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SDG Certificate 2021: Education in rural Colombia

A group of SDG Certificate programme students working on Education in rural Colombia during COVID-19, looks back at the first SDG Leadership Seminar of 2021.

Photo by Miguel Castellanos on Unsplash

This year's SDG cohort began their program with the SDG Leadership Seminar, which took place from 19-22 January 2021. Student teams joined from all over the world, coming from the Sciences Po School of Public Affairs, the Hertie School, Columbia SIPA, GraSPP University of Tokyo, and the LKY School National University of Singapore.

Throughout the week, they participated in the SDG Innovation Lab and met with experts coming from different institutions including the OECD and the Agence Française de Développement. Below, one of our student groups selected from the Sciences Po School of Public Affairs shares their experience from the Leadership Seminar and their goals for the SDG Certificate.

Why did you decide to apply to the SDG Certificate and what do you hope to gain from the program?

By joining the School of Public Affairs for my Master’s Degree, I was looking for a project which would enable me to gain strong professional and practical skills. Also, I wanted to devote myself to a project which would be beneficial for my home region, Latin America, and which could answer some of the main structural problems it is facing, especially regarding wealth inequalities or lack of good quality primary education for many children still today. These two reasons which led me to apply to the SDG Certificate have allowed me to meet schoolmates, even though online, and to work all along the first semester on a primary phase of a socially innovating project. Eventually, we have come up with a project focusing on granting primary education to children living in the remote areas of Colombia through both radio and a tutor system based on teachers and basic phones.

During the second semester, my team will have the chance to deepen and perfect our project through theoretical and practical workshops about SDGs. Moreover, it will be for us a great opportunity to pursue the international experience started during our exchange year, since we will be participating in seminars organized by the other schools of the Global Public Policy Network and to simultaneously work in cooperation with other students who are also part of the Certificate.

Ana Sofia Torres, School of Public Affairs, Politics and Public Policy stream

What were some of the key highlights from the SDG Certificate Leadership Seminar in January? Key takeaways that you have learned?

I think that for our group, one of the key highlights of the seminar was definitely the chance we were given to exchange views on our project with other students who also work on education matters, but also to receive precious advice from experts and students who are working on a completely different subject and who brought us a radically new view on our project.

From a more practical point of view, I think we all realized the complexity but also the importance of our project when doing the workshops, when conceptualizing, thinking and mapping our project. During these workshops, we really took the time to think deeply about our project and to lay solid foundations to pursue our project in the next months in the best conditions. The experts’ advice have also allowed us to better understand and evaluate our own work, by highlighting some obstacles we did not necessarily think about previously, like, for example, the ability of the colombian government to help us financially, and by underlying some of our misconceptions or biases we could have had.

Eventually, we all left the seminar keeping in mind that we would definitely always need this critical approach and spirit surrounding our project to carry it out at its best. Overall, we are really looking forward to deepening our bonds and solidarity with other students from the SDG Certificate, with whom we are in contact almost daily to exchange ressources, ideas and advice about each other’s project.

Alex Sinicki, School of Public Affairs, Security and Defense stream

What inspired you to work on the topic that you chose for your project? And can you tell us about your initial project idea?

From the start we had a broad idea that we wanted to work in the area of education. At the first stages of the creation of our group itself, we had in mind that we wanted to focus on Latin America. One of the reasons being that there are two Colombians and one Honduran in the team. When we met with Thawben and Alex, we pitched our idea and they were very receptive of it which quickly gave us the chance to start working on the project itself instead of deciding where and what. This pandemic has manifested its effects in various stages and in Latin America even before the pandemic, education has always been a weak spot. The fact that this situation halted educational opportunities to the youngest in the region is probably going to be one of the biggest “blows” with the most devastating consequences in the long run.

Our initial idea wasn’t that far from the one we developed in our final draft. We had in mind a remote learning tool and some of us thought of TV or even adding a little more technology to it. We had several discussions and debates around it but we finally decided that radio and a basic cell phone would do it. The key aspect we wanted to keep in mind was the accessibility of the tools and to pitch a project with a low budget so as to facilitate its implementation.

Ana Catalina Espinoza, School of Public Affairs, Master in Politics and Public Policy

How did your different backgrounds contribute to the team and coming up with your project proposal?

Our team is composed of 5 students from the School of Public Affairs. Three of us come from Latin America and two from France. Therefore, we have a pretty mixed team. From the Latin American students we have two Colombians who will be able to provide us a critical insight on the reality of the country and who have several contacts in the country. One of our students has worked directly for the Vice presidency, thus the contact with the public sector will be assured. The other is studying the Social Policy stream with special interest in education bringing a certain expertise on the subject of the country.

Another of our students comes from Honduras and has lived in Brazil while studying in the North American Campus of Sciences Po. This will allow us to have a complete perspective on the whole Latin American continent, North America, Central America and South America.

Additionally, one of our team members studied in the Sciences Po Campus of Menton focused on the Middle East and North Africa, while other of our students did an exchange on Waseda University in Japan specializing in international studies. This proves also how our team has close contact with different regions from the East, and how we will be able to learn from these experiences specially on what has been done in other non-western countries. This team really represents an international cultural, academic and professional experience, and our own specific profiles mixed together will definitely allow us to deal with this complex subject and increase the possibility of succeeding on Radio education in Colombia.

Sebastian Cortes Moreno, School of Public Affairs, Social Policy Stream

What are you most looking forward to this semester for the SDG certificate ?

I am especially looking forward to deepening our research on the topic, until we reach - maybe from next year - an empirical application of the ideas that allowed us to be selected for this programm. The two weekly sessions with Professor Atlani-Duault and Professor Cottle will definitely be essential vectors of the enrichment of our project. Benefiting from both Professor Atlani-Duault’s professional and academic experience and Professor Cottle’s methodological and practical knowledge in implementing public policies, I believe we will definitely bring our project to its best shape, and this, without neglecting the essential practical and local aspects of our project essential based on the very rural areas of Colombia. I thus believe it will be more than possible for us, through those very complementing weekly sessions, to start a very good dynamic able to overcome the tricky distinction between theory and practice.

Moreover, I am really looking forward to assisting the monthly seminars hosted by the other schools. Even if they may not be directly targeted to our own subject like the weekly sessions do, they will definitely be the best places to interact and gain knowledge from the other participants and actors of the Global Public Policy Network. This will certainly give us the opportunity to deepen our bonds with brilliant students from all around the world and to build a strong network, which is also one of the key elements of this program. Also, I really believe that these seminars will dramatically help us on our project, given that despite some projects being similar, each participant has taken a very specific approach which could benefit the group as a whole. The different views on our project and looking at how other students targeted theirs, could help us to widen our perspective. Of course, I could not forget to mention the incredible chance we will be given to interact, in the weekly sessions and the monthly seminars, the role of the experts, who will definitely help us bring our project to the next step. And this is exactly what we are looking forward to during this semester: bringing our project to a step closer to reality.

Thawben Berka, School of Public Affairs, Public Administration stream



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