Evaluation and Mutual Learning: Universidad del Norte, Colombia, and CIRE collaboration to evaluate five years of EDUCAPAZ programming

This post was originally written by Yoleidys Moreno, a student at the Universidad del Norte, Colombia. It has been adapted slightly and translated from Spanish by Mary Ryder, doctoral researcher in the School of Education, University of Bristol.

Photograph of students and parents at the the Martín Pomala Educational Institution in Ataco, Colombia. They are stood in rows, smiling in front of green hills.

Figure 1: With students and parents at the the Martín Pomala Educational Institution in Ataco, Colombia.

How can education help to rebuild and strengthen communities that have been heavily impacted by armed conflict? How can education help to overcome and reconcile cultural and political differences without violence? How can education help to bring about social transformation in ‘post’ conflict societies and become a driver for peace? In this post, we discuss the experience of EDUCAPAZ – the National Education for Peace programme in Colombia – and reflect on these questions.

The signing of the 2016 Peace Agreement in Colombia prompted the implementation of a comprehensive peace education policy to help create the conditions for peace, by fostering holistic education practices in schools, communities, public policy and civil society organisations across the country, particularly in territories heavily affected by the armed conflict.

Consequently, the EDUCAPAZ programme was formed from an alliance of civil society organisations and academic institutions. EDUCAPAZ understands peace education as comprehensive rural education and citizenship, reconciliation and socio-emotional education (CRESE).

The University of Bristol’s Centre for Comparative and International Research in Education (CIRE) and the Communication Laboratory for Territorial Innovation, Jui Shikazguaxa, part of the Social Communication and Journalism program at the Universidad del Norte, Colombia, are supporting the evaluation of Phase 1 of EDUCAPAZ, which has now been operating for five years. In June, members of both institutions had the opportunity to travel to different regions in Colombia to learn about some of the processes promoted by EDUCAPAZ in urban and rural schools first-hand.

Jair Vega, a professor at the Universidad del Norte, Yoleidys Moreno, research assistant at the Universidad del Norte, and Mary Ryder, doctoral student in the School of Education at the University of Bristol, visited Planadas and Ataco, municipalities in Colombia’s Tolima department, where many schools have participated in EDUCAPAZ’s Rural Education strategy.

Photograph of an outdoor classroom at the Nasawe'sx Fizñi Educational Institution. Blue chairs sit in sunlight under a corrugated steel roof.

Figure 2: An outdoor classroom at the Nasawe’sx Fizñi Educational Institution

In Planadas, we visited the Nasawe’sx Fizñi Educational Institution in Altamira Baja, where the Nasa community, belonging to the Paez de Gaitania Indigenous reserve, promote autonomous processes of ethnic education, sharing knowledge from the Nasayuwe language and strengthening the relationship between the school and the community.

 “Getting to know this region has opened my eyes to the processes carried out by this community; I am in admiration of all their efforts and work in such difficult conditions, and the way they receive you, even if they do not know you, they treat you with such kindness that it is impossible not to connect and feel a strong bond,” says Yoleidys Moreno.

Photograph of parents and teachers of the Nasawe'sx Fizñi Educational Institution sit in a semi circle on chairs, deep in discussion.

Figure 3: At the Nasawe’sx Fizñi Educational Institution with parents and teachers who are part of ‘dynamic teams,’ a participatory strategy to encourage education for peace in the community.

In Ataco, the Martín Pomala Educational Institution in Palestina, together with EDUCAPAZ, created a Campesino School where parents, children and their teacher promote an education from the countryside and for the countryside, which is considered to be more relevant to their needs and contributes to strengthening the community fabric.

The trip reaffirmed the importance of working alongside communities in the design, implementation evaluation of processes like these, if they are to achieve structural changes such as transformation to build peace,” says Mary Ryder.

Photograph of the front cover of Diccionario Popular. It shows a small group of houses in front of large green hills.
Photograph of an inside page of the Diccionario Popular. It is the page for "F", with words and definitions for dialect words beginning with F. There are children's drawings and photographs. It is set out in a child friendly style.

Figures 4 and 5: A dictionary of local, traditional dialect in the region. This pedagogical tool, in addition to promoting the recognition of rural life and the customs of the village, also encouraged the participation of parents and the whole family in the whole learning process.

We also went to Ibagué to learn about the implementation of the programme CRESE – Citizenship, Reconciliation and Socio-emotional Education strategy – at the SINTRAFEC “Hernán Silva Pérez” School, which highlighted progress in how the school was able to address conflict and coexistence issues.

Camilo Pérez, professor at the Universidad del Norte and student Yuliana Girón visited the municipalities of Silvania (Cundinamarca), Chaparral and Coyaima (Tolima). In Silvania they visited the Educational Institution Santa Inés, where the strategy Escuelas de Palabra (Schools of Words) is being developed. Here, teachers have researched and designed a game about emotions in order to support their students during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Soledad Medina Educational Institution, Andrés Rocha School, in Chaparral, they visited schools which were focusing on promoting the emotional health of students.

The Soledad Medina Educational Institution also implements the Escuelas de Palabra strategy, which aims to reconstruct historical memory of the impacts of armed conflict within the educational community. A coexistence committee and a peace delegate were introduced to support conflict resolution in the school.

In this regard, Yuliana Girón comments that “it was an inspiring and impressive experience to see how schools in rural areas, which are often forgotten, carry out such valuable experiences and are always willing to share them.”

Finally, Diana Reales, another research assistant at the Universidad del Norte, visited the teacher training college, Escuela Normal Superior Nuestra Señora de Fátima de Sabanagrande, Atlántico, noted for its initiative of developing peace and coexistence projects for the entire educational community, based on what was learned in the Escuelas de Palabras strategy.

Likewise, at another teacher training college, Escuela Normal Superior Montes de María in San Juan Nepomuceno, Bolívar, an area heavily impacted by the armed conflict, processes for learning about the history of the territory have been introduced, so that a culture of peace can flourish that transcends beyond the institution and truly impacts the communities.

In La Guajira, in the north of Colombia, the Escuela Normal Superior San Juan del Cesar stands out for its ‘Vallenatos for Peace’ project, the objective of which is to transmit messages about coexistence, conflict management and resolution, while at the same time strengthening the links between the community, especially the students, and the Vallenato tradition (Colombian folk music).

A photograph of large colourful maps of the area, some as cut outs, on the school wall.

Figure 6: A photograph of maps on the school wall.

During her visit to Cesar, Diana was accompanied by other students of the Social Communication programme at the Universidad del Norte, who are carrying out the transmedia project Señal Local, the objective of which is to draw attention to leadership and to the transformative experiences of peace building in the Colombian Caribbean.

CIRE and the Social Communication programme at the Universidad del Norte both value and encourage collaboration between the academy and communities. For this reason, experiences like these also support and enrich the professional training and personal growth of each of its members.

© Photographs credited to the Jui Shikazguaxa team at the Universidad del Norte