Escuela Nueva is a renowned pedagogical model centered around the needs of the student that transforms conventional, teacher-centered schools to achieve high quality education. It is one of the longest running bottom-up innovations in the developing world. Since targeting isolated, multi-grade schools in rural areas of Colombia in the 1970s, Escuela Nueva was adopted by the Colombian government as a national education policy and has been replicated in numerous countries around the world. Central to the Escuela Nueva model are four key components:
- Curriculum - Escuela Nueva makes use of a flexible curriculum focused on a cooperative, active, and participatory learning methodology where students advance at their own pace. In the last 5 years, in addition to standard academic content, Fundación Escuela Nueva (FEN) has made significant conceptual developments to the original model in social skills and peace education, as well as adding the development of entrepreneurship, leadership and 21st century skills to the curriculum. Classroom learning makes use of learning guides designed by FEN that promote dialogue and interaction among students.
- Community outreach - The Escuela Nueva model seeks to build strong relationships between schools and their surrounding communities. School activities incorporate the local culture and encourage community members to get involved. A student government is formed in each school to promote democratic values and civic participation.
- Teacher training and evaluation - Through experiential workshops, study groups, and school visits, teachers are trained in the model's methodology and transformed from transmitters of facts to facilitators and advisers of children's learning. Learning circles help teachers share best practices, collaborate, problem solve, and promote positive attitudinal changes.
- Administration - Local and regional school administrators are encouraged to become more involved in the learning process and outcomes of their students.
The Escuela Nueva model is cost-effective, highly replicable, and scalable. FEN has worked closely with the Ministry of Education and regional governments to expand it across the country. Among the conceptual developments that FEN has advanced are the adaptations of the initial Escuela Nueva model to different contexts, including:
- Escuela Activa Urbana for urban schools, designed in 1987.
- Escuela Nueva Learning Circles for displaced communities, designed in 2001. This program helps children between the ages of 6 and 15 transition back into the formal education system. Learning takes place in Escuela Nueva Learning Circles, though all participating children are formally enrolled in and affiliated with a local school.
FEN has achieved international success and sustainability by operating as a consultant for other governments, NGOs, and international organizations looking to implement the model. It provides technical assistance, training, and licenses and sells proprietary Escuela Nueva materials. For implementation outside of Colombia, FEN licenses prototype materials for local customization. FEN has primarily partnered with the public sector to replicate the Escuela Nueva model, however, FEN increasingly seeks to partner with strong private or civil society organizations on the ground to ensure quality control and the sustainability of the model.
The Escuela Nueva model has received both national and international acclaim for its innovative approach and substantial academic results. Schools employing the Escuela Nueva model demonstrate higher academic achievement, lower dropout and repetition rates, and often outperform conventional schools. It has also shown a positive impact on the development of democratic and civic behavior, as well as peaceful interactions. Within Colombia, the model's success has been shown to offset some of the initial limitations caused by economic inequality between rural and urban schools. A comparative education study by UNESCO in 1998 found Colombia to have the best rural, primary education in Latin America and the Caribbean after Cuba. In 2012, Fundación Escuela Nueva was named number 42 out of the top 100 NGOs in the world by The Global Journal.
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CEI approaches in action
Note: 5 million learners refers to the number the Escuela Nueva model has reached worldwide following adoption and replication of the model by outside governments and organizations. FEN has reached 1 million children in Colombia.
The first application of the Escuela Nueva model reached 500 students in the North Santander, Boyacá, and Cundinamarca departments of Colombia. By 1987, the model expanded to 24,000 schools and was adopted by the Colombian government as a national education policy. In the 1990s, Escuela Nueva was introduced to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, mainly through governments, and has now been implemented by 16 countries worldwide. Most recently, the national Vietnamese government began to implement the model in all rural and urban schools.
While Escuela Nueva learning guides and training manuals have historically targeted primary schools, FEN created materials and training for post-primary education and the model now covers pre-school through 7th grade. FEN aims to develop additional materials for 8th and 9th grade, thereby covering the entire basic education cycle in Colombia. Internationally, FEN is searching for strong local partners in Africa to develop a full Escuela Nueva project and demonstrate results in the African context.
Monitoring & Evaluation
FEN has created a monitoring framework to monitor the advancement and level of implementation of the Esuela Nueva model across its four main components, and evaluate the classroom climate, democratic behavior, and academic self-esteem of students. The framework's main tools consist of student and teacher questionnaires. Academic self-esteem is measured with the TAE test developed by the Catholic University of Chile. To measure students' academic performance, FEN suggests the use of official national or international standardized tests. The framework requires a baseline evaluation before any implementation takes place and an equivalent evaluation at the conclusion of the project. FEN also suggests intermediate evaluations. The monitoring tools have been validated for use in Colombia but require language and cultural adaptations for international projects.