Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

2000

The Pleiades Project, a “fantasy trip” designed to inspire change in Colombian education

This year, an ambitious project that was carefully designed and planned during the 1990s, is finally implemented in Colombia.  The Pleiades Project was a national educational plan that consisted of a “fantasy trip” to inspire change in the education system. The project had a most original feature, which gave it a new perspective of reality and new ways of understanding and solving problems: it was built as a diagnosis of the schools from the point of view of the children. It was a view of the school from the children’s eyes

Because Pleiades was created involving every one of the thirty-two “Departments” (regions), along the million and a half square kilometers of the Colombian territory, it constituted an important mobilization of hope in a troubled country. In one paragraph of the project outline, the project was expressed as an invitation to a “great movement of continuous support to institutions where groups of children, youngsters and adults meet like in a constellation of dreams, to fabricate a new world that we yet do not know” (Final Report, 2002, p.1).  So even if it was designed in a literary language that evokes dreams and poetry, it also called for a systematic national act of visiting and escorting urban schools throughout the country carrying in mind the goal of improving the quality of education.

What was the project about?

The project involved two wide strategies (conversation and research), and three essential pedagogical themes (quality of life in the school, knowledge, and educational endeavor).

The pedagogical materials were constructed around the fictional story of a fantastic trip to the “Pleiades of imagination, solidarity, friendship and knowledge”. Different myths of the Pleiades are told in the “Pleiades Fantastic Guide” (Ministry of Education, 1998) and how they were used as guides for travelers in the past. In Perú, Polynesia and Greece the Pleiades were the patrons of agriculture. For the natives in North America they were sacred dancers, for the Japanese they were a group of virgins, and in Sudan the Pleiades was the after life home of the beautiful women.

In uniquely designed “cardboard travel trunks” that were distributed to schools, the materials consisted of the travel story, the work tools and the “travel charts” with all the instructions for the activities.  The fantastic story told to the children is about the planet Earth in the year 2500, when travelers from another galaxy come to visit Earth to get knowledge about how to handle their own planet where there are wars, hunger, poverty and where people had forgotten how to chat, how to research, how to make friends and feel solidarity for others. The terrestrial children of the 25th century tell the travelers that the planet Earth is a happy place because since the year 2000, “after the Pleiades trip”, the children learned how to research, to admire the planet, to have friends, to help one another, and to converse a lot about the adventures and trips to the universe of imagination, friendship and communication.

Who were the protagonists?

Pleiades generated a wide social mobilization of the civil society around the schools of Colombia, who worked with new participatory instruments. The National Ministry of Education was the initiator. It invited government and private institutions to participate in the project with the conviction that education is a very essential issue and that all society should face and take responsibility for it, because the future of education means the challenge of the future of a country. In total, 416 institutions worked with Pleiades: 176 non-government institutions, 77 universities, 33 non-formal education centers, 39 social compensation services offices, 52 secretaries of education, 23 government agencies and 15 private corporations. These institutions escorted 7,787 elementary schools and 1,234,532 children.

Why this project?

Intellectuals, teachers, social scientists, parents, and government agreed on the idea that basic education becomes the first big step in the construction of a peaceful country. In this way, education is the fundamental axis in the transformation of Colombia. Pleiades attempted to start the construction of the route.

In Colombia, as in the majority of Latin American countries, basic education is experiencing a very low quality performance. The public is not giving education the fair value that it deserves. At the same time, conventional schools have lost their capacity to relate with contemporary society. This gap between the reality of society and the school is one of the first obstacles which is necessary to leap over. In another part of the outline it says: “To go back to the school and compensate it in some way with something it had given to us, to turn with gratitude to the teachers whom have devoted their lives serving childhood and youth, to go back with full hands to offer our work, could be the best way to start the reconstruction of the social trust undermined by so many circumstances” (Final Report, 2002, p2). 

Objectives

The objectives of Pleiades were based upon the experience in which schools that have the support of other institutions and where the community is close, are capable of reaching significant developments in the quality of education. Another of the “ forceful-ideas” that fed the objectives is the conviction that the act of “escorting” or “keeping company” helps to build activities that reinforce the topics of democracy, the environment, the joy of teaching and learning, and the understanding of peace. From the human point of view, teachers and students feel stimulated when they know that other humans care about them, when they have the opportunity of sharing their experiences, reflections, doubts and successes. Company and care becomes an act that searches for humanizing education.

According to these ideas, some of the objectives of the project were:

The strategies of the project

Among the principles that helped to develop the work strategies of Pleiades is the concept of simplicity. It used simple activities and a simple language; simplicity unfolded in games, chatting, observing nature, questioning without fear, searching for “opportunities of fantasy, the challenges of invention and the desire of the joy of life” (Final Report, 2002, p2). The strategies always request finding the way of solving problems together, appreciating the different experiences of each individual, validating the voices of the children, learning to enjoy the “visit of friends” and feeding the attitude of “going through life together with other human friends. Part of the strategy was to tell the children that it is easier to create and enjoy what we do and discover, and it is better than being alone in this traveling to the future” (Final Report 2002, p3). Following the mood, the core spirit of the activities were related to games that gave children the opportunity of expressing themselves and asking questions about three vital aspects of the schooling life:

1.      Knowledge and the development of knowledge

2.      The quality of the school life and,

3.      The improvement of the endeavors toward education.

The articulation of the adults’ efforts and the children’s games

The project unfolded through national and regional committees where the diverse individuals of the civil society were present. They helped with the management and delivery of the pedagogical material of Pleiades to the urban schools in Colombia. The material consists of three tools, each one related to one of the aspects of the schooling life (knowledge and the development of knowledge, the quality of the school life and the improvement of the endeavors toward education) presented in the form of three games.

What is the quality of life in school?

To work with the quality of life in the school, the project designed a game called: “The star of five points” which relates to five topics: teachers, activities, classmates, physical spaces in the school and pedagogical materials. With more than a million children talking about what they like and dislike about their schools, you can find comments like these: “I like the library”, “What I like the best about my teacher is when she is compelled to teach us a lot of useful things for the future”, “We like when we have people visiting us,” “I like the way my teacher dresses and solves problems”, “I like when they inspire trust and responsibility”, “when we go to visit interesting places”, “when we learn by playing games”; about what they dislike: “What I don’t like is when they punish us by not letting us go for recess”, “ I don’t like my biology teacher because she is bitter and throws chalk at us”, “what I don’t like is when we have to wash the washrooms”, “when the space to play is small”, “when the school is dirty,”, “that my classmates are trouble-makers,” “that the big guys punch the small ones”, “when there is no water in the school,” “when it rains and there is a lot of mud on the road, walking to school,” “the English subject because we don’t understand any thing” (Final Report 2002, p10).

The relation with knowledge in class

The second game, which was designed to research the ideas of the children about learning and knowledge, was called “To ask questions and write books”. In this game students wrote a question about the subjects and after working in groups they organized the subjects and created a book with a topic present in the questions, in a way that it would be useful for the educational community. Some of the questions that may show the heart of Colombian children are: Why is Colombia at War? Why don’t dogs talk? What are the people from other countries like? What will be the future of the children? Why are there children in the streets? How can we organize a community? Who is God? Whose idea was it to teach? How are dreams fabricated? What is the flavor of a kiss? Why do the guerrilla people kill the police? Why did my father leave us? Why is life so difficult? Why is the world so strange? …

What about the endeavor of education?

In order to work with the third aspect of the school life, the children were invited to formulate their desires without restriction. The children expressed their desires in phrases like: “I would like to paint the school”, “to have the family together for Christmas”, “to travel to other places”, “to grow healthy”, “to have a computer”, “to be able to study a career”,  “to have a school bus”, “to have air conditioning”, “ to end the hunger and have peace in Colombia”, “To visit NASA”, “to have a school cafeteria”, “to have well mannered teachers”, “to be a mother”, “to have a musical band” “to have drinking water in the school”. The children worked in groups and found out which desires were realistically possible to achieve in a short, middle or long term through a class project, a school project or a community project.

What new projects and associated activities have been generated along with the project and the results?

In the final national tabulation of results, the topics that the children were more concerned with were the teachers, the school and their classmates, which suggest that they care about people and the physical space more than about the subjects of study. In the whole country there were more than three thousand projects created in order to help change the negative aspects of the problems revealed by the children. Some of them have to do with visiting of the parents to the school, integration of schools to the environment, fixing of the roads to schools, pedagogical workshops with the teachers, workshops of affection and communication in the family, psychological orientation of children and teachers, workshops on building respect. Also, there where 15,113 books published with topics involving the history of their towns, why the children take drugs, Colombia, war and peace, poverty in Colombia, peace tools, etc. A good number of activities were implemented to reduce the bureaucracy of the management of the educational system. Some of those were: trips to the airport, showing videos, workshops of sexual education, inviting experts into the class, creative school fairs, olympics of knowledge, campaigns to keep the washrooms clean, etc.

At the conclusion of the project a group of written materials were created with information about the unfolding of the project, the work to enhance the process of escorting the schools in the future, and the rationalization and socialization of the experience.  The materials are then summarized in four published documents:

  1. The guide document: “El largo y sorprendente viaje de las Pléyades” (Cali, Colombia, Ministry of Education, 1998.
  2. “Selene Second Pleiades expedition” The work of research in the school. First document. Bogotá, Colombia: Ministry of Education, 2000.
  3. “Apis. Third Pleiades expedition.” Education and work. Developing of projects and educational endeavors. Second Document. Bogotá, Colombia: Ministry of Education, 2000.
  4. Final Report: “The mobilization of Hope”. Informe Final, Proyecto Pléyade. Bogotá, Colombia: Ministry de Education, 2002.

More information

If you are interested in having more information about the Pleiades project, you can e-mail Carmen Cecilia Ramírez, at the Ministry of Education in Bogotá, Colombia. Her e-mail address is: CRamirez@mineducacion.gov.co

Sources

*Pleiades Fantastic Guide: (1998) “El largo y Sorprendente Viaje de las Pléyades. Guía Fantástica para viajar por la solidaridad, el conocimiento y la gestión en las escuelas de Colombia”.Por Francisco Cajiao, Parodi, y otros. Santiago de Cali, Colombia: Fundación FES-Ministerio de Educación Nacional.

*Final Report: “The Mobilization of Hope” (2002)   Informe Final Proyecto Pléyade: un acto de presencia del país en la escuela. Acompañamiento a escuelas urbanas para el mejoramiento de la calidad y la gestión.  “La Movilización de la Esperanza” Bogotá, Colombia: Ministerio de Educación Nacional.

* E-mails from Carmen Cecilia Ramírez, Ministry of Education, Bogotá, Colombia, October, 2002

Prepared by Luisa Fernanda Quijano Lozano (OISE/University of Toronto)

2002

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