Think global, act local: An interview with the Secretary of Education in Medellín, Colombia

26 October 2021


Alexander Canas Arango/Shutterstock
Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia

The Colombian city of Medellín is internationally recognized for its commitment to quality education and lifelong learning for all. In 2019, this city of over 2.5 million inhabitants received a UNESCO Learning City Award, reflecting its progress made in using education to close vast social gaps and overcome the cycle of violence and poverty that had impacted the city for many years. For example, one initiative helped reintegrate over 7,000 school drop-outs in the city through individual engagement.

Medellín is now one of five new cities to join IIEP-UNESCO’s international research on Cities and Education 2030.

Alexandra Agudelo Ruíz, Secretary of Education, for Medellín explains how this research will contribute to both local and global education goals.

What motivated you to join IIEP’s research on Cities and Education 2030?

As active members of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning’s (UIL) Cluster of Educational Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation of Learning Cities, we first learned about this opportunity and immediately wanted to get involved in the research project. As a Learning City, we are interested in providing evidence that can help us plan and make decisions to strengthen of our educational strategy and to ensure quality education and inclusion. 

We are also interested in working with local and international researchers under a specific methodology already used in France. We are also motivated to learn and work along with different cities like Dhaka and Khulna (Bangladesh), Manila (The Philippines), and Kigali (Rwanda) to bring about new body of knowledge. And although these cities are far away from Medellín, we want to learn from them as we potentially share the same educational challenges.

We see also in this research project an opportunity to help us create a community of learning to share best practices and better understand the educational planning of our cities.

We are also proud to be the unique Latin America city participating in this research.

What are you most looking forward to about this project?

For Medellín we are looking forward to hearing and learning from the different stakeholders of our learning ecosystem. We would like to understand from their perspective, the views they have about our educational planning, how they perceive it and how we can enhance it.

The particular focus of our city is around the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically SDG Nº4, SDG Nº 11 and SDGº17. As broader objectives, those are aligned with our local educational planning in the way that we guarantee quality education and inclusion, especially for historically excluded groups like women, and children and youth at risk. In order to achieve sustainable communities in our city, we need the participation of a range of actors, not only from the government, but also from other public and private institutions such as universities, enterprises and the community itself.

It is also key to have the recommendations from IIEP to better understand and plan our educational strategy.

What are some of the big issues facing education in Medellin today?

The pandemic made evident some key issues and challenges that education systems face all over the world. Particularly in Medellín, we face challenges and opportunities related to access to virtual learning and permanence in the educational system. Access to virtual learning and permanence is not only about connectivity and access to devices, it is also related to the well-being of teachers, parents, students and the learning community as a whole.

In this sense, as the entity in charge of the educational public policies, we not only put in place strategies to tackle these issues, but also to guarantee continuity in the educational system and the return to schools as safe places to learn and grow.

How will the research address these challenges?

As public policies and decision-making should be done based on data, this research is an input to improve our educational planning aligned to the SDG’s and our own local goals.

From this research, the lessons learned, the outcomes and recommendations from IIPE will help us not only bring about new educational strategies but also review the current ones. The qualitative and participatory nature of this research, is a great opportunity to listen to different voices in our learning ecosystem, so the results are contextualized and give us insights to improve our educational planning.

The global perspective of this research is a key element to help us think global and act local in a way we can guarantee access, inclusion and educational quality for a sustainable and lifelong learning city.