Learning Circles: education for displaced children in Colombia

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Learning Circles: education for displaced children in Colombia

Colombia
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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With more than three million internally displaced people, Colombia has one of the largest displaced populations in the world. Of these, more than one million children do not attend school. Since 2006, an escalation of violence has led to new displacements, particularly among indigenous and Afro- Colombian communities. In response to this national crisis, the Escuela Nueva Foundation in Bogota, Colombia created the Learning Circle program in 2004 to provide education to children, ages 6-15, who have been internally displaced by violence and are not enrolled in school. The initiative contributes to conflict management by focusing on the alternative: developing habits of peaceful coexistence, constructive behavior and social integration through education. The Learning Circles - places of learning located within the community - are linked to mainstream schools through shared academic calendars, grading systems and extracurricular programs. The relationship is mutually beneficial: Learning Circles ease the transition from the streets to school and local schools gain additional resources to support children who are out of sync with the traditional system. Learning Circles provide basic skills, counseling and social services for children who have special needs for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The Learning Circles program is based on the Foundation's Escuela Nueva (New School) proven educational methodology but has been adapted to meet the distinctive needs of these children. The Learning Circles are part of a continuing national dialogue around the problems of violence and social disaffection. The Foundation has successfully advocated for the Learning Circles to become a nationally recognized program. The Foundation will continue to lead an open discussion to focus the necessary investments in the area with the greatest return for both economic development and peace building: educating the nation's future citizens.

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Your idea
Focus of activity

Education and Training

Start Year

2004

Positioning in the mosaic of solutions
Main barrier addressed

Culture of violence

Main principle addressed

Create alternative systems

This field has not been completed. (333 words or less)

Innovation
Description of initiative:

With more than three million internally displaced people, Colombia has one of the largest displaced populations in the world. Of these, more than one million children do not attend school. Since 2006, an escalation of violence has led to new displacements, particularly among indigenous and Afro- Colombian communities. In response to this national crisis, the Escuela Nueva Foundation in Bogota, Colombia created the Learning Circle program in 2004 to provide education to children, ages 6-15, who have been internally displaced by violence and are not enrolled in school. The initiative contributes to conflict management by focusing on the alternative: developing habits of peaceful coexistence, constructive behavior and social integration through education. The Learning Circles - places of learning located within the community - are linked to mainstream schools through shared academic calendars, grading systems and extracurricular programs. The relationship is mutually beneficial: Learning Circles ease the transition from the streets to school and local schools gain additional resources to support children who are out of sync with the traditional system. Learning Circles provide basic skills, counseling and social services for children who have special needs for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The Learning Circles program is based on the Foundation's Escuela Nueva (New School) proven educational methodology but has been adapted to meet the distinctive needs of these children. The Learning Circles are part of a continuing national dialogue around the problems of violence and social disaffection. The Foundation has successfully advocated for the Learning Circles to become a nationally recognized program. The Foundation will continue to lead an open discussion to focus the necessary investments in the area with the greatest return for both economic development and peace building: educating the nation's future citizens.

Description of innovation:

Several approaches have been developed to educate internally displaced children such as mobile kits, scholarship programs, and infrastructure initiatives; yet more than 27 million children in conflict areas worldwide still have no access to schooling. Instead of addressing individual components, the Escuela Nueva Foundation developed a systemic approach that is strengthened by flexibility, adaptability and cost effective replicability. INNOVATIVE PEDAGOGIES: The unique path created between the Learning Circles and local schools provides previously invisible children a chance for inclusion. Flexible promotion is based upon modular learning as opposed to rigid grade promotion allowing children to learn at their own pace, addressing gaps in educational experience. Customized learning guides combine math, language, social and natural sciences into thematic books such as 'My school as a place of peaceful coexistence' and 'Me, my family and my home' to focus on both academic and social integration. TRAINING FOR QUALITY SERVICES: Social workers are trained to assist with the provision of documentation and to promote less traditional school activities such as protection, psychosocial support and recreation. Tutors from the community are trained with the necessary skills to lead the Learning Circles. Many tutors are university students who gain practical teaching experience and develop their potential as community leaders. COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION: Parents and community members assume responsibility for school events and care of school premises. These initiatives serve to further embed the program into the community. Youth advocacy groups are developed to continue programs beyond the pilot phase and to advocate for displaced children's rights. The key message is that education can be life saving and life-sustaining through the dissemination of basic skills and social support.

Delivery model:

Our initiative reaches the intended beneficiaries through advocacy at national level and partnerships with the local educational authorities, private sector organizations and communities. The Foundation's role is to attract funding, bring human resources to and create additional resources within the community. Furthermore, management systematized the implementation and delivery process making it a more efficient and effective process: PREPARATION: After conducting a needs assessment, the Foundation drew on its pool of experienced authors to produce the customized guides and teachers' manual. It also utilized its network of trainers to train the tutors. The team comprised of a general coordinator, field-coordinator, social worker, university students, tutor trainers and tutors. RECRUITMENT: In program areas with a high concentration of displaced children, posters about the Learning Circle were posted in meeting places and at social service documentation centers. News also spread by word of mouth to target and enroll as many children as possible. PLACEMENT: Learning Circles are located outside of school, but children are immediately matriculated into the formal school system. The partnership validates the academic progress of the Learning Circle children and it enables a seamless transition into the local school. COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: The community helps in the delivery of both the academic and social content through their involvement in school activities and community service. CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT: Weekly visits from coordinators, trainers, and local school officials provide opportunities for continual program improvement and innovation. For example, the project team quickly responded to the need for a transition period for children to learn social behaviors. The learning program structure was re-vamped to introduce play programs to provide special attention to children who were most affected by the transition to school.

Key operational partnerships:

During the pilot, the Foundation developed more than 30 partnerships with local NGOs to provide psychological support. Additional partnerships developed within the community: COMMUNITY SERVICE: Learning Circle children are bused to schools for art, music, and recreation classes. Parents make monthly donations for the lunch program. PRIVATE SECTOR: The Rotary Club of Bogota provided TV and VHS equipment and audio-visual materials were adapted from a partnership with Citurna (a private firm). MEDIA: A local radio station developed a weekly program to teach the children to become community advocates when discussing local events, issues and social values. YOUTH: Learning Circle tutors created an independent youth organization to sustain the project beyond the pilot phase. GOVERNMENT: The Colombian government ratified legislation to recognize the Learning Circle program as the official education program for displaced children. Local authorities provide funds and support. INTERNATIONAL PARTNERSHIPS: Support from the International Office of Migration, UN High Commission for Refugees, Norwegian Council for Refugees, and Plan International offers credibility and visibility. Local participation is an integral part of the program because it provides children with a sense of hope and normalcy when their lives have been disrupted. National and international partnerships underwrite the program's success and serve as critical building blocks for expansion.

Impact
Financial model:

The pilot (2004-5) showed that Learning Circles are both successful and cost-effective. The results are being now used for evidence-based advocacy at the federal and local levels to target and prioritize education for children affected by internal violence. The Foundation is also tapping into its national network of over 30,000 schools that have been involved in Escuela Nueva programs to create strategic public and private alliances to expand the Learning Circles program. Particular emphasis will be placed on developing partnerships with local municipalities with autonomous decision making for budgeting and procurement to ensure education for all displaced children in Colombia.

Costs as percentage of income:

0

Financing:

The Learning Circles are financed through a diversified model: private funds are used for R&D and start-up costs and municipalities and cooperatives fund the program after implementation. The pilot was funded by USAID and administered by the International Office of Migration. The Colombian Ministry of Education committed to program expansion attracting support from the Norwegian Council for Refugees, Unicef and the Genesis Foundation. Due to the feasibility study and start-up support, local educational authorities have agreed to take on financial responsibility for the program. An incremental cost analysis showed that on average it cost the same to educate children in the Learning Circles and as in regular schools- $US26 per child - enabling long-term local investment.

Effectiveness:

<ul><li class="entry-label">Project outcomes: <span class="entry-text">19 Learning Circles with 250 children were implemented in 2004, expanding to 50 Learning Circles serving 600 children in 2005. 1. A UNESCO study comparative study found: greater rate of improvement in Learning Circles - 36% language, 30% math and out-performance of Learning Circles scoring 18 and 14 points above the national average in math and language. 2. The Catholic University of Chile found a 20% improvement in self-esteem. 3. Observers found that children 'learn to solve conflicts peacefully, cooperate and respect each other, [becoming] more responsible and [developing] a sense of belonging.' 4. 54% of the children transitioned into regular schools. The success encouraged regular schools to adopt the Escuela Nueva methodology impacting 4600 children and 72 teachers.</span></li><li class="entry-label">Number of clients in past year: <span class="entry-text">In 2006, the Learning Circles program scaled into different areas in Colombia and a new adaptation was created to address a new challenge: child ex- combatants. Two new Learning Circles programs were developed in addition to growth within existing programs reaching 765 students. 73 new tutors were trained with special emphasis on recruiting women who comprise 60% of the tutor pool. In-class experience with the Learning Circles showed the need for small, specialized programs for child ex-combatants. As a result 10 new programs were created reaching 315 children recovering from their experience inside the drug war in Colombia. Together, over 1080 children benefited from the Learning Circle program in the past year. </span></li></ul>

Scaling up strategy:
Stage of the initiative:

<i>Scaling Up</i> stage.

Expansion plan:

A comprehensive strategy is needed to move from proof of concept to scale to further embed and expand the Learning Cirlces program in Colombia and abroad. We plan to: ADVOCACY: Increase national resources for displaced children . Raise municipal awareness about Learning Circles . Involve business and communities in expansion activities . Partner with universities for teacher practicum programs INNOVATION: Develop cultural content for indigenous and Afro-Colombian children . Create sponsorship program for youth organizations . Expand technical support services for earned income EXPANSION: Broaden and deepen coverage within Colombia by strengthening existing programs and growing through the Escuela Nueva network . Scale the program internationally with the Foundation's international strategy: empower local organizations to provide education where it is needed most.

Origin of the initiative:

The Escuela Nueva Foundation was established in 1987 by Vicky Colbert to strengthen the Escuela Nueva program she created in the 1970s for Colombia's rural areas while Vice Minister of Education. Since the rollout, the community-based program has been widely adopted both nationally and internationally. In 2004, the heightened crisis of internal war sparked the development of a new program to integrate displaced children into the school system and to provide teachers with strategies for conflict management. The Learning Circles then became an alternative model for peace education outside of the traditional school setting. After three years, the statistics do not even begin to address the remarkable results. Children in the Learning Circles have learned to believe in themselves and work together for social transformation in their own lives and in their communities.