viernes, 1 de noviembre de 2013

On the Colombian Education Reform

To some level of truth, this could be seen as a fight of quality vs. quantity. In my opinion, this is not the case.


In light of the recent process of reform the Colombian public education system is facing, there are many things being said about it. It has been characterized as utterly evil by the students, and as messianically rescuing and outreaching by the government.

But if, as a species, we have learned anything from politics is to take it with a grain of salt.

There are several perspectives to consider. May I start with the students´. Their main concern is that the allocation of resources will be far too limited by the new law, as it is bound to a growth percentage the GDP has to display. Such growth is, according to some analysts, unattainable for the next 15 years. In that sense, the students are concerned that the system will simply not change at all until the country has gone through the worse of the adapting phase of the recently approved FTA with the USA which, by the way, will require some serious adjusting as many industries failed to brace for the impact. 
A few other concerns deal with the fact that the law regulating public education was initially formulated and passed through the inconformity of the students of the time, who were just as concerned and worried as today´s protesters. After conceding with the government of the day that the law would soon be reformed, it was never done. One last thing to look at is that some professional programs were simply not thought to grow the way they have grown already, and thus the facilities assigned for these programs to develop are, simply put, not enough to house all the students enrolled. In a nutshell, that is what the students are fighting about.

Now, on the government´s side. Colombia has been suffering of a chronic unemployment and underemployment problem for decades, which has crippled the country´s capability to compete effectively with other markets. Such an issue could be explaned, to a healthy, certain extent, by the lack of higher education that allows individuals to apply for better, qualified jobs. There is an institution in existence, called SENA (Spanish acronym for National Learning Service), which provides free training programs in many subjects, ranging from technical to professional specializing programs. Yet this service has not been accessed by many people, who live in far apart regions of the country and who have no other means to receive higher education than to be aided by the government. 

After laying out the scene, there are other points to consider. The students are right to be concerned, seeing as the reform would change the scheme of the resources allocated to public, higher education. This would dramatically change the academic level of the system altogether, and would cause a large number of students to not hold professional degrees anymore, but rather technical. The problem here is that the salary expectation a person could have with a technical degree is inferior to that of someone holding a professional degree and, in a country plagued with social inequality, any measure which increases such inequality in any manner will provoke people´s anger.
On the other hand, the government has argued that this reform would take higher education to the poorest, and would allow the system to reach even those in far apart regions of the country, including them in the qualified workforce, albeit not with professional degrees. The students, on their part, have contended that all people deserve to have the same level of education, while the government is more concerned with reaching the poorest and creating jobs. 

To some level of truth, this could be seen as a fight of quality vs. quantity. In my opinion, this is not the case.

While the students are rightfully afraid to change the status quo, the government is forced to change it to adapt to the new cultural and economic reality of the country. The FTA will bring with it much foreign investment, and with it the need for workers at all productive levels of the chain. The students do not want to compromise their salary expectation because they have obligations with themselves and their families to fulfill, while the government is asking them to do just that in order to be able to reach everyone in need and distribute the resources in a more equitative way. 
What I see is that some people are still seeing higher education as only professional formation, and are choosing not to see that technical programs are also a form of higher education. Also, it must be understood that public policies are to be formulated while planning the far future, not the short term present. The system which we now have has worked for years, but now that the game has changed the system has to change with it. 

Of course, there are some casualties. Mostly, they will occur among the present day students and members of the workforce. But then again, that is what happens when anything is changed at any level of the public administration. 

My perspective is that what we have here is a true definition of tragedy: the counterposition of two good things.

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