Renting out schools might save Colombia’s education system

Posted on Mar 26 2014 - 1:23pm by Rico
(Photo: Julian Castro)

A Bogota experiment to rent out public schools to private education institutions has proven such a success in lowering drop-out rates and increasing test scores that Colombia’s education minister wants to extend the project.

In an attempt to improve Colombia’s education system, Bogota began the so-called Concession School Scheme through which private institutions took over public education in certain schools. The results being higher test scores, lower drop-out rates and teacher’s working independently of unions to receive better pay.

The experiment has proved so successful that, as the original contracts come to an end, Education Minister Maria Fernanda Campo has asked interim Bogota Mayor, Rafael Pardo, to continue the practice.

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How does it work?

The program began in 2002 with 23 newly built public schools being auctioned to private, not-for-profit schools, universities and organisations. The contracts lasted for 15 years and were awarded through a bidding process based on who had better academic results.

According to the Ministry of Education, the Concession Schools “seek to strengthen the quality of education.”

Each school had the capacity to serve approximately 940 children with an annual sum of $500 allotted for every child to cover costs of food, learning supplies and tuition.

Such supplies were managed by the Institutional Educational Project (PEI) who were also in charge of ensuring adequate educational support and that the schools themselves were kept in good condition.

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Many schools were built in the poorest areas of Bogota with services were made available for all students, a third of which lived below the poverty line

“In ICFES tests, the initial results were very low but are now consistently above the national average, ranking higher and higher.”


With regards to education levels, Concession Schools, despite a difficult beginning, began to show higher marks than other schools as well as a lower rate of dropouts and year repetitions than most.

According to a report by CorpoEducacion about Bogota’s Concession Schools in 2006, “between 2000 and 2003 there was reduced dropout in elementary school from 8% to 6%, and in secondary school, from 6 % to 5 %.”

The report highlighted how this may be thanks to programs implemented by local governments with incentives for parents whose children have good school attendance at the Concession Schools.

For Pauline Castro, representative of the Affiliated Agency of the Ministry of National Education (ICFES), according to an interview with El Universal newspaper, “In ICFES tests, the initial results were very low but are now consistently above the national average, ranking higher and higher.”

The other important point is that the teachers are not members of the Colombian Educators Union and therefore can work outside “collective bargaining provisions,” meaning that in return for not taking part in national strikes the teachers have a regulated wage.


Concession Schools are also run on the basis of test-based accountability. This means that the exams results gained at the school directly link to not only how much funding and government support they may receive but if they can even stay open.

This meant that contracts were created which allowed the Secretary of Departmental Education to break the contract whenever a school’s academic results in standardized test scores were not better than the average school in their locality for two consecutive years.

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Not the perfect solution

However there are problems with the system.

In order to improve their test results and stay open, some schools reclassified low-performing students into special education or imposed longer punishments such as suspensions near testing dates so that the students would not affect school average test results.

Additionally, the reality is that CEC schools only make up 4.3% of the total educational institutes in Colombia. They aren’t helping the continuing problems in the public system. They are simply creating an entirely separate model which leaves the worst schools behind.


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