Making the extracurricular the curriculum for Colombian youth

By Andreas Schleicher

Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Key points:

– The Sacúdete strategy, Colombia, helps young people develop their entrepreneurial skills in real-world situations
– Students are matched with coaches who lead them through the process of developing ideas, building skills and putting their ideas into action
– This programme is scalable and sustainable and has created hope for some of the most marginalised youth in Colombia linking them to the orange economy

On my recent visit to Colombia, I met an amazing group of young entrepreneurs who are fuelling Colombia’s vibrant orange economy. The colour orange has historically been tied to youth and happiness, and the colour is often associated with fun and entrepreneurship. Likewise, the orange economy is about everything that is developed through people’s creativity and innovation that becomes a good or service. According to the book “La economía naranja. Oportunidad infinita” by Felipe Buitrago, if the orange economy were a product, it would have the fifth greatest volume of business in the world.  If it were a country, it would be the fourth economic power with a GDP of $4.3 billion and a total of 144 million workers. But in Colombia it is even bigger, it’s now surpassed the size of Colombia’s coffee economy.

Technology has been part of that success. Technological advances are generating new spaces for artists and creative people to develop and innovate, whether it is the mobile phone, the Internet of Things, cloud technology, 3D printing or new materials. But what is more important are the people, and this is where Colombia’s Sacúdete Strategy comes in.

Overall, things often don’t look that bright for young people in Colombia. Over a quarter of Colombian 25-34-year-olds have not finished high school, and over a third of those dropouts earn less than half the median national income. It’s not necessarily that Colombia’s youth don’t have access to school, but for some of them learning trigonometry or calculus is just too far removed from their daily reality and aspirations.

So Sacúdete doesn’t start with a curriculum. It begins with coaches and mentors who help young men and women, often those from the most marginalised communities, to find their dreams and passions, to identify things of knowing or doing where they have special talents and where they can become really good at. And things that serve a social purpose and can find a business opportunity. This phase is called ‘Inspírate’ and is the foundation for further learning. But it is just the beginning. The next phase requires hard work and personal development. It requires the building of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will help these young men and women realise their dreams. Things that in school we often consider ‘extracurricular’ are the heart of the second phase, called ‘Enfócate’. The young people learn to live with themselves, to live with people who think and work differently from them, and to live with the planet. The focus is often on creative and critical thinking skills, digital skills, entrepreneurship, leadership, communication, citizenship, teamwork or empathy. But the third phase, ‘Transfórmate’, is what ultimately leads to success. The young people work with local economic or social entrepreneurs to incubate their ideas, to put them into action, and to connect themselves and their ideas with their communities.

The focus is often on creative and critical thinking skills, digital skills, entrepreneurship, leadership, communication, citizenship, teamwork or empathy.

These young people also learn that collaboration and competition are not opposing ends on a long spectrum, but rather two sides of a coin. They work through local and regional competitions – or what they call ‘The battles of ideas’ – to apply the skills they have developed, and to co-create innovative solutions to social, entrepreneurship and cultural challenges. And the most innovative ideas and people make it to the national battle of ideas, and this is where I met them.

Of course, projects like these always lead to the question of whether they are scalable and sustainable. Sacúdete has answered that question: It now covers more than 370,000 young men and women from more than 700 municipalities in 32 departments of Colombia. It has created hope and a future for many of the most marginalised young people in Colombia. And it showed that doing so is not about making the impossible possible, but about making the possible attainable through thoughtful intervention and deliberate action. Sacúdete shows to others what the future of school could look like when we put learners at the centre and make the ‘extracurricular’ the curriculum.

Colombia’s investment in these youngsters is now fuelling Colombia’s orange economy. And when I saw them at their national competition, one thing was clear to me: These people are still a small percentage of Colombia’s population, but they are 100% of Colombia’s future.

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Photo: Shutterstock/Daniel M Ernst