Oscar Ivan Zuluaga (L) and Juan Manuel Santos

In the final leg of the election race, Colombia Reports took to the streets of Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin, to find out what members of the public thought of the two presidential-hopefuls’ education proposals.

Public opinions have been mixed over the education policies of incumbent president Juan Manuel Santos and hardline rival, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

While many in Medellin view Santos as having made little progress, others see Zuluaga’s policies more realistic, but overall, Colombians have great mistrust in both candidates’ promises to follow through on anything tangible.

“There is no progress anywhere in the world without education,” said Ramiro Lopez, a social security technologist in Medellin. “But, in Colombia, we’ve seen no advances.”

The disillusioned technologist went on to add that he didn’t feel there was a significant difference between the proposals of either candidate.

“I don’t see any real solution to improve our education from either of them.”

No real progress under Santos

Lopez was not alone in questioning Santos’ progress in the education sector.

Porter Leonardo Hidalgo commented that, under Santos, Colombia has “fallen in world education rankings.”

Hidalgo refers to the country’s dismal performance in last year’s international student performance rankings. Colombian students scored last place in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) problem solving test, involving 15-year-old students from 44 countries and comparing their results across mathematics, reading, and science.

MORE: Colombia schoolchildren score poorly in international test

Santos has since defended the slide in 2012 PISA scores, stating that they are measured over a ten year period, which would include the entire administration of ex-President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010).

According to Hidalgo, Zuluaga’s “eight hours policy” to double the number of hours spent in classes in public schools, along with his promise to improve teachers’ salaries to attract more qualified professionals to the positions, make him appear more committed to improving the sector’s performance.

“His policies seem more realistic.”

Further support for Zuluaga’s education plans comes from Señora Patillo, a pharmacy assistant in Medellin’s city center, who talks about the opposition rival’s proposal to improve school performance by offering free meals for students, which “help families who don’t have the time or money to properly feed their children.”

She adds, “If he does it — they all promise things without following through.”

Promotion of technical education

The main Santos development to receive popular praise was his promotion of technical education through the improvement and enlargement of the National Apprenticeship Service (SENA) to complement schooling with professional training. The policy enabled students to graduate with both a technical and schooling degree.

Doorman, David Torro, agreed that Colombia’s youth “needed teaching in areas of technology.”

SENA is a topic on which both candidates have capitalized, with hardline rival Zuluaga having also made policy commitments to developing the program.

MORE: Zuluaga vs Santos: The proposals

With pollsters divided over who takes the lead, the future of Colombia’s presidency is laced with uncertainty in the run-up to Sunday’s elections.

MORE: Colombia polls release contradictory predictions on election outcome


  • Interviews conducted by Colombia Reports in Medellin’s city center, Wednesday, June 11

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