In 2012, poor students in rural Colombia were learning at levels far below their rich peers (Bos et al. 2014). Colombia needed to close the large learning gap across socioeconomic groups and regions to ensure that all students had a fair chance to realize their dreams. With the realization that limited and poor-quality educational resources were hampering learning in the most disadvantaged schools, the Colombian government sought to harness the power of information and communication technology (ICT) to provide quality education to every corner of the country.
In 2012, the Colombian Ministry of National Education partnered with the Republic of Korea to launch the Building ICT in Education Capacity in Colombia project. Through this partnership, the education ministry began to train content developers, administrators, and teachers across the nation to produce, manage, and use digital educational content. The idea was that if more teachers had access to a range of digital educational content—and the skills to use them in classes—students across the country would receive a better education.
In 2012, learning outcomes of Colombian students were heavily determined by students’ place of residence and socioeconomic status.1 To improve access to educational resources, the education ministry had launched in 2004 a national education portal called Colombia Aprende (“Colombia Learns”), but the content available in the portal varied greatly in quality and was suitable for only some grades and subjects (KEXIM 2009). In addition, most teachers lacked the skills to use the content in the portal to improve their teaching.
Stakeholder Coordination and Engagement
More than 300 ministry officials, Korean and Colombian consultants, and regional center staff were involved in the project. The sheer number of stakeholders presented a coordination challenge, which was compounded by the language barrier between the Colombian and Korean project members and between technicians and nontechnicians. Yet stakeholder buy-in was critical because the project centered on building capacity of the education community through peer learning.
Lack of Skilled Personnel
To produce high-quality digital educational content to support teaching and learning, Colombia needed content developers. However, finding skilled developers locally was extremely challenging, especially in regions outside Bogotá, the capital city.
Lack of Basic Infrastructure
Schools in remote areas on the Pacific coast, the Caribbean coast, and the Amazon region had limited connectivity. Some even lacked electricity. Such lack of basic infrastructure was a challenge that needed to be addressed at the regional or national level, which was beyond what the project could offer.
- Support from the highest levels of government was critical to align goals, and making incremental changes visible at a large scale motivated stakeholders.
- Flexible decision-making and strong teamwork helped overcome capacity constraints.
- Training should be teacher focused and easy to access.
- Strong management and long-term planning were crucial to ensure sustainable operation of the centers.