Skip to main content

Bringing a student-centered participatory pedagogy to scale in Colombia


This paper presents the experience of going to scale of Escuela Nueva, an educational innovation that started in Colombia and has influenced educational policy in several countries around the world during the last 30 years. The paper is based on the experience of the leaders of the innovation and its expansion over time. As an insider´s perpective, it relies on the knowledge of senior staff of Fundación Escuela Nueva and on the published evidence and experience accumulated during the decades following the creation of the innovation. The paper describes the context where Escuela Nueva was created and the practices of participating students, teachers, schools administrators and parents when undergoing learning and teaching. It presents the conceptual underpinnings of the innovation, and discusses existing evidence of impact of Escuela Nueva on students, teachers and parents. It then examines the experience of bringing Escuela Nueva to scale, using a three-stage framework: learning to be effective, learning to be efficient and learning to expand. The paper then discusses key factors for success, and the challenges of scale, impact and sustainability, and advances the argument that good design, adequate implementation and sustained support are essential to take an innovation to scale. To conclude, the following four key lessons of Escuela Nueva to the educational change field are discussed : (1) Teachers and students need to be the key actors of the change; (2) the proposed improvements have to be easily replicable within existing conditions; (3) the attitudinal change of teachers is positively affected as a result of demonstrating that the model was feasible, a good fit for its beneficiaries and that they could do it; and (4) a systemic approach is necessary to impact simultaneously on the critical factors of success.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Source: UNESCO (1998) First International Comparative Study of Education in Latin America and the Caribbean

Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    Conferencia en Congreso de Escuelas Nuevas, 2006.

  2. 2.

    Results of the application of UNESCO Tests 2004/2005 Pilot Project. Soacha, Colombia.

  3. 3.

    The initiative is a joint effort between FEN and the Inter American Development Bank, which provides technical and financial support.


  1. Bruns, B., & Luque, J. (2015). Great teachers, How to raise student learning in Latin-America and the Caribbean (p. 226). Washington, DC: The World Bank Group.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Chesterfield, R. (1994). Indicators of democratic behavior in Nueva Escuela Unitaria (NEU) schools. Research report. Guatemala: Academy for Educational Development, Juarez and Associates, Inc., and IDEAS Ltd USAID.

  3. Colbert, V. (1987). “Universalización de la primaria en Colombia-El Programa Escuela Nueva”, en La Educación Rural en Colombia, situación, experiencias y perspectivas. Bogotá: Fundación para la Educación superior, FES.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Colbert, V. (2000). “Mejorar la calidad de la educación para el sector rural pobre. El caso de Escuela Nueva en Colombia”. In Coyuntura Social, número 22, Colciencias, Bogotá.

  5. Colbert, V., & Arboleda, J. (1989). In Universalization of Primary Education in Colombia-The New School Program, paper presented at the World Conference on Education for All, Jomtien.

  6. Colbert, V., Chiappe, C., & Arboleda, J. (1993). The new school program: More and better primary education for children in rural areas of Colombia. In H. Levin & M. Lockheed (Eds.), Effective schools in developing countries (pp. 57–60). Washington, D.C.: The Falmer Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Colbert, V., & Vasquez., L. (2009). Escuela Nueva-Escuela Activa, Manual para el Docente. Bogotá, D.C: Fundación Escuela Nueva.

  8. De Moura Castro, C., & Verdisco, A. (Eds.). (2002). Making education work, Latin American Ideas and Asian results. Washington, DC: Inter-American Development Bank.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Departamento Nacional de Planeación. (1997). Misión Social, Planeación y Desarrollo No. 28 Bogotá.

  10. Forero, C., Escobar, D., & Molina, D. (2006). Escuela Nueva´s impact on the peaceful social interaction of children in Colombia. In Angela Little (Ed.), Education for all and multigrade teaching-challenges and opportunities. Berlin: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Hargreaves, M., & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital, transforming teaching in every school. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Hincapié, D. (2014). Ph. D. Dissertation, University of Washington, Washington, DC.

  13. Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (1989). Cooperation and Competition: Theory and Research” Edina. Boston, MN: Interaction Book Co.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Korten, D. (1980). Community organization and rural development: A learning process approach. Public Administration Review, 40(5), 480–511.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Little, A. (Ed.). (2006). Education for all and multigrade teaching-challenges and opportunities. Beriln: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Madhavan, R. (2014). “Cooperative Learning in Escuela Nueva”, working paper prepared for Fundación Escuela Nueva, Bogota.

  17. McEwan, P. (1998). The Effectiveness of multigrade schools in Colombia. Stanford: Elsevier Science Ltd.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Ministry of Education (Planning Office). (1998). Análisis del sector educativo con énfasis en aspectos administrativos y financieros, Bogotá.

  19. Mogollón, O., Colbert, V., & Levinger, B. (1974). Hacia la Escuela Nueva Unidades de Formación para el Maestro rural. Bogotá, DC: Editorial Ministerio de Educación.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Psacharopulos, G., Rojas, C., & Velez, E. (1993). Achievement evaluation of Colombia´ss Escuela Nueva: Is multigrade the answer? Comparative Evaluation Review, 37, 3.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Resnick, L. (1987). Introduction in L. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, Learning and Instruction. Hillsdale, N.J: Laurence Erlbaum Associates. Newman, D., Griffin, P. and Cole, M. 1989. The Construction Zone. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

  22. Schiefelbein, E. (1991). In search of the school of the XXI century: Is the Colombian Escuela Nueva the right pathfinder? Santiago de Chile: UNESCO-UNICEF.

    Google Scholar 

  23. UNESCO. (1998). The First International Comparative Study of Education in Latin America and the Caribbean.

  24. UNICEF. (2015). El Aprendizaje bajo la lupa: Nuevas perspectivas para américa Latina y el Caribe, Oficina Regional para América Latina y el Caribe, Panamá, pp. 20–21.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vicky Colbert.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Colbert, V., Arboleda, J. Bringing a student-centered participatory pedagogy to scale in Colombia. J Educ Change 17, 385–410 (2016).

Download citation


  • Instructional innovation
  • Pedagogical change
  • Rural education
  • Multigrade schools
  • Large scale education reform