Interview with Vicky Colbert, founder and director of Fundación Escuela Nueva
Vicky Colbert is the driving force behind Fundación Escuela Nueva, the multi-award-winning Colombian NGO. Dedicated to improving education in disadvantaged communities, Fundación Escuela Nueva works with hard-to-reach groups in over 20 countries. It was recently ranked 42nd out of the 100 best NGOs worldwide by The Global Journal (Switzerland), and third among educational NGOs.
The Escuela Nueva model promotes a positive learning environment where students work actively in close collaboration with the local community. The curriculum is tailored to the pace of each individual child, thus improving academic achievement. Recognized for innovations such as student governments and teachers’ learning circles, Escuela Nueva has been influencing public policy and improving education structures for more than 25 years in Colombia and internationally. Today, its pedagogical model is found in education systems from Mexico to Vietnam.
On 20 November, Universal Children’s Day, Ms Colbert will speak on “Innovations in Pedagogy: children as active global citizens”, at a seminar at UNESCO headquarters on The Child’s Right to Respect in Practice, organized by UNESCO and the Polish Government in honour of Janusz Korczak, the Polish pioneer of children's rights.
How does the Escuela Nueva approach differ from traditional classroom methods?
Escuela Nueva transforms the conventional teacher-centered approach to learning by shifting from the transmission of knowledge to the social construction of knowledge. It is an active, student-centered, self-paced and collaborative learning approach that promotes learning through dialogue and interaction. It promotes the teacher as a facilitator, rather than a transmitter of instruction. These principles are not new in the philosophy of education. What is new is a systemic approach and a capacity to transform complexity into manageable action so that any teacher can transform the learning process.
How does Escuela Nueva integrate the local community into the learning process?
The concept of social participation is the cross-cutting dimension to all the different components of the Escuela Nueva model. Children, teachers and parents share control of the decisions on activities that affect their lives. This enhances quality, sustainability and impact.
The curriculum strengthens the relationship between the school and the community, taking school initiatives into the community and bringing elements of the community into the school.
Parents bring their knowledge and experience into the learning process through instruments like community maps, family cards, community monographs, agricultural and production calendars. Similarly, the “travelling notebook” creates dialogue between the school and the parents. The student government encourages the direct participation of students and parents and links school and community committees.
What are some of the best-practice teaching strategies you use?
We have three guiding principles for our Teaching Strategy. Firstly, experiential learning, whereby teachers experience the same learning approach they will use with their students. Our Escuela Nueva teacher training manual uses the same methodology that students use in their learning guides.
Secondly, collaborative learning and reflection on the learning experience: teachers reflect on their learning process and interact with each other through teacher’s learning circles, or microcentres.
Lastly, attitude change and motivation. Teachers need to visualize the changes they need to make. This requires Escuela Nueva demonstration schools to facilitate the introduction of innovations, and workshops that promote a change in attitude so as to be able to introduce the innovation. Training consists of learning to implement the system.
How does Escuela Nueva ensure sustainability in education during emergencies?
The Escuela Nueva Learning Circles Program is the adaptation of the Escuela Nueva model and pedagogy for displaced and migrant populations and led by youth tutors. They use the Escuela Nueva approach, emphasizing life and social skills which facilitate transition to the regular system. Modularized and self-paced learning guides facilitate flexibility and learning in any community space. This ensures that learning can continue in temporary sites until the regular formal system is reopened.
How does Escuela Nueva support teachers?
Based on the principle of teacher collaboration and teacher-to-teacher strategy, we promote the organization of teachers’ learning circles or microcentres. Teachers meet in their locality and ideally visit each others’ schools every month. This allows them to discuss their training, follow up on their innovations and solve problems together. Such meetings are the basis of an online learning network and community called “Reneuva” (renewal).
Our organization has created this online platform to support these microcentres. These “virtual centres” allow teachers to continue to collaborate and allows the sharing of innovations and responses to needs and questions. We are searching for financial support to strengthen this online learning system and create a strong learning network as a mechanism to support teachers, not only in Colombia, but internationally.