Building on a widely-hailed experiment in Medellin, the entire surrounding province of Antioquia has set up a network of 80 educational parks designed to supplement traditional education with programs to honor young peoples' inherent skills and citizenship potentials.
The educational programs that are being developed are designed to promote science, technology, research and innovation, connectivity and entrepreneurship, as well as arts and culture. Each of the parks is being designed by architects through design competitions to give each park a unique and local identity. In Medellin park libraries were set up, even in some of the poorest city neighborhoods. Not replacing formal school systems, the regional parks are designed to attract local talent, capacities and skills among youth, including promoting a culture for peace and civic values.
The program began as a strategy within the development plan “Antioquia, the Most Educated” and has become the main driver to transform education in Antioquia and create opportunities for regional development. Through a widespread mobilization, local authorities and communities competed to win their Park. A public policy that will support the Network of 80 Educational Parks that are being built is currently being developed and municipal authorities are signing local council agreements and citizens’ pacts to guarantee sustainability.
Antioquia is the second largest contributor to Colombia’s GDP, however, the gap in terms of human development and economic growth between Medellin and the rest of the department is wide. The quality of education is one of the fundamental starting points for this inequality. Tests results in the 9 sub-regions of Antioquia are well below the national average in maths, science and literacy. Consequently, territorial development is hindered, and migration from regions to the city is seen as the only alternative.
What started out as a competition for each municipality to “win” their Educational Park, turned into a large social mobilization around education in 109 different territories where local mayors were brought together with educators, youth groups, among several other representatives of the local population, to think about strategies to improve the quality of education in their municipality through the Parks. An independent panel of renowned academics, educators and businesspeople, selected the 80 winning municipalities.
The Parks do not replace formal educational institutions, but seek to articulate and complement public and private formal and informal educational programmes, catalysing innovation, creativity and change in the educational system. They aim not only at improving formal results, but also offer alternative educational opportunities to the wider community and become centres for developing community relations and citizenship, much needed in areas affected by violence and social ruptures.
Each component has been developed into strategies and projects. The detailed program for each Park is developed with each local committee, given their priorities. Community participation and empowering and creating local capacities have been an essential part of the process, and a guiding principle. This is an innovation in the public sector, which often works under top-down processes between regional and local governments and communities.
The 7 lines of the educational programme, developed with a number of organisations and universities, are:
- teacher training to improve pedagogy and knowledge in maths, science and literacy, complementing primary and secondary schooling in basic areas and improving technical and vocational training,
- opportunities to access higher education,
- access to ICTs as educational tools and a means to connect to the world,
- fomenting a culture for entrepreneurship,
- environment, culture, art and sports for education and citizenship building,
- learning foreign languages in fun and applicable ways.
Although it is part of a four-year development plan, it is a long-term project that will be part of a new policy framework and be implemented in collaboration between the public, private and social/community sectors. The private sector has financed some of the construction and educational contents. Local authorities co-finance the project in cash and human resources. The majority of funding comes from the department and is guaranteed through the policy framework.
Given the multifaceted nature of the programme, measurement must be made on several fronts and in stages. Although a majority of Parks are still in construction (30) and design phases (49), the program has already show results in terms of promoting community participatory processes, raising interests for educational issues, and creating local institutional capacities around education. There are 80 local Educational Parks committees where around 2,000 representatives of different communities meet on a monthly basis to discuss, socialise and plan their Park. In each municipality, around 40 social mobilization activities have taken place, centred on promoting a “Parks Culture”, understood as civic values and caring for the Park as a “public good”. In alliance with NGOS, programmes are being implemented as “examples” of what will happen in Park when they all begin.
In terms of planning indicators, a standard educational programme that follows 7 lines has been developed, based on best practices and the needs identified by the 80 municipalities in their proposals.
The first Educational Park that began operation is in Vigia del Fuerte, a historically alienated area of Antioquia, in a conflict-ridden zone, where institutional capacities are weak. The fact that this is the first Park to operate is highly symbolic. Basic indicators are reported weekly, such as number of people attending the Parks and its daily programme, early results of these programmes for teachers, students and the wider population, qualitative indicators regarding people’s perception and satisfaction. The way in which the whole two-year process of mobilization and setting up the Park has contributed towards positive changes such as valuing public goods is also being measured, as baseline data was collected when the project began. These measurements are currently being carried out by the local and central Parks teams to adjust strategies in a timely manner, however, this will become more robust with the Network is in place. The local Park committee also carries out their monthly evaluations.
In alliance with a public and private university, a proposal is being developed to design and implement a full monitoring and evaluation system that will evaluate result s on a short (1 year), medium (3 year) and long-term (5-10 year) basis. Given the multiple elements included in this innovation, several quantitative and qualitative aspects will be measured: the institutional framework, the governance, operational and financial model, the educational outcomes of the programmes that take place in the Park, the levels of social mobilization and appropriation of the Park (Park Culture) and the Park as a model for building a citizenship culture and aculture for peace; a significant issue for a post-conflict Colombia.
Some political groups resisted, claiming that it was better to invest money in the traditional system. This has been overcome by showing the local government and community support for the project and that investment in the formal schooling system has continued.
Concern for sustainability has been expressed and managed by building a public-private institutional framework, by guaranteeing public funds and co-financing, establishing long term alliances and through continual social mobilisation and appropriation of each Park.
Using local communications networks and social media to promote the Parks project has been an important tool, generating social appropriation in the municipalities and placing the regions of the department on the public agenda. The gap between the metropolitan area and the rest of the region is so wide that a majority of people in Medellin do not discuss regional projects or see them as a source of innovation. The 9 regions are usually associated with being backward, remote and a source of migration. This project is offering a new vision of the regions as potential poles for development. The Parks, even under construction, are starting to become tourist attractions because of their innovative architecture and social dynamics.
Aspects of the program are based on experiences in Medellin, where building urban infrastructure like Park Libraries in marginal areas of the city catalysed a number of social processes. However, the Parks model contains new elements that were not identified in other experiences. The wide social mobilization that has been an essence of the process. Now, several cities in Colombia and a few in Latin America are interested in learning about the experience.
The 80 Parks will function as a Network and operate through a public, private and community partnership. Despite the social, economic, ethnic and geographical differences in each municipality, the Network creates a necessary degree of standardisation in the educational programmes, operating and financing mechanisms, and decision making processes. However, a balance is met between these unifying standards and developing the unique “character” of each Park, as a reflection of each particular context. In some, the Parks will be a place to build social cohesion, in others, a place centred on economic development (quality coffees, ecotourism, etc.).
- Antioquia, Colombia: Educational Parks for Youth, Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation
http://www.guangzhouaward.org/815/content_2184.html (accessed 28 January 2016)
- Educational Parks for Youth, Urban Innovation Database
http://www.urban-innovations.org/index.php/Educational_Parks_for_Youth (accessed 28 January 2016)
CategoriesAmericas South America Children and Youth Education and training Architecture Urban development and infrastructures Citizen engagement Monitoring and evaluation (cross-cutting) Public-social-private partnership Capacity building of stakeholders Community decision making bodies Framework strategies and plans Territorial cooperation and networks
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