Of Professors, Knives and the Colombian Education System

I am still alive. Our Colombian roommate has not killed me yet, nor does he seem to have any intention to stab me with a knife. As a matter of fact, he is actually a very quiet, polite and kind roommate, and I haven’t even seen him use a knife to prepare food yet, so I feel a lot safer!

But I still owe you an explanation. Here I went on streaming of my consciousness without even explaining what exactly had led to such an emotional outburst. Our roommate, let’s call him the professor, had just introduced himself, saying that he will start teaching economy and math at a prestigious university here in Medellín. He also told us that he is originally from a small town in the region called Pereira. Apparently, this town has experienced a tremendous population growth during the past years. I asked him why, and he said that there were more people living in Pereira now and that the city was growing faster than Medellín used to grow back in the 50s. Wanting to know more details, I inquired again about the possible reasons. He just looked at me. So I tried again. Is this a baby boom? Did new big companies come to Pereira that might offer more jobs for people? Did the economic situation improve for some reason? He still looked at me. I was getting impatient. It was really a simple question, and as an economy professor he should have an answer, right? Well, he did. Sort of. He told us: “There is an annual statistical report on the growth of real estate in every city in Colombia. If it shows a growing number of housings, it might be an indicator that the population is growing.” Okay, so in other words, if there are more houses in a city, it is quite possible that you also have more people that need these extra houses. Now, was this the case for Pereira? Who was building these houses? What type of houses? He looked at me. Seemingly refusing to answer. I had had it! How could he pretend that he just didn’t understand my question? If you bring up this topic, shouldn’t you be able to offer more information? Especially as an economy professor! As he went on to recite sentences he seemed to have memorized from his school books but didn’t make any sense in the current discussion, I seriously considered telling him straight up that he was pretty much just offering big, fat nonsense. Well, you know the rest, this is when I fled the scene. Thinking about this incident later, I came to realize that my boyfriend probably had been right. The kind professor wasn’t talking nonsense to provoke me, he just didn’t know any better. I am generally very oblivious to ignorance. This probably seems really arrogant to people, but it is very hard for me to see that not everybody has been as lucky as I have to have access to decent education. This must be the case with our professor roommate. Even though, I am sure he doesn’t read my blog, I still would like to for being so judgemental and condescending. Instead of judging him, I should have had a closer look at the Colombian education system first. What I found is a little scary, to say the least. To give you some idea: out of 100 children that start off primary school, only 11 of them enter university, and of those, only 5 graduate. There are 32 public universities that offer a total of 600.000 avaliable entry seats – waaaaay too little in other words. The quality and resources at the private institutions are MUCH better, but also MUCH more expensive. Meaning: the rich people have better access to better education. The public schools scramble for money and resources. 50% of the government money goes only into 3 public universities. You can figure out what happens to the educational quality of the rest. This is even worse in rural areas. Colombia’s results on the 2012 PISA study were among the worst in the world. And even the few that make it into a public university take YEARS to finish their studies. I know of a university student who due to several strikes and changes educational policy took 7 years to complete 2.5 years of university. He is now (as are many Colombians) studying abroad in Buenos Aires. This is not only sad, this is outrageous. I know that the government has undertaken some attempts to try to improve this situation, but as long as a future economy professor who graduated with top scores from a decent university and is about to start teaching in one of the better universities in the country doesn’t know where Lisbon is, I think this country has a huge problem!


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