Devpro Resource Centre


Learners, teachers and school managers

© UNICEF/NYHQ2004-0805/DeCesare
Cindi Katerine Garzon, 10, is the only one of her siblings to attend school, though her parents may not be able to send her much longer. Her family was displaced by conflict.

Context and challenge: Conflict, displacement and poverty create barriers to quality education.

For over 40 years, Colombia has suffered the effects of armed conflict. From civil war to the violence generated by drug trafficking and corruption, unrest has gripped the country and terrorized its citizens, leading to a humanitarian crisis.

Children and adolescents have been especially affected. Besides being recruited by illegal armed groups, children face the danger of accidents caused by landmines and unexploded ordnance. Every year since 2005, Colombia has consistently registered the highest number of new landmine and unexploded ordnance casualties in the world. According to government statistics, 711 of the total 7,369 victims of such accidents between 1990 and 2008 were children. In addition, internal displacement caused by the conflict has resulted in 3 million internally displaced people (IDP), approximately 57 per cent of whom are children under age 18. With 64 per cent of its population living in poverty and 31 per cent living in extreme poverty, Colombia has enormous obstacles to overcome.

These obstacles have a direct impact on children’s access to a quality, rights-based education. Colombia’s net primary school enrolment rate is 89 per cent – but that statistic fails to take into account the realities of the country’s IDPs.

Colombia’s displaced children face an uphill struggle to obtain a quality education. They are often forced to live on the outskirts of cities, where schools are few, and they may need to contribute to their family’s household income. While Colombian law mandates free and compulsory education, many students cannot afford the cost of textbooks, uniforms and school supplies. Increased displacement has also placed an added burden on urban schools, many already strapped for resources, teacher training and infrastructure. Moreover, displaced children often do not have the documentation necessary to enrol in school.

Without a quality education that provides protection and psychosocial care as well as literacy, numeracy and life skills, Colombia’s children – particularly those who are marginalized and displaced – risk a future filled with poverty and disempowerment.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2004-0804/DeCesare
Three children play near shanties in the municipality of Bello. Their families have lived here since being burnt out of their homes in Medellín.

Action: Creating child-friendly schools that focus on active, cooperative, student-centred learning

In 1974, Colombia created the Escuela Nueva (New School) initiative to improve the quality of education for the country’s internally displaced and marginalized children, and soon began integrating UNICEF’s child-friendly practices into its approach. By 1976, as a result of funding and support from UNICEF and others, the Escuela Nueva programme had been implemented in 500 primary schools throughout rural Colombia. In 1985, the Colombian government adopted Escuela Nueva as a national policy for its rural primary schools, with the aim of improving educational quality and retention rates.

Escuela Nueva takes the conventional teacher-centred model of pedagogy and flips it on its head: Instead of passive, rote learning practices, the educational paradigm is based on a child-centred, active and personalized model of learning that allows students to advance at their own pace. At the same time, Escuela Nueva promotes leadership and cooperation among teachers, students and administrators.

Unlike traditional schools, Escuela Nueva operates on a flexible schedule, which allows it to meet the needs of dispersed children. The Escuela Nueva Urban Schools Program trains teachers to use active teaching strategies in the classroom, trains educators in self-assessment and creates rules for peaceful coexistence in the classroom and within school committees. Other efforts are aimed at empowering administrators and integrating community members into the school’s activities. The Escuela Nueva Program for Rural Education focuses on topics such as water, soil, nature, family and rural employment.

Another programme, the Escuela Nueva Learning Circles™ programme, facilitates out-of-school displaced and migrant children’s transition into school and helps keep them there. Students in a ‘learning circle’ are officially linked to a formal ‘mother school’, but actually study in local community centres and other venues in groups of 12 to 15 guided by a ‘youth tutor’. The programme improves self-esteem, restores confidence in learning, teaches conflict resolution skills and develops tools for peaceful coexistence and social integration.

Impact and opportunities: Increased enrolment, achievement and confidence; opportunities for scale-up

To date, the Escuela Nueva initiative has benefited 30,000 students and 900 teachers. In addition, the Learning Circles programme has impacted 8,611 children and 9,120 teachers and “young tutors” of the communities where they operate. In the first pilot project, Learning Circles increased children’s self-esteem and obtained the highest level of improvement in both language and math, placing children of the Learning Circles well above the national average.

Overall, the Learning Circles initiative has improved school retention and academic performance, promoted coexistence and democratic behaviour, decreased violence in the classroom and at home and increased parental involvement. In addition, the initiative has demonstrated its capacity to inspire students to stay in school and plan for their futures. In this way, the Escuela Nueva programme helps repair and strengthen the social fabric by helping to eliminate violence, exploitation and child labour. 

Going forward, opportunities exist for communities across Colombia – including those that are home to the poorest and most marginalized – to implement a child-friendly schools framework like the Escuela Nueva initiative.

8 October 2009



A focus on

Child-Friendly Schools Manual, Chapter 6, 'Learners, Teachers and School Managers,' 2009 | PDF English

To learn more

UNICEF, Child-Friendly Schools Manual, 2009 | PDF English

UNICEF, Global Capacity Development Programme on Child-Friendly Schools | website

UNICEF, Resources on Child-Friendly Schools | website

UNICEF, 'Quality education and child-friendly schools,' Actions for Children Issue 5, March 2009 | PDF English | French | Spanish

UNICEF Colombia | website

Escuela Nueva Foundation | website

New enhanced search