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'Diplomas' for Schools with Full Enrollment in Colombia
By Maria Jos Llanos
Inter Press Service

  BOGOTA, Apr 25 (IPS) - Colombia is working towards the Education for All (EFA) goal through a novel programme that grants ''diplomas'' and special aid to schools that attain the target of full enrollment.

 The Education Ministry began implementing the ''Municipio Caminante'' programme last June. Already 14 successful schools are eligible for ''graduation gifts'' like science or computer labs, fully-equipped libraries or necessary infrastructure.
  Education Minister German Bula will present the results of the project at the World Education Forum organised by the International Consultative Forum for Education for All, between Apr. 26 and 28 in Dakar, Senegal.
 Colombia, according to the project document for the conference, aims to become ''a country that can hold its head up because it met the ethical imperative'' of the EFA goal set by world leaders in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990.
  Among the organisers is the Paris-based UNESCO or the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation which conducted six regional meetings in preparation for the Dakar conference.
  Colombia and the countries of the region met in Santo Domingo, between Feb. 10 and 12 this year, to review their progress in meeting the EFA goal, and to identify more effective strategies for the future.
  Municipio Caminante will be showcased in Dakar by Colombia as a model worth emulating.
 The programme has a lyrical title. ''Municipio Caminante'' (roughly travelling municipality) alludes to an oft-cited fragment of a poem by an early 20th century poet, Antonio Machado: ''Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar ...'' (''Traveller there is no way, we make our way as we walk ...'')
  Colombia is chasing a tough goal. In a country of 37 million, only 7.1 million of its 9.9 million school-age children are presently enrolled in schools.
  Drop-out rates are high because of a decades-long armed conflict and poverty which affects 45 percent of the population.
  Education Ministry official Anita Pico says ''although public education is free of cost'' many parents do not send their kids to school even in areas outside the war zones because they ''are unable to afford educational materials and lunch''.
  The Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimates that 1.3 million people have been displaced by violence. The Municipio Caminante programme ''will continue assisting all municipalities interested in taking part, even those that are located in conflict zones,'' said Pico.
  The programme which has an annual budget of 8.6 million is part of the National Development Plan of the administration of President Andres Pastrana, which aims for full enrollment in the country's 1,139 municipalities.
  Education Minister German Bula stresses that the plan depends crucially on cooperation between central and local governments.
  In order to qualify for awards of up to 200,000 dollars, schools must attain 100 percent enrollment at both the primary and secondary levels in the urban areas, or 100 percent and 80 percent respectively in the rural areas.
  A committee of education officials periodically visits schools across the country to verify their claims of meeting the minimum enrollment standards set by the Education Ministry to qualify for a ''diploma'' award and prizes.
  Schools in Sopo in the department of Cundinamarca, Envigado in Antioquia, Manati on the Atlantic coast and Nobsa in Boyaca were the first to ''graduate'' as part of the programme's ''Colombia graduates'' strategy of incentives.
  Minister Bula is hopeful that 40 municipalities will receive ''diplomas'' over the next four months
 The ministry has also designed a plan for overhauling the educational system, including the expansion of schools, and upgrading quality, efficiency and equity, as well as rationalising and restructuring teaching staff, according to Pico.
 She explained that both the reorganisation plan and the Municipio Caminante programme are being implemented simultaneously by the ministry under the government's new education policy.
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