At the end of the 19th century, 90% of Colombia was illiterate. By the year 2000 this had dropped to just over 8%. Public education in Colombia is free and compulsory for the first 5 years. Most of the public schools are controlled by the Catholic Church and the constitution dictates that public education will not conflict with the doctrines of the church, hence religion courses are mandatory. The curriculum in private schools is not governed by this law.
The government of Colombia is mandated to spend at least 10% of its annual budget on education. Public education is supervised and financed by the municipalities, the individual departments/states and the Ministry of Education. The Ministry is also responsible for Secondary, Technical and University education.
Basic or Primary school is free in the public system for children between 6 and 12 years old. Secondary school is divided into 2 parts. Grade 6 to 9 is a compulsory basic education and grades 10 and 11 is not mandatory and is called Middle Vocational Education. ”High School” ends after grade 11. Due to the early age students enter university, an average undergraduate degree may take 5 years.
The third level of education consists of private and public universities as well as technical/technological institutions. All ranges of degrees are available from undergraduate to doctorates. One of the oldest universities in the Western Hemisphere, the National University of Bogota, was founded in 1572.
Generally the public school system is underfunded and as a result most Colombians with any reasonable level of income will send their child to a private school, as will most foreigners. Schooling for children may start at a very early age. There are many good daycare centers to choose from across the country. Fees in general vary from center to center.
There are 30 IB – International Baccalaureate schools in Colombia. The majority of them are focused in Bogota, most likely because of the large number of diplomatic children living in the capital. Cali has 4 IB schools and Barranquilla has 3. Interestingly, the Medellin area only has 2 schools offering this program.
In the 2012, QS University Rankings for Latin American, Colombia had 34 institutions in the top 250 and was only outranked by Brazil and Mexico. Four Colombia universities placed in the top 500 worldwide – the University of the Andes, the National, Pontifica Universidad Javeriana and the University of Antioquia.
Entry into a private school, technical school or university will depend on the politics of each institution. Each will be different, as will be the fees. If you are planning to come to Colombia to study or you are planning on enrolling your children in a school it is best to begin your research long before your arrival in Colombia. Many schools are ”bilingual” but as this is a Spanish speaking country, there are still a good percentage of the classes given in Spanish. While the elementary and secondary schools may not require formal documentation, entrance to universities will. You need to be certain that you have the proper paperwork and that this is properly certified. Colombia is a member of the Hague Convention of the Apostille. This convention allows a way that the validity of international documentation can be shown to be legitimate. The United States is a party to this international agreement while Canada is not. If you require the Apostille speak to your nearest Colombian Consulate or Embassy.
There are many choices of schools for Elementary and Secondary education. The names may be a bit misleading. The Canadian School or the British School may have a few teachers from those countries and possibly an exchange program to those nations but nothing more in common. On the other hand some schools, like the German Schools, do have connections, sponsorship and supervision from those countries. It is important to do your research well. You will want to visit the facilities if possible and very possibly the schools may wish to interview you and your family.
Competition amongst Colombians for placement in the public universities is fierce. Thousands upon thousands compete in long academic examinations for only hundreds of places available. Part of the reason for this is that the tuition is based on the parents’ income and where they live. This allows the extremely intelligent students to attend, even if they do not have the economic resources at home to finance an education.
Another admirable thing that Colombian universities offer is the opportunity to study a professional career in the evenings. This allows students who were not able to attain placements in the public universities to achieve their academic desires, even though they must work during the day to support themselves and gain sufficient money for their tuition. The course study may take longer but nonetheless they are able to complete their studies.
For those able to attain a university degree, ongoing studies and further degrees are very common. Most universities and professional organizations offer specialty degree programs, certificates, weekend programs, seminars, diplomas, etc. The list is almost endless. There is a strong commitment further education in Colombia and it is not uncommon to find individuals with a professional degree, additional specialty degrees, a Masters and possibly a Doctorate.
Study Spanish in Colombia
If you are coming to Colombia to study Spanish, the offerings are varied. You can attend established facilities like the University of Eafit in Medellin or the University of Sabana in Bogota. There are private schools and ”franchises” known worldwide for their language courses. You can find schools certified with designations such as “Bildungsurlaub”, which is a German government creditation. Private tutors abound (just make certain that they have a course study or plan for you). You can combine a holiday and a study program in an exotic destination. If you search ”Spanish Study Colombia”, you can find literally everything under the sun.
Education is important in Colombia. The government recognizes this not only as paramount to economic growth but as a way to build a middle class and create a better equality among its citizens. A university graduate is likely to earn at least 3 times more than a student who has only complete high school.
Not only is Colombia becoming an excellent place to study but expats, retired and otherwise have the opportunity to give back to their adopted new country. There is a need for English instruction in schools where no funding is available and we at ESCAPE ARTIST COLOMBIA strongly encourage you to seek opportunities to share your knowledge with the less fortunate.