Exclusion from education
Education is every child's right. If children in Colombia are to break free from poverty, education is crucial. It gives them options and opportunities to build independent and fulfilling lives. Education is also a joy in itself.
The current situation in Colombia
Even though the Colombian constitution requires children aged five to fifteen to go to school, approximately 1.2 million Colombian children (11% of all school age children) currently do not receive any formal education.
Although enrolment rates are often high, it can be difficult for the most at risk children to remain in school. Indeed only about 88% of those who enrol in primary school stay there until the final primary grade.
Children in rural Colombia are far more likely to drop out of school early than students in urban settings. On average, rural children receive 5.5 years of education while children from towns and cities stay in school for 9.2 years. Consequentially, illiteracy rates among children over 15 years are almost four times higher in the countryside - 12.5% compared to 3.3%.
There are many reasons why children drop out of school. These include barriers to access such as the stigma surrounding disability and special educational needs, the invisible borders faced by children living in neighbourhoods controlled by gangs or the long distances and lack of infrastructure children in rural areas face when travelling to their nearest school.
Factors such as family breakdown, the pressure to work or care for younger siblings, the costs of books and uniforms, early pregnancy or marriage, or violence in schools and the local community also force children to drop out of school early.
Decades of extreme violence in Colombian society has spilled over into schools, exposing children to physical abuse, sexual violence and bullying by their peers. Recent studies suggest that 1 in 5 Colombian students have been victims of open discrimination and bullying in school – that’s around 2 million children.
Illegal armed groups and gangs also target schools to recruit students as members, obliging them to carry drugs or weapons in and around school or involving them in commercial sexual exploitation.
Many schools do not have the structures or expertise to prevent or deal with these types of violence.
Risks for children
Children who experience violence or discrimination in school report feeling scared to attend and a reduction in their academic performance.
The longer children are out of school, the less likely it is that they will ever successfully return, due to the gap between their age and academic level.
Children who do not attend school are at high risk of experiencing violence or commercial sexual exploitation, being recruited into gangs or illegal armed groups and becoming trapped in a cycle of poverty and social exclusion.
What is Children Change Colombia doing?
We have worked with a number of local partners to address a wide variety of neglected issues that threaten children’s education in Colombia. In recent years we have focused on the following issues:
- 2015 – 2016: Low attainment and exclusion from education in Buenaventura (Fundacíon Carvajal)
2011 – 2016: Violence against children in schools (Corpolatin)
2007– 2011: School drop-out by working children (ACJ Cali)
At present we are not funding a project that directly aims to improve children’s education. However, all our partners help at-risk children to know and demand their rights, including their right to accessible, high-quality education. Our partners tell us that the children they work with tend to become more engaged in their studies as a result of the knowledge of their rights and the optimism about the future that they gain from their participation in the projects.
We are very interested in continuing to work directly on improving access to education for Colombia’s most at risk children.
In 2019, we will begin work with a new partner organisation on a project that aims to improve education in four extremely remote schools in Colombia's Chocó region. More information about this project will be coming soon!
Our recent achievements towards tackling this neglected issue:
- In 2015 & 2016, 550 primary school children improved their academic performance, including literacy and maths, thanks to our partner Carvajal’s dynamic extra-curricular educational programme.
- In 2016, the local Secretary for Education in Buenaventura endorsed Carvajal’s educational model, recognising that by keeping children in school and improving academic standards it was protecting children from the threat of violence, gang involvement and child labour.
- In 2016, 156 children and young people ‘graduated’ from our partner Corpolatin’s project as Peace Agents, having learnt practical tools to protect themselves and their peers from violence and abuse in their schools. You can watch a film about them here.
- In 2016, Corpolatin delivered training to 62 teachers from 5 schools, where they learnt how to ensure their pupils felt safe and listened to.