Vicky Colbert, founder and director of Fundación Escuela Nueva, will speak about how she transformed rural schooling in Colombia and beyond. Policymakers tasked with the expansion and improvement of existing multigrade schools in rural Colombia came up against challenges that are very common in rural Europe today: small populations, teaching children of different abilities and ages, often in a single room at the same time. The geography of spread-out rural communities and the poor infrastructure needed to access them from urban centres meant teachers could be difficult to persuade to go and to stay in small villages.

But more than this, the curriculum for rural schools was not contextualized. It was not seen as relevant to their life, and therefore families were not incentivised to send children to school, because what they learned was not applicable to their rural environment and community. This meant school dropout was on the rise.

How did Vicky Colbert change things? “Starting an innovation on behalf of the state was very difficult – we were constantly challenging bureaucracy,” she reflects. “We had to start with bottom-up strategies and gather solid evidence in order to convince the ministry of education that Escuela Nueva was having measurable, positive results.” How did she do that, and how could her model help improve the quality of learning and reduce school dropout in rural areas?

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