Colombian Presidential Candidates & Learning Goals

˙ PREAL Blog

This post is also available in: Spanish

We argued in a blog post last month that the discussion surrounding learning goals needs to be taken to the streets. We proposed asking Latin American presidential candidates what their expectations, hopes, and proposals are on this subject. In this post, we summarize the results of our first request for candidates’ positions on what indicators should be used to monitor progress in the education sector, especially in the context of the post-2015 Development Agenda.

The post covers Colombia, where the first round of presidential elections will take place on May 25. Three of the five presidential candidates responded to the questions we sent them (Peñalosa of the Alianza Verde, Ramírez of the Partido Conservador, and Santos of the Unidad Nacional).*

All three candidates agree on the need to establish clear learning goals to set expectations for students throughout the country, and that these goals should be measured using reliable and valid methods. They also believe that the goals should be used to monitor results and identify ways to correct problems. Peñalosa pointed out that it would be useful to employ international standards.

The second thing we asked candidates was what learning goals should be achieved during the next presidential term. None of the candidates provided specific indicators of the type that we proposed, but all suggested elements that should be measured during the period. Peñaloza and Santos believe that the competency standards that have come into use in Colombia should remain the basis for monitoring the quality of education. The former believes that the standards could be improved by identifying specific targets and indicators.

For five-year-old children, all candidates believe that there should be indicators to monitor how well children are prepared to enter elementary school. Santos believes that we must create competency standards at this level, as they do not currently exist. All of the candidates proposed general goals, some related to abstract topics (such as values, social and emotional development, etc.).

For students finishing second grade, Peñalosa proposes measuring independent reading and basic competencies in math and some dimensions of science. Ramírez emphasizes issues related to cognitive skills needed to carry out logical reasoning, basic arithmetic operations, and social constructs. Santos would maintain the competency standards that exist today.

For students finishing fifth grade, Peñalosa proposes emphasizing language and science. Ramírez proposes emphasizing artistic, cultural, literary, and bilingual skills. Santos proposes to maintain the current competency standards.

For 15-year old students, Peñalosa proposes measuring the ability to solve complex problems. For Ramirez, youth should have the ability to be leaders, speak two languages, possess strong values, desire to continue studying, and be peacemakers. Santos proposes continuing to monitor quality according to the current competency standards.

Finally, in response to our question of what commitments they are willing to make in order to achieve of these goals, the candidates offer very specific actions, almost all related to educational inputs. Some, such as expanding the coverage of preschool education—which is supported by all three candidates—have proven to be efficient investments toward improving the quality of education in relation to their costs. Others, however, such as increasing the education budget, providing free computers, or increasing teacher salaries, have not been shown to have a significant impact on improving the quality of education.

We were pleased that all of the answers we received demonstrated that the candidates recognize the importance of education and the need to improve levels of learning. While we understand that it is easier to commit to actions that are under the direct control of the government (such as building a certain number of schools or training additional teachers), we must confess that we had hoped to see promises related to improving learning results. In this sense, participation in international examinations provides a powerful benchmark: which candidate is committed to reducing the performance gap between Colombia and the best performing countries on tests administered by the OECD (PISA), OREALC (TERCE), and others?

*We were not able to obtain answers from López of the Polo Democrático Alternativo, nor from Zuluaga of the Centro Democrático.