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)


Colombia's Escuela Nueva

Colombia's Escuela Nueva was created in 1974 and has drawn from and combined various features of progressive education theory and practice. In 1985 the Colombian government adopted Escuela Nueva as a national policy for rural primary schools. Escuela Nueva differs from traditional schools in the following ways: it is multigrade; it features flexible and not automatic promotion; special instructional materials are used such as self instructional textbooks; the curriculum is rural oriented; specially trained teachers are required; mastery learning or peer instruction is supported; study corners and small libraries are established; teachers, students and the community all become active participants in the school; and a student government is formed.

Escuela Nueva promotes active learning. Students are active learners in the educational process, as they guide themselves through textbooks, and work in groups, while interacting with one another. Teachers are trained in a setting that promotes active learning for them as well. Flexible promotion and individualized instruction allows students to advance at their own pace. Students learn democratic behavior by participating in student government. Mastery learning (peer instruction) is practiced as older students tutor younger students.

Escuela Nueva schools are multigrade, with one or two teachers in charge of all grades in primary education, which lasts for five years in Colombia. The schools are multigrade due to the large variation in age of the students in rural areas. Because teachers are responsible for teaching students in different grades, the self instructional textbooks become a valuable tool, giving the teacher more flexibility in the classroom in order to attend to students that need extra help. In addition, this also allows for extra time to be spent with the first graders who are learning to read and write.

Teachers attend monthly meetings, known as microcentros, which provide opportunities to discuss their concerns, problems, and experiences with one another. The microcentros are tools for teachers to maintain creativity in the classroom and combat routine. (Palma 245) Their participation in group discussion also helps to reinforce the methodologies behind Escuela Nueva (active learning, group participation, independent thinking and linking learning to practice). By participating in the microcentros, teachers are much less likely to fall back into their frontal model of teaching, therefore the microcentros become part of the strategy to maintain the quality of the Escuela Nueva program.

An evaluation of the Escuela Nueva school was conducted by the Ministry of Education in Colombia in 1988. In all, 168 Escuela Nueva schools and 60 traditional schools were tested. Third and fifth grade students were tested in mathematics, Spanish, self-esteem, creativity, and civic behavior. The tests revealed that Escuela Nueva students scored higher than students in traditional schools in all areas, except fifth grade math and creativity. Both repetition and drop out rates were significantly reduced among Escuela Nueva students completing fifth grade, and repetition rates were reduced among third grade students. In addition to improving student outcomes, Escuela Nueva has also had a significant impact on improving community organization and participation. Increased participation in adult education (35.6% vs. 28.1%), agricultural extension (35% vs. 15.8%), athletic competition (54.6 % vs. 42.5%), health campaigns (82.9% vs. 56.7%), and community celebrations (88.5% vs. 83.3) were also observed in areas where Escuela Nueva schools were compared to traditional schools . (Psacharopoulos, Rojas, and Velez 275).

Escuela Nueva is by no means a problem-free model. There is room for improvement in the self instructional textbooks and teacher training. In addition to improving these aspects of Escuela Nueva, teachers' salaries and working conditions are an important variable in the Escuela Nueva school that is left out of all of the literature on Escuela Nueva. The self instructional textbooks can be improved through revisions, in regards to both content and methods, particularly in mathematics and grammar. (Torres 1992:515) Teachers' suggestions can be invaluable in this regard. Perhaps ideas of how to improve the textbooks could be discussed by teachers in their monthly 'microcentro' meetings. "Many of the contents and activities do not appear to be geared to the actual circumstances and needs of a rural child." (Torres 1992:515). This is problematic, for although the curriculum is presented as being rural oriented, this is not always the case. Teachers, once again, can be an asset in adapting the textbooks for their particular situation. The realization that teachers are not already doing this (even though the literature on Escuela Nueva says that they are), suggests that teachers do not have the extra time needed to achieve all of their new responsibilities.

The Escuela Nueva school of Colombia has achieved positive quantitative and qualitative results. It has offered an alternative to the frontal model of teaching (active learning involving students teachers and the community), reduced student repetition and drop out rates, given students the opportunity to write creatively (through free assignments), and encouraged reading (by encouraging the use of the school library). Escuela Nueva has made significant improvements in the educational system in rural Colombia, though it is not flawless. There is considerable room for improvement- primarily in the self instructional textbooks, teachers training, and improving teachers salaries and working conditions. Nevertheless, Escuela Nueva is a contribution by Latin America as a way to improve the educational system and through careful planning and assessment and may be reproduced in other developing countries.


Arboleda, Jairo. "Participation and Partnership in the Colombian Escuela Nueva". UNESCO: International Institute for Educational Planning: Paris, 1994.

Palma, Diego. "La Construccion de Prometeo: Educacion para una democracia Latinoamericana". CEAAL, 1993.

Psacharopoulos, George; Rojas, Carlos; Velez, Eduardo. "Achievement Evaluation of Colombia's Escuela Nueva: Is Multigrade the Answer?". Comparative Education Review., vol. 37, no.3., August 1993.

Schiefelbein. Ernesto. "In search of the school of the XXI century: is the Colombian Escuela Nueva the right pathfinder?" UNESCO: Santiago, Chile, 1991.

Schiefelbein, Ernesto. "Redefining basic education for Latin America: lessons to be learned from the Colombian Escuela Nueva". UNESCO: International Institute for Educational Planning, Paris, 1992.

Torres, Rosa Maria. "Escuela Nueva: Una innovacion desde el estado". Instituto Fronesis: Quito, Ecuador,1991.

Torres, Rosa Maria. "Alternatives in formal education: Colombia's Escuela Nueva programme" Prospects, vol. 22, no. 4, 1992.

Prepared by: Veronica Ramiriz

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