Investing in education and youth now can define the future of a nation. In Colombia, young people represent almost 30% of the working age population – a huge potential and opportunity for the country’s development.
And as around 17% of young Colombians are unemployed, according to official statistics, quality education and training in skills that potential employers seek seems crucial.
The government has set a goal: by 2014, half of the young Colombians should continue their studies or training after high school. In 2010, only 37.2% did so.
Until then, although coverage has increased over the years, there are quite a few hurdles to overcome.
A newly released report “Reviews of National Policies for Education: Tertiary Education in Colombia” led by Ian Whitman from the OECD and Michael Crawford from the World Bank, analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the Colombian tertiary education system and how it could be improved and made accessible to more people, regardless of their social condition or where they live.
On track with international standards, but high drop-out rates
In general, top Colombian universities and other institutions are making notable progress in access and quality, and are on track with international standards.
Moreover, the options that young people have are diverse: they can choose between technical training or a private or public university path, the study points out. The government aims at increasing the percentage of students who take the technical path to 45%.
However, 45.4% of students had dropped out of tertiary education in 2010. And 39% of young Colombians never continued studying after secondary school.
Why is that? Part of the answer lies in secondary school – students’ results were low at the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test that compares what 15-year-olds know in different countries.
In mathematics, Colombian youngsters lagged 3 years of schooling behind an average French student, and in reading, 2 years behind an average British student. Although Colombia’s PISA score increased between 2006 and 2009, there is still much room for improvement.
“The academic standards Colombian students have achieved by the time they enter tertiary education are generally low in comparison with other countries. This lack of “college-readiness” leads to academic struggle and high dropout, with the least advantaged students the worst affected,” the authors of the study explain. And that will have dire consequences on their future jobs, wages and life quality.