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Colombia: Secondary and University Education
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Education > Secondary and University Education


Secondary education, concentrated in the principal urban areas, evolved much as had primary education in urban areas but remained virtually nonexistent in the countryside. Increases in coverage at the secondary level occurred in response to increased demand, but 40 percent of all secondary enrollment and 60 percent of higher education still were absorbed by the private sector.

Inefficiency and low quality were also major problems in Colombia's secondary schools, although to a lesser degree than at the primary level. At the secondary-school level, 55 percent of all teachers had completed university studies, students used modern learning aids in class, and teaching materials of high quality were generally available.

The technical education sector, except for the so-called commercial branch, was relatively small and expensive in Colombia. Seventy-six percent of students were enrolled in regular academic schools. Another 12 percent were enrolled in commercial schools. Since 1970 the National Institutes of Diversified Intermediate Education (Institutos Nacionales de Educación Media Diversificada -- INEM) have taken on increasing importance, as has the National Apprenticeship Service (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje -- Sena), which was charged with financial responsibility for the formal technical schools, has received significant backing from both the public and private sectors, and has proved quite successful. In 1987 some 15 percent of the urban work force was estimated to have attended Sena counseling. The technical education sector also included normal schools, which were charged with preparing primaryschool teachers, but these schools were heavily criticized for inflexible, irrelevant curriculum and poor quality.

Higher education had expanded more than the other two levels of the system. This expansion was especially true in private institutions. There were few reliable data on the quality of higher education except in those universities that maintained high entrance requirements. Most of these were concentrated in Bogotá and a few other principal cities. Nonetheless, observers agreed that the rapid expansion of higher education had in general occurred at the expense of quality. It was common to find professors working part time in several institutions and students attending only night courses. In most universities, there was a notable imbalance between the development needs of the country and the areas of specialization offered and a virtual absence of scientific and technological research. The frequent suspension of classes as a result of student strikes was a constant problem until early in the 1980s, when strike activity dropped substantially in most universities. In the 1970s, however, the best public universities were closed at least half the time because of student strikes.

Various studies of the education system in Colombia have demonstrated its highly stratified character. A disproportionate number of secondary-school students came from the upper-income brackets, and higher education further amplified this socioeconomic bias, even though all public universities and many private ones had adopted admission requirements based solely on academic performance. The bias in favor of higher-income students was slightly higher in private than in public institutions.

Data as of December 1988

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Colombia was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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