WISE Prize 2013: Vicky Colbert's silent revolution

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WISE Prize 2013: Vicky Colbert's silent revolution

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Every year the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Doha rewards an individual or a group of up to six people for their outstanding work in education. The award, worth half a million US dollars, is seen as the Nobel prize for education and has become a highly competitive contest, with very tough selection criteria. This year’s WISE winner is no longer a secret: Vicky Colbert, the founder of Colombian NGO “Fondacion Escuela Nueva” has grabbed the world’s attention for her work with underprivileged children in Colombia and now the model is spreading worldwide. We look at the Foundation’s work and her role as its inspirational figurehead in this edition of Learning World.

For 38 years Vicky Colbert and her Quichottes d’Escuela Nueva group have been transforming education in rural Colombia and have earned the country high scores in international education ratings. Her model has been adopted around the world. Based on the concept of ‘cooperative pedagogy’ it involves pupils, teachers and the wider community.

Speaking to Euronews about the WISE prize she said: “What I say is that we have to change the way we learn. We cannot learn in the same way we did 100 years ago.”

“Today we talk a lot about 21st century skills, which are so many things. I’m talking about basic things, things that a computer cannot do. But we can’t master these skills with the teacher speaking form the front of the class.

How can you learn to participate if you’re simply sat listening to someone talking the whole time. How can you work in a team if you can’t work as an individual. So, we have to change the way we learn. And the simplest way to do that is through the class. Colombia has shown it can be done. We can change the paradigm on a grand scale, massively, and not just in one school, but in 25,000.”

It all began in 1975 when the country was gripped by violence. The target for the Escuela Nueva programme was pupils and teachers in rural areas, where there were often split -level classes.

At the age of 24, having just finished her sociology studies at Stanford University in the US, Vicky returned to Colombia with an obsession; basic education for all to drive change in the country. To this end Escuala Nueva created a method that could be used by any teacher, whether they had a PhD or not.

Hundreds of teachers were trained and trained others in their turn. Very quickly, results in rural schools began to improve, the performance confirmed by international education organisations. In 1987, during Colbert’s time as deputy education minister, the Colombian government adopted the Escuala Nueva method as a national policy. The kids learn through playing and interacting. There is a lot of talking and the teachers and pupils use guide books to help them work better in split-level classes.

In the Escuala Nueva philosophy the child is at the centre of the learning process. The goal is to empower them and let each one learn at their own rhythm. The teacher is a facilitator, providing feedback to the pupil.

Since its creation the Escuala model has been exported to 16 countries and won more than a dozen education awards. Vietnam, East Timor and Zambia will soon adopt it.

Vicky Colbert and Escuela Nueva are the protagonists of a silent revolution. The method has already transformed the lives of some five million children around the world.