with diverse approaches function effectively. 

2.  A supportive climate of opinion.  The greatest obstacle to adoption and effective application of NFE approaches is lack of understanding and appreciation of their potential both among national policy-makers and in the entrenched educational establishment. NFE has been traditionally conceived as "second rate" education, a low-cost compensatory alternative to the regular school system intended for the poor and for marginal populations. An effective way to counteract the perceived low status of NFE is to demonstrate its effectiveness, by carrying out well-conceived projects, assessing these and other relevant experiences, and disseminating the results.  Government policy and decision-makers must assume a lead role, especially in defending and promoting diversified educational approaches.

3.  A support structure for planning and implementation
.  Several factors are of crucial importance for success in NFE within UPE:

(a)  Organisational, administrative and management issues are often underestimated in the NFE field. The idea persists that NFE is, by nature, a non-systematic, non-structured type of education. NFE primary education programmes cannot succeed without a decentralised local structure for planning, management and monitoring in a small enough unit for effective community and parental participation in the local UPE effort. This local structure needs to have adequate authority and support by higher levels of the educational planning and administration hierarchy.  NFE cannot play its role fully as long as it is planned and managed in isolation from mainstream primary education.

(b)  The curriculum, pedagogy and learning materials are often neglected as key components of the educational process and as specialised areas. NFE approaches can help rethink conventional ways of addressing problems related to curriculum and content -- overburdening with too many academic subjects, use of a non-local language as medium of instruction, fragmentation of the curriculum and lack of practical relevance, which prompt children to drop-out and defeat the main purpose of primary education. Some successful programmes have simplified the curriculum, organized relevant learning materials, related content to the life and experience of learners, and adapted it to the specific needs and possibilities of teachers. Regional and even local adaptations to centrally produced materials that foresee the need and include built-in mechanisms for such adaptations have proven effective in programmes such as Escuela Nueva in Colombia.

(c)  Capacity-building and training of personnel in planning, administration, pedagogy, curriculum, supervision and evaluation at different levels are another neglected area. Teacher training in NFE approaches becomes all the more crucial considering the limited formal education and lack of pedagogic preparation of the usual para-professional and community teachers. A short initial training complemented by frequent refreshers and close supervision has proven successful in many programmes. Multigrade methodologies require specialized training targeted at the specific components and requirements of multigrade teaching (group learning, peer-tutoring, self-paced learning, self-instructional materials). At the same time, desirable levels of competence should be set realistically so that too high standards do not become an obstacle to expanding or replicating the programme and serving those deprived of any primary education opportunity.

4.  Adequate resources  NFE has been traditionally viewed as a cheap alternative to the formal school system. It is expected to accomplish the "mission impossible" with few resources and support.  Often, the very concept of "cost-effectiveness" is misunderstood: a programme may be cost-effective but not necessarily inexpensive, while a low-cost programme may turn out to be an ineffective investment. It is clearly necessary to pay attention to costs, benefits and resource mobilization for both formal and other complementary primary education programmes with a perspective of attaining the universalisation goal. NFE is not the remedy for chronic under-financing of primary education.  NFE approaches, however, offer the opportunity for developing a more efficient pattern of resource allocation, that de-emphasises capital costs and concedes greater importance to factors that are critical to the teaching-learning process and results, such as capacity building, learning materials, and monitoring.

5.  Strong community and parental involvement  Community and parental involvement are crucial not only for the necessary ownership of the programme but also for the indispensable accountability at local and community levels, both of which are crucial to sustainability. "Participation" is an ambiguous term and often understood in a restrictive sense -- provision of materials and labour force.  One essential condition is to create and cede authority to local planning and management structures that lead to community ownership of the programme.  Participation involves all phases of the programme, from design to evaluation.

6.  Assessment of learning achievement  Developing appropriate assessment methodologies and tools implies coming to an agreement on, or a definition of, basic learning needs in terms of literacy, numeracy, and basic life knowledge and skills. This also implies a clear understanding and assessment of implementing conditions and better use of information for planning, management and monitoring at local and higher levels. BRAC's Assessment of Basic  Competencies (ABC) -- a simple and rapid assessment method to assess reading, writing, arithmetic and essential life knowledge and skills -- is a pioneering attempt applicable to both formal and non-formal components of UPE.

7.  Taking advantage of modern and traditional media  Communication media are fundamental allies of UPE: (a) as complementary teaching and learning tools for everyone; (b) as a means for continuous teacher professional development and solidarity, and (c) as channels for advocacy, information, citizenship building and shaping public opinion. Better use of media and technologies for educational purposes requires developing technical capacities and critical thinking.

8.  Expansion and replication of innovations  The lack of plans and mechanisms for scaling up of programmes is a major issue in NFE approaches, especially the ones managed by NGOs. "Pilot projects" (often confused with "small projects") have become a matter of controversy as a result of many failed experiences. The opposite danger is of massive programmes that are implemented without previous experimentation or hurried scaling-up of emerging small-scale experiences. A balanced approach that recognizes ample lessons from experience in NFE as well as in other social development programmes must be adopted. More important, however, is the need to initiate and design programmes from the very beginning with an eye to expansion and replication, if we consider that in many countries UPE cannot be achieved without large-scale efforts.

9.  Addressing gender disparity  Studies conducted all over the world have consistently documented some of the main constraints in girls' and women's access to education, and the need for specific strategies to address them. Such strategies include, among others, the location of schools closer to homes or communities; promoting the recruitment of female teachers; reducing hidden costs to parents; developing relevant curricula; increasing community participation; promoting localiza­tion and decentralization; encouraging advocacy and social mobiliza­tion; designing systems that accommodate the needs of female students; and supporting multiple delivery systems that involve multi-media approaches. All of these constitute features commonly attributed to NFE approaches. If properly put into practice (at least a combination of several of them), NFE can make a specific contribution to greater gender equity. One concrete experience is that of BRAC in Bangladesh, where over 70 per cent of children enrolled in schools are girls.

10.  Continuing educational opportunities beyond primary education  Primary education cannot be viewed as a terminal and the only educational opportunity for the vast majority of the world's population. Invariably, expansion of primary education has led to an increasing demand for more education. Expanding, improving and diversifying post-primary educational opportunities are thus also challenges for both the regular school system and NFE programmes. Basic education, as defined by the World Conference on Education for All, must satisfy basic learning needs of children, youth and adults. In as much as one of these basic needs is building the foundation for lifelong learning, continuing post-primary education, also flexible and adapted to learners' specific needs and conditions, cannot be lost sight of in planning for UPE and NFE strategies.

Related texts in this blog
International Initiatives for EducationIniciativas internacionales para la educación

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