in progress edited by Daniel
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
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
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.
The project involved two wide strategies (conversation and research), and three essential pedagogical themes (quality of life in the school, knowledge, and educational endeavor).
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.
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.
were the protagonists?
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?
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.
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).
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.
to these ideas, some of the objectives of the project were:
To generate identity around common purposes
To enhance relations between schools and other institutions
To generate tangible products and materials for the educational community
To share work experiences
To build new knowledge about students, schools and education
To generate alternative efforts for reaching the mission of delivering a qualified education
To develop a “great act of national presence in the schools” in the way that wide social sectors support them, value their work, and grow with them
strategies of the project
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,
The improvement of the endeavors toward education.
articulation of the adults’ efforts and the children’s games
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.
is the quality of life in school?
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,
relation with knowledge in class
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? …
about the endeavor of education?
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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,
Prepared by Luisa Fernanda Quijano Lozano (OISE/University of Toronto)
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