School and Education in Colombia


Colombia had in the 1930s as a primary goal to give all children primary school education, a goal which, however, has not yet been realized. The school system is still poorly developed in the countryside (the differences between city and country are large). There is no teacher, school premises and money. The school system has not been able to keep up with the rapid increase in population. Many families cannot afford to let the children go to school. Colombia, however, has in recent decades significantly expanded the education system at various levels, both within the state and the private school. In 1960, over 30% of children did not have access to school. Today the figure is below 20%. This is evident in reduced illiteracy: in 1959, 38% of the population were illiterate, in 1996 8.7%.

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The education system seeks to adapt to the ongoing industrialization. The Catholic Church previously had great influence and controlled half of the schools and colleges at both the upper secondary and the college levels. The 1976 constitutional reform changed the education system, and it was legislated that all teaching should be promoted and controlled by the State Department of Education, which for this purpose has created a chain of public institutions.

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Public schools are free of charge and in principle compulsory for the first five years, but the family has to pay for school food, textbooks and school uniforms. They are affiliated with the Catholic Church. There are also private duty free schools. Private schools have freedom of instruction, but they are under some state control and have state support. In general, the Colombian school system is socially and economically segregated. In practice, only the well-off can afford to give their children higher education. Just over 2.5% of government spending went to the education system in 1980, but the share rose to 3.9% in 1996.

Colombia Country Flag

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The education system is divided into preschool, compulsory school, high school as well as universities and other higher education; About 350,000 teachers and lecturers manage the teaching (1997). The preschool, which is 2 years old, includes children from 4 years. It is private and not mandatory; About 880,000 children attended preschool in 1996. The compulsory school is 5 years old and (in theory) compulsory, the secondary education is 6 years old, divided into two stages and not compulsory. The upper secondary school has lines for general teacher, trade, social and vocational education.

Colombia has over 260 colleges, of which 43 universities and 12 university hospitals. They are both state (33%) and private (67%). The Santo Tomás University of Bogotá, founded in 1580, is the oldest in the country. Other well-known universities can be found in Calí San Buenaventuras (1747) and in Medellín Antioquias (1803). La Universidad Nacional de Bogotá is Colombia’s most important educational center, with 11 faculties.

The number of pupils and students has increased. Before 1950, the compulsory school comprised 0.9 million students, but the number had risen to 4.8 million in 1996. The number of secondary education pupils increased from 71,700 in 1950 to 3.1 million in 1996, and the number of students at the university increased from 10,600 in 1950 to 0.7 million. 1996.

The right-wing radical Iván Duque Márquez won the presidential election in June 2018 with 54.0% of the vote against 41.8% for the center-right candidate Gustavo Petro. Márquez had in the first round got 39.1% against 25.1% for Petro. The turnout was 53% slightly higher than in Venezuela’s presidential election the month before, but in Colombia’s case, both the EU and the US welcomed the result, while Venezuela was subject to sanctions. Márquez was closely linked to former President Álvaro Uribe and, like him, called for the cancellation of the peace agreement with the FARC. The situation indicated that it is difficult to reach agreements with a divided bourgeoisie. While the industrial bourgeoisie saw benefits in peace and stability in the country, the agricultural bourgeoisie and the military had made a fortune with money on the war, the export of cocaine, and military and economic assistance from the United States. The assassination wave in 2017 emphasized that the peace agreement had not brought peace to the country, but that right-wing radical circles continued the war.

Colombia’s former dictator Álvaro Uribe announced in July that he would resign as senator because of ongoing investigations into corruption and threats against witnesses. At the same time, Uribe accused the British intelligence agency MI6 of being behind recordings from cellphone interceptions, which were now part of the Supreme Court’s investigation. In an effort to reduce pressure against Uribe, Iván Duque, during his election campaign earlier this year, had hinted that he wanted to “restructure” the Colombian judiciary outside the Supreme Court. Therefore, in order to avoid the investigation being put down by the incoming president, it was accelerated. (Colombia ex-president alleges MI6 plot as death squad investigation closes in, Guardian 25/7 2018)

Iván Duque’s election for president in June gave the radical right wing and death patrols air under the wings. Journalists and editors of prominent newspapers and magazines such as El Tiempo and Semana were increasingly exposed to death threats. While there were 59 cases of threats to journalists in Colombia in 2015, the number in July 2018 was already 89. (Colombian journalists say death threats reflect ‘ugly’ climate since presidential election, Guardian 28/7 2018)

The United States remains the Colombian government’s main contributor, economically and militarily.