Chapter 4. The development of the teaching profession in Colombia

This chapter describes i) the main characteristics of the teaching profession; ii) the employment framework; and iii) initial education and ongoing teacher learning in Colombia. The teacher employment framework was reformed in 2002 while leaving the first framework in place for teachers recruited before 2002. The chapter covers both teacher statutes and the pending challenges in implementing the new statute successfully. While the statutes also regulate the employment of school leaders, school leadership is analysed in depth in Chapter 3. The chapter analyses strengths and challenges with a particular focus on the preparation and support for teachers to work with a range of learners, and the equitable and efficient recruitment of teachers, including to rural areas. Finally, it makes recommendations, highlighting the benefits of a more comprehensive vision of teacher professionalism built on collective capacities in schools.


The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

Context and features

Main characteristics of the teaching profession

Colombia has reformed the employment framework of public school teachers in 2002, while leaving the country’s first framework introduced in 1979 in place. As a result, employment is regulated by two main teacher statutes: Decree Law 2277 of 1979 and Decree Law 1278 of 2002 (referred to as Statutes 2277 and 1278 throughout the chapter). These laws provide the general framework which is implemented through some collective bargaining between the government and the country’s largest teacher union (Federación Colombiana de Trabajadores de la Educación, FECODE).1 The main changes between statutes relate to entry requirements, recruitment, salaries and evaluation. Teachers from the old statute are free to change their employment status and join the new statute. Educators of ethnic minorities (etnoeducadores) are employed under a separate framework based on Decree 804 of 1995 which regulates ethnic education.

Table 4.1. Main employment characteristics of public school teachers in Colombia, 2017
Pre-primary to upper secondary education

Employment framework

Statute 1278 (2002)

Statute 2277 (1979)

Decree 804


In numbers

168 332

134 944

6 610

309 886

In percentages




Contract status

Permanent staff

Permanent vacancy

Temporary vacancy

In numbers

247 664

46 243

12 211

In percentages




Note: Data on contract status include teachers of all statutes. Data on permanent staff include teachers in probationary period. Teachers in a permanent vacancy fill a staff position which could not be filled through the official recruitment process (merit contest). Teachers in a temporary vacancy replace a permanent teacher that is only temporarily away. There are also temporary teachers (planta temporal) not reflected in this table, typically teachers taking part in an education initiative or programme.

Source: Authors’ elaboration on the basis of data in Sánchez, J. (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Colombia,

Table 4.2. Main demographic characteristics of public school teachers in Colombia, 2017
Pre-primary to upper secondary education

Age (%)

Gender (%)

Geographical location (%)


50 and older











Note: Data include teachers of all statutes. Data on age include both teachers and school leaders. All other data include teachers only.

Source: Authors’ elaboration on the basis of data in Sánchez, J. (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Colombia,

As of 2017, there were 309 886 public school teachers teaching pre-school to upper secondary education (see Table 4.1 and Table 4.2). Slightly more than half of all public school teachers hold their teaching position under the new Statute 1278 and it is estimated that it will take approximately 14 to 15 years until all teachers are employed under this employment framework, that is by 2032/33. About one in three public teachers work in rural areas which reflects the relatively high number of teachers required to provide education in less densely populated parts of the country. Given the concentration of indigenous students in rural areas, most of Colombia’s 6 610 educators of ethnic minorities work in a rural school (Sánchez, 2018[1]).

Teaching in Colombia is a predominantly female profession, but less so than in many other countries. As in many other countries, however, the share of female teachers decreases in higher levels of school education (see Table 4.3). Women are also less likely to assume school leadership roles, representing 44% of all school leaders. Colombian teachers are relatively old. Overall, 31% of public school teachers were aged between 18 and 41 years in 2017, and almost 40% of teachers were 50 years or older (Sánchez, 2018[1]). While the age groups and years available for comparison are not exactly the same, in Brazil and Chile, for example, 49% and 54% of teachers respectively were 39 years or younger, and 19% and 28% were older than 50 years in 2015 (OECD, 2017[2]).

Table 4.3. Share (%) of female teachers, 2015


























OECD average





Note: Teachers include staff in both public and private institutions.

Source: OECD (2017), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators,, Table D5.2.

There were 120 488 teachers in independent private schools in 2016 which provide education to about 1 in 5 students in Colombia.2 Almost 40% of these teachers have more than 4 years of tertiary education and 38% teach at the primary level, which is the case for 46% of public school teachers. Private school teachers can be employed under the old statute (2277) but not under the new one (1278). They must have a professional degree in education or another field related to the subject they are teaching.

In case public education cannot be provided directly through a public school (e.g. due to limited staff or infrastructure), the Secretaries of Education of the certified territorial entities3 – departments, districts and municipalities – can contract and fund private providers. Teachers in these government-dependent private schools can either be provided by the Secretaries of Education or by the private provider depending on the type of contract. All teachers in these government-dependent private schools must fulfil the requirements for public teachers in terms of qualifications and experience (Sánchez, 2018[1]). For an in-depth discussion of private education, see Chapter 3.

Becoming a qualified teacher

Initial teacher education

There are three main routes to become a teacher in Colombia:

  • Completion of a first professional degree in education (licenciatura) at a tertiary institution (ISCED 2011 level 6).4

  • Completion of a complementary programme in education and pedagogy (Programa de Formación Complementaria, PFC) at a higher teaching school (Escuela Normal Superior, ENS) (ISCED 2011 level 4).

  • Side entry through completion of a postgraduate qualification (ISCED 7-8) or a programme in pedagogy (Programa de Pedagogía para Profesionales no Licenciados) (also see Sánchez (2018[1]) and MEN (2013[3])).5

Professional degrees in education

The most common way of obtaining an initial teacher education is studying for a first professional degree at a university’s education faculty or a university institution/technological school. A first professional degree in education requires four to five years of study and allows graduates to teach at all levels of pre-school and school education depending on the emphasis of the degree programme. Students can choose between public and private institutions and between different modes of study (full-time attendance, part-time attendance and distance-learning programmes).

Based on the principle of autonomy for tertiary institutions, education faculties are free to define their curricula and plans of study but need to comply with general requirements of Colombia’s quality assurance system for tertiary education (Sistema Nacional de Acreditación, SNA). There are two types of quality assurance processes:

  1. All institutions, as well as individual programmes, are subject to an evaluation by the National Inter-sectorial Commission for Higher Education Quality Assurance (Comisión Nacional para el Aseguramiento de la Calidad de la Educación Superior, CONACES). This evaluation authorises programmes to become part of the register of qualified programmes (registro calificado). Evaluation is based on quality criteria for curriculum profiles, basic and professional competencies, mobility, teaching staff and pedagogical practice set by the Ministry of National Education (Ministerio Nacional de Educación, MEN, hereafter ministry/ministry of education).

  2. The second type of high-quality accreditation (Acreditación de alta calidad) granted by the National Accreditation Council (Consejo Nacional de Acreditación, CNA) is voluntary. Based on a peer evaluation by members of the academic and research community according to specified quality criteria, it functions as a process to encourage continuous self-evaluation, self-regulation and improvement of institutions and programmes (OECD, 2016[4]).

Higher teaching schools

As in other countries in Latin America, higher teaching schools have traditionally played an important role for teacher education in Colombia (Ávalos, 2008[5]). Emerging out of the tradition of normal schools (escuelas normales), the first of which was founded in Colombia in 1822, higher teaching schools today offer two years of post-secondary non-tertiary teacher education (Programa de Formación Complementaria, PFC) in addition to all other levels of school education. A teaching certificate from a higher teaching school allows graduates to teach in pre-primary and primary education as “normalists” (normalistas). Students from a higher teaching school can progress directly to the first semester of their post-secondary programme after completing upper secondary education with a focus on pedagogy (bachillerato pedagógico). Other students can enter a higher teaching school by completing five instead of four semesters.

Higher teaching schools are under the administration of the Secretary of Education of their certified territorial entity. They are autonomous in designing and developing the curriculum and study programme for their complementary programme, but it needs to be authorised by the ministry on the basis of a regular quality assurance process by CONACES, the national quality assurance body for tertiary education.

In 2018, there were 137 higher teaching schools, 129 of which were public and 8 private; 12 443 students were enrolled in initial teacher education at a higher teaching school in 2017. With the fulfilment of additional quality requirements, higher teaching schools can offer their complementary programme through distance education. In 2015, three higher teaching schools offered this option (MEN and ASONEN, 2015[6]).

Side entry through a postgraduate qualification in education or a programme in pedagogy for professionals in other areas

Graduates with tertiary degrees in other disciplines can follow alternative routes into teaching, mainly as a subject teacher in secondary education (docente de área de conocimiento en educación básica secundaria y media). A university graduate with a degree in mathematics can, for example, become a mathematics teacher. Graduates from other disciplines can either take a specialisation,6 master’s degree or PhD related to education (ISCED levels 7-8), or start teaching and follow a pedagogical programme offered at a tertiary institution. These pedagogy programmes need to comply with central guidelines and requirements for curriculum, length and mode of study.

Recruitment process

Permanent teaching positions

For most teachers, entry into the teaching profession is governed by the new teacher statute (1278) and its successive modifications, in particular, Decree 915 adopted in 2016. These regulations also apply to school leadership roles, although with some changes. For instance, while candidates for teaching do not need any experience, candidates interested in school leadership must have acquired a minimum number of years of teaching experience. School leadership is analysed in depth in Chapter 3.

The recruitment process of teachers into permanent staff positions (professor de planta/nombramiento en propiedad) is based on a merit contest (concurso de mérito). The merit contest was organised for the first time in 2004 and has been administered since 2006 by the National Civil Service Commission (Comisión Nacional del Servicio Civil, CNSC) with involvement from the ministry of education and the Colombian Institute for Educational Evaluation (Instituto Colombiano para la Evaluación de la Educación, ICFES). Prior recruitments were organised by individual Secretaries of Education.

As already stated, no previous experience is required for teachers to access the merit contest while the minimum qualifications required depend on the type of teacher. To apply, pre-school and primary teachers need to hold a tertiary degree in education/pedagogy (licenciatura) or have completed a higher teaching school (ENS). Subject teachers (docentes de áreas de conocimiento) need a tertiary degree in education or a tertiary degree in a relevant knowledge area other than education combined with a relevant postgraduate qualification or a programme in pedagogy as explained above.

Merit contests are called separately for each certified territorial entity (department, district or certified municipality) and specify the vacancies available within that territory. The overall number of teaching positions in a certified territorial entity depends largely on staff plans approved by the ministry in line with technical relations for the ratio of students to teachers and teachers per group of students. These staff plans also determine financial resources for teachers allocated through Colombia’s system for sharing revenues across levels of governance (Sistema General de Participaciones, SGP). Secretaries of Education can hire additional teachers with their own resources, but this is the exception.7

Secretaries of Education and schools are responsible for reporting the number of vacancies available in their territory to the ministry based on student enrolments – broken down by education level, area and type of school. Candidates must choose the one education authority they wish to apply for in that merit contest. Teachers are then employed by the Secretary of Education of their certified territorial entity where they make up a substantial part of public employment. In 2012, teachers and education staff constituted 29.1% of public employment at the regional level (OECD, 2013[7]).8

Successful candidates select their preferred position in the Secretary of Education they applied to through a public audience (audiencia pública), based on their ranking in the recruitment process. Lists of eligible candidates are valid for two years. Once all successful candidates have chosen their preferred vacancy or decided not to choose any position, the National Civil Service Commission creates two lists of teachers eligible for permanent positions, one by department and one for the country as a whole. Successful candidates then start their probationary period. Probationary periods last until the end of the ongoing school year, but for a minimum of four months, and entail an evaluation by the school principal at the end of the school year (Evaluación de período de prueba).

Temporary teaching positions

Teachers who fail to pass the merit contest can be employed as provisional or contract teachers (provisionales/nombramiento provisional) to i) fill a permanent staff position which could not be filled through the merit context (“temporary position in a permanent vacancy”/provisional en una vacante definitiva); or ii) replace a permanent teacher who is only temporarily absent, for instance on extended sick leave or on probation in another school (“temporary position in a temporary vacancy”/provisional en una vacante temporal) (see Table 4.1 and Table 4.2). All these provisional positions which are paid with resources distributed through the country’s revenue sharing system (Sistema General de Participaciones) are part of the approved staff plans for Secretaries of Education.

Since 2016, Secretaries of Education need to fill temporary positions in a permanent vacancy through a Pool of Excellence (Banco de la Excelencia). Temporary teachers in a temporary vacancy can be filled on a discretional basis. The financial compensation of provisional teachers is the same as that of teachers in permanent staff positions in the respective statute and thus depends on their level of qualification. Unlike permanent teachers, teachers under this type of contract however cannot progress up the salary scale or take part in the related competency assessment for promotion as explained below.

In addition to these two types of provisional or contract teachers, there are also temporary teachers (planta temporal) who replace teachers in particular situations, such as teachers working as tutors in the programme Let’s All Learn (Programa Todos a Aprender, PTA).

Educators of ethnic minorities (etnoeducadores)

There are three types of educators in Colombia for different ethnic minorities: Raizal, Afro-Colombian and indigenous. In 2017, students from ethnic minorities represented 10.8% of enrolments in compulsory education (820 337 students). About half of these students were from Afro-Colombian communities, the other half from indigenous peoples (51.7% and 48.3% respectively) (data provided by the ministry of education).9 As stipulated in Decree 804 which regulates ethnic education, educators for these minorities should be recruited in negotiation between the ethnic communities and the responsible Secretary of Education giving preference to members of the local community.

The decree on ethnic education also sets some objectives for the preparation of educators of these groups, which should be specified through guidelines provided by the ministry. According to the decree, the education of educators of ethnic minorities should i) generate and instil the different skills that enable educators to strengthen the global life projects of the ethnic communities; ii) identify, design and undertake research on tools for the respect and development of the identity of ethnic communities; iii) identify and develop adequate pedagogical forms through educational practice; iv) strengthen the knowledge and use of vernacular languages; and v) establish criteria and instruments for the construction and evaluation of educational projects.

Educators in communities with their own linguistic tradition need to be bilingual. Tertiary institutions and higher teaching schools with a mission to teach members of ethnic communities should offer specific training in ethnic education according to accreditation criteria defined by the Higher Education Council (Consejo Nacional de Educación Superior, CESU) and the ministry, while territorial teacher education committees (Comités Territoriales de Formación de Docentes, CTFD) should organise specific training for educators of ethnic minorities to update their skills and engage in research. In practice, however, these orientations have typically not been put into practice as reported by the ministry. This may change with the creation of ethnic minorities’ own intercultural education systems.10 Chapter 3 provides an in-depth analysis of ethnic education.

Progressing and developing in the profession

Compensation and promotion

Under the old teacher statute (2277), the salary scale is composed of a single scale of 14 grades (see Annex 4.A). Qualifications and service time are the main factors defining the salaries and career progression. For instance, a teacher with a professional degree needs at least 21 years of experience to achieve the highest grade. Participation in professional development facilitates quicker progression in the salary scale, and is required for advancing to some salary grades. For educators of ethnic minorities, qualifications alone define the salary on a scale of four grades.

The salary scale for teachers under the new statute (1278) is composed of 3 grades (1-3) and 4 steps within each grade (A, B, C, D). The salary of these teachers is also defined by their qualifications but the level of seniority is of secondary importance – teachers can only apply for promotion in grade (ascenso) or step (reubicación) if they have held a permanent position for at least three years after completion of the probationary period, and, in the case of a promotion, two years after their progression in the salary scale.

To obtain a promotion, teachers under the new statute need to have their competencies assessed through an evaluation of competencies (Evaluación de competencias). The possibility of promotion depends on the Secretary of Education’s decision to open a call for voluntary applications of teachers. All promotions depend on the availability of sufficient budgetary resources provided through the central government. As stipulated in the statute and the single regulatory decree for education (Decree 1075 of 2015),11 the number of possible promotions is determined ahead of the evaluations and factored into the evaluation process. Evaluations should be organised on an annual basis and are carried out by the educational evaluation institute ICFES on a national level.

The evaluation was initially based on a written test. Following a strike and negotiations with the largest teacher union in 2015, the competency evaluation has been subject to changes and revisions. Initially, a different evaluation process was organised in 2015 to provide teachers who had not passed the evaluation in 2010 to 2014 with a second chance – on average, only 20% of teachers applying for promotion succeeded in previous years according to data provided by the ministry. This new form of evaluation – the Diagnostic and Formative Evaluation (Evaluación de Carácter Diagnóstico Formativo, ECDF) – was subsequently adopted as a process for the evaluation of teachers’ competencies for promotion. It was carried out a second time in 2016-17 (see Box 4.1).

Box 4.1. The Diagnostic and Formative Evaluation (Evaluación de Carácter Diagnóstico Formativo)

The competency assessment required for promotion focuses on teachers’ pedagogical and classroom management skills. It is largely based on the evaluation of a classroom video as well as a survey of the school community, a self-evaluation and the results of the two previous performance evaluations carried out by the school leader. The video is reviewed by a regional and a national peer evaluator and accounts for 80% of the evaluation result. The other instruments are weighted to different degrees for teachers from the transition year (a compulsory year of pre-school) to Year 5 (that is primary education) and teachers from Years 6 to 11 (that is secondary education). The school community survey only applies to teachers in secondary education. Teachers need to achieve more than 80% overall to be promoted to the next grade or step.

Teachers not succeeding in the evaluation can take a recommended professional development course in a faculty of education within an accredited university to still be promoted on passing this course. While this option was available to all teachers taking part in the evaluation organised in 2015 who had not succeeded in their evaluation in the previous years, the number of places in such courses has been capped since. The number of places for professional development in the case of teachers who participated in the second round of the evaluation is equivalent to 12% of all teachers applying for promotion. Places are open to those teachers closest to the threshold of passing the evaluation. Central and territorial education authorities cover at least 70% of the cost of training.

Source: ICFES (2016), Informe Nacional 2016: Evaluación de Carácter Diagnóstico Formativa (ECDF) [National Report 2016: Diagnostic Formative Evaluation], Instituto Colombiano para la Evaluación de la Educación [Colombian Institute for Educational Evaluation], Bogotá, DC.

Salaries increase with higher qualifications for all teachers, and teachers can also progress to a higher salary grade through the completion of additional qualifications. A teacher with a first teaching qualification from a higher teaching school (ENS), for example, can move up through completion of a university degree in both the old and the new salary scale. However, salaries for higher qualifications increase especially under the new statute, which includes specific salary steps for postgraduate qualifications within the second salary grade and a separate grade for master’s or PhD degrees. Promotion for teachers under the new statute, however, always requires passing the competency assessment (ECDF). Teachers can also develop their career by taking on a school leadership position, which brings salary bonuses depending on the leadership role and size of the school (see Chapter 3).

In addition to the base salary, some teachers can receive additional benefits. For instance, teachers with low salaries are eligible for transport and food allowances. Teachers in remote areas can be compensated with higher salaries, additional time to participate in professional development activities and free plane tickets.

The salaries of Colombian teachers compare favourably to the labour market overall, as Gaviria and Umaña (2002[8]) already found for teachers in public education in the late 1990s and Hernani-Limarino (2005[9]) for the year 2000. Taking levels of education, experience and place of residence into account, teachers with permanent employment in a public school earn, on average, 10% more than other workers in formal employment (García et al., 2014[10]). Teacher salaries are considerably higher than the minimum wage which is set at a very high level and reached 96% of the median wage in 2013 (OECD, 2016[11]). For instance, teachers employed under the new statute with no experience and minimum qualifications earn 2.5 times the minimum wage (see Figure 4.1).

As Saavedra et al. (2017[12]) find, public teachers in Colombia earn a substantial labour market premium early on in their careers, which is however partly explained by teachers holding additional jobs in the formal sector. Of course, the choice of the comparison group influences relative wages (Morduchowicz, 2009[13]). When comparing Colombian teachers to other professionals with a university qualification, they earned on average 7% less in 2011 (García et al., 2014[10]), an earnings gap which exists in most education systems (OECD, 2017[14]).

Salaries are defined by decree each year and increase at the same rate as for other public servants. In the coming years, teachers’ salaries will likely increase given the strong bargaining power of the largest teacher union and pay increases agreed upon in negotiations with the ministry following a teacher strike in 2017 (Sánchez, 2018[1]).

Teacher evaluation

While the General Education Law suggests the evaluation of teachers as a process to ensure a high-quality standard of teaching, teachers recruited under the old statute (2277) are not evaluated on a mandatory basis. Teachers that form part of the new statute (1278) are evaluated regularly by their school leaders. School leaders belonging to the new statute themselves are evaluated by their Secretary of Education as analysed in Chapter 3.

In this mandatory annual performance evaluation (Evaluación anual de desempeño de docentes y directivos docentes) school leaders evaluate whether teachers have fulfilled their functions and responsibilities on the basis of national specifications (Decree 3782 of 2007) and guidelines (Guía No. 31: Guía Metodológico Evaluación Anual de Desempeño Laboral). The evaluation guidelines were being revised at the time of drafting this report.

Based on these guidelines and specifications, the evaluation should assess teachers’ performance in eight functional competencies across three domains (academic, administrative and community responsibilities) and seven behavioural competencies. While teachers are evaluated in all functional competencies, they select the three most relevant behavioural competencies that need to be further developed. Functional competencies account for 70% of the evaluation result, behavioural competencies for the remaining 30%. As part of their evaluation, teachers should gather evidence in the form of a portfolio. Evidence can, for example, include student and parent questionnaires, diaries, self-evaluations and protocols of classroom observations.

Figure 4.1. Trend in statutory teacher salaries for selected salary grades and steps, 2005-17
Year of reference: 2005

Notes: Salaries adjusted for inflation. Data on teacher salaries include bonuses for the years 2014 (applied as of 1 June), 2015 (1%), 2016 (2%) and 2017 (2%). In Statute 2277, Grade 5 refers to entry with a “normalist” teaching qualification, Grade 7 to entry with a professional tertiary degree in education, and Grade 14 to the highest salary grade. In Statute 1278, Grade 1, step A, refers to entry with a “normalist” teaching qualification; Grade 2, step A, to entry with a professional tertiary degree in education or a tertiary degree in another discipline; Grade 3, step AM to entry with a master’s; and Grade 3, step AD to entry with a PhD degree.

Source: Authors’ elaboration, data provided by the Ministry of National Education (MEN).

At the end of the school year, the school leader and the individual teacher meet for a performance evaluation meeting and teachers are rated in 1 of 3 levels of performance depending on a quantitative score: outstanding performance for a score between 90 and 100; satisfactory performance for a score between 60 and 89; and unsatisfactory performance for a score between 1 and 59.

On the basis of the evaluation, the school leader and teacher should design actions and improvement strategies in the form of a personal and professional development plan (Plan de Desarrollo Personal y Profesional). The evaluation also has high stakes for teachers. In the case of an unsatisfactory rating for two consecutive years, a teacher can be dismissed from service. The average of the two last evaluations is taken into account in the competency assessment for promotion described above (MEN, 2008[15]).

Professional development

The ministry is responsible for formulating policies, plans and programmes for teachers’ professional development on the basis of National Development Plans. The Secretaries of Education are responsible for contextualising national policies. They develop a Territorial Training Plan for Teachers and School Leaders (Plan Territorial de Formación para Docentes y Directivos docentes, PTFD) that forms part of the territorial entity’s sectoral development plan for education (Plan sectorial de desarrollo educativo). Central guidelines provide a framework for the development of these plans (MEN, 2011[16]) and the ministry provides technical assistance if requested by Secretaries of Education.

All Secretaries of Education establish a territorial teacher education committee (Comité Territorial de Formación de Docentes, CTFD)12 which provides them with support in the development, monitoring and evaluation of their territorial education plan and specific programmes and actions for teacher education. In this function, the teacher education committees should, among others, help identify the development needs of schools and their staff, define criteria and regulations for the offer of professional development and support and manage the selection, approval and evaluation of education programmes.

Workload and use of teachers’ time

The working time for teachers under the old and new statutes (2277 and 1278) is conceived on the basis of a workload system, i.e. regulations stipulate the total number of working hours and define the range of tasks teachers are expected to perform beyond teaching itself. Teachers work 40 hours per week, spending at least 6 of their 8-hour working day at school following the schedule set by their school principal. When school principals assign more than 30 hours a week at school, teachers receive compensation for overtime up to a maximum of 10 hours a week. Guidance counsellors (orientadores) and co-ordinators (coordinadores), that is middle leaders, are required to spend eight hours per day within the school (as are school principals).13 The working year comprises 40 weeks of academic work with students, 5 weeks of institutional development and 7 weeks of vacations.

Teachers have an academic assignment that defines their contact time with students: 20 hours a week for pre-school and 25 hours a week for primary education, which is equal to students’ classroom time at the respective levels. Teachers in secondary education have an assignment of 22 teaching hours a week, less than the 30 hours of students’ classroom time. The remaining working hours need to be spent on complementary curriculum activities (Sánchez, 2018[1]).14 On a weekly basis, teachers’ academic assignment leaves about 15 hours for non-teaching tasks in primary and 18 hours in secondary education, that is between 37.5% and 45% of time in the week.

From a comparative perspective, teachers’ total statutory working time over the school year is around the average across OECD countries with available data for the OECD publication Education at a Glance (Colombia: 1 600 hours, OECD average: 1 634 hours, in lower secondary education). It is also lower than in various other countries, including Chile and Switzerland, the countries with the highest number of working hours (OECD, 2017[14]). Taking teachers’ participation in five weeks of institutional development per year into account, total annual statutory working time, however, increases to 1 800 hours per year. Data from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 suggest that teachers in Colombia are more likely to work full-time than in other countries, making Colombia an exception in the region (see Table 4.4) (OECD, 2016[17]).

Compared to other countries, teachers in Colombia have a relatively large teaching load. Primary teachers, for instance, are required to teach at least 1 000 hours annually, only behind Chile, Costa Rica and Switzerland among countries with available data. They also teach 40 weeks per year, above most OECD countries except Australia, Germany, Japan and Mexico, as well as Brazil and Costa Rica in the region (OECD, 2017[14]).

As in most education systems, teachers’ overall working time is more favourable than for the average employee in Colombia. Based on household survey data for 2011 (Gran Encuesta Integrada de Hogares, GEIH), teachers work on average about 35 hours a week, compared to a worker in formal employment who works about 50 hours a week. Teachers’ working time is also more favourable than the working time for other professionals with a difference of about 12 hours a week (García et al., 2014[10]).

Table 4.4. Share (%) of teachers working part-time, PISA 2015
Based on school principals’ reports







Costa Rica








OECD average


Source: OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools,, Table II.6.9.


Colombia has taken considerable steps towards the professionalisation of teaching

There is a solid evidence base indicating that teachers matter – likely more than anything else in children’s lives outside their families – in improving opportunities for students. Teachers’ effects on academic achievement are substantial (Hattie, 2009[18]), and recent research suggests that teachers’ impact on social and behavioural outcomes is often comparable or even larger than effects on academic achievement (Jackson, 2012[19]; Jennings and DiPrete, 2010[20]). Studies from Colombia equally suggest that the quality of teachers contributes to student learning outcomes (Bonilla and Galvis, 2012[21]; Brutti and Sanchez, 2017[22]; García et al., 2014[10]).

Recognising this profound impact and supporting a strong teaching profession is therefore essential but policies must be implemented in ways that are sensitive to specific contexts. As recent OECD reports on teachers highlight, there is no single way for countries to promote teacher professionalism – rather there are different approaches and models that make sense in different contexts (OECD, 2016[23]; OECD, 2018[24]).

Colombia has taken significant steps to create a professional teaching workforce with the reform of the teacher statute in 2002. As analysed in depth in the following, the new statute and subsequent regulations have introduced a fair and transparent teacher selection process, raised entrance requirements, made the salary structure more attractive, made entry into subject teaching more open and flexible and introduced teacher evaluations. As judged by a comparative report on teachers in Latin America, Colombia’s reform “remains one of the most comprehensive and ambitious efforts in the region to improve teachers quality through higher standards, performance evaluation and professional development”, even though “the impressive design has been undercut by ineffective implementation” as the report also notes (Bruns and Luque, 2015[25]). A similar picture emerges in a report by the Commission for Quality Education for All (2016[26]).

While more time and research are needed to fully evaluate the effects of the reform, first evaluations indicate that teachers in the same age group under the new statute hold higher levels of education than their peers in the old statute (Ome, 2013[27]). A higher share of new statute teachers in a school is also related to positive student learning outcomes as measured by national standardised assessments (Pruebas Saber) and reduced school dropout rates (Brutti and Sanchez, 2017[22]; Ome, 2013[27]).15

Transparent and fair recruitment process ensuring a minimum standard for beginning teachers in permanent staff positions

The new teacher statute (1278) introduced a competitive, fair and transparent recruitment process for all candidates wishing to be hired for a permanent teaching (and school leadership) position in a public school. This process constitutes an important step towards the professionalisation of teaching. As Finan, Olken and Pande (2015[28]) highlight for the public administration in general, the selection and screening for the recruitment of public officials have important implications for the quality of service delivery, the quality of the hired candidates and the type of applicant.

Since 2006, the recruitment process has been administered centrally by the National Civil Service Commission in collaboration with the ministry of education and ICFES, the institute responsible for educational evaluation. The process is based on a score system and entails a written knowledge and competency examination, a psychometric test, a check of credentials and an interview. The process is highly competitive and selective – approximately 9% of applicants passed the process in 2016 (Figure 4.2). Involvement of the National Civil Service Commission, an independent and autonomous public body at the highest level of the Colombian state with the mission of safeguarding the principle of merit and equality in the civil service, is a strong guarantee for a fair recruitment process. It leaves little room for patronage and creates trust in the recruitment process, although there are challenges in the implementation of the process as analysed below (OECD, 2013[7]).

Figure 4.2. Participation in national teacher recruitment process

Note: In parentheses the number of certified territorial entities that offered vacancies in that merit contest.

Source: Authors’ elaboration from data in Sánchez, J. (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Colombia

The centrally organised recruitment process is a significant improvement compared to the previous recruitment of teachers (and school leaders) by Secretaries of Education which was often subject to political influence and clientelism (Duarte, 2003[29]). The possibility of a teacher test to identify better teachers is most likely limited (Cruz-Aguayo, Ibarrarán and Schady, 2017[30]), but a standardised process is still an improvement over discretionary recruitment decisions (Estrada, 2017[31]).

Research suggests that it is difficult to identify effective teachers at the point of hiring and that recruitment should, therefore, be based on a broad set of information and entail an opportunity for both new teachers and their employer to assess whether teaching is the right career for them (OECD, 2005[32]; Staiger and Rockoff, 2010[33]). The requirement for the completion of a demanding probationary period thus constitutes another positive element of teacher recruitment. Between 2010 and 2013, approximately 1 in 6 teachers failed their probation (Sánchez, 2018[1]), even though this has been changing in recent years. Between 2014 and 2016, almost all new teachers passed their probationary period (MEN, 2018[34]). This suggests that stronger pedagogical leadership is required to ensure the continuous implementation of a rigorous evaluation process at the end of probation. Mandatory regular evaluations for newly hired teachers provide a further opportunity for addressing performance concerns and for providing formative feedback (OECD, 2013[35]), although there are also concerns about the quality of this process as described below.

Higher entrance requirements and a more attractive salary structure with the potential to raise the status of the profession

The new teacher statute also raised qualifications requirements and introduced a more competitive salary structure. Both of these steps have the potential to make the profession more attractive and to raise its status (Ome, 2013[27]). Under the old statute (2227), it was possible to go into teaching on completion of upper secondary education. Under the new statute (1278), a degree from a higher teaching school (ENS) is the minimum qualification required. Initial teacher education in Colombia is, furthermore, relatively fluid and teachers from these programmes often continue their education at higher level.

Compared to the salary structure under the old statute, the salary structure for the new statute provides the possibility for teachers from higher teaching schools to reach salary levels twice as high as before. Teachers with university degrees can reach the highest salary step more quickly (Brutti and Sanchez, 2017[22]). The new salary structure is also attractive when set in an international context. As data from the OECD publication Education at a Glance show, the salary structure for teachers recruited under the new statute has the second steepest salary scale among countries with available data: teachers at the top of the salary scale with the highest qualifications earn more than three times as much as teachers with initial starting salaries and minimum qualifications. Teachers with minimum qualifications at the top of the salary scale still earn twice as much as teachers with initial starting salaries, more than the OECD average for all levels of school education. Theoretically, teachers can reach the top of the scale within 9 years compared to 25 years on average across OECD countries (OECD, 2017[14]).

While statutory salaries for a lower secondary teacher at the bottom of the salary scale are considerably lower than on average across the OECD (55%), earnings at the top of the salary scale with maximum qualifications are only 14% lower (authors’ calculations based on OECD (2017[14])). Relative to countries’ national income, statutory teacher salaries are the highest among the 47 education systems with available data that participated in the OECD PISA 2015 (see Figure 4.3) (OECD, 2016[17]).16

Figure 4.3. Teachers' salaries, 2014
Lower secondary teachers in general programmes

Source: OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools,, Table II.6.54.

Also compared to other professionals with tertiary degrees, the new salary structure appears attractive (Ome, 2013[27]) and builds on otherwise favourable salaries compared to the Colombian labour market overall as well as significant increases in statutory salaries over time as analysed above (see Figure 4.1). Relative earnings for teachers compare very well internationally as well. Statutory salaries for teachers with 15 years of experience and typical qualifications are about 1.5 times as high as salaries for similarly educated workers at all levels of education. On average across OECD countries, lower secondary teachers can expect to earn 9% less than workers with tertiary education (OECD, 2017[14]).17

However, while the salary scale for teachers of the new statute is, in theory, relatively favourable compared to teachers of the old statute and similarly qualified workers, and considering national income, teachers’ actual progression in the salary scale has been relatively hard to obtain in practice and passing the required evaluation has been difficult.

Equal regulations and status for teachers of different levels of school education and pre-school education

Both the old and new teacher statutes place teachers of different levels of school education, as well as pre-school and school teachers, under the same regulations. This not only makes for some flexibility in allocating teachers to different levels of education in response to demographic developments (OECD, 2005[32]), it also avoids too rigid links between the structure of school systems and teacher education and employment (Ávalos, 2008[5]). It also puts teachers of different levels on an equal footing, including teachers in pre-primary and primary education, even though there are concerns about the lower status of staff in early childhood education and care managed by the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familial, ICBF) (OECD, 2016[4]).18

An equal professional status for teachers teaching different levels of education through the same qualification requirements and salary levels can play an important role in attracting and retaining high-quality staff. It can thus support quality provision in earlier stages of the education system which can lay a strong foundation for later learning and has been shown to have particular benefits for disadvantaged students. It can facilitate co-operation between staff of different sectors and thus help ease children’s transition, for example from pre-primary to primary education (OECD, 2017[36]). In the long run, it has the potential of creating a strong sense of professional community among all teachers.

An alternative entry route into teaching bringing flexibility and possibly new talent into the profession

The new teacher statute (1278) has created the possibility for side entry into the profession. Individuals with degrees from other disciplines can apply for subject teacher positions in secondary education provided they complete a programme in pedagogy at a tertiary institution. In addition, individuals with a background other than education have the possibility of entering teaching after completing a relevant post-graduate qualification. According to reports by the National Civil Service Commission, 33% of applicants for a permanent position in the 2016 merit contest applied with a degree other than an undergraduate qualification in education, but side entrants made up 47% of successful applicants (data provided by the ministry). In 2017, around 10% of teachers employed under the new statute (1278) held a professional degree in discipline other than education as their last qualification (authors’ calculations based on Sánchez (2018[1])).19

Such alternative routes into teaching provide additional flexibility in responding to increasing student numbers or to a teacher shortage in specific subjects. They arguably broaden the range of backgrounds and experiences in schools and provide access to teaching for individuals at different stages of their lives (OECD, 2005[32]). At the same time, alternative pathways raise questions as to whether teachers recruited via such pathways are as effective as conventionally prepared teachers and whether teachers from alternative pathways then remain in teaching (Little and Bartlett, 2010[37]).

Conclusions about the effects of different pathways into teaching are difficult to draw, also given the variety of alternative pathways. Studies from the United States suggest that teachers from both traditional teacher education and alternative pathways can be effective in the classroom, but that some teachers from both programmes may not have the competencies and preparation to fulfil their role effectively (Henry et al., 2014[38]; Redding and Smith, 2016[39]). Substantial research for Colombia is not yet available, but some have raised concerns about the level of preparation for classroom practice, pedagogy and didactics of teachers completing pedagogy programmes in parallel to their job in schools. Caution has also been raised about the risk of side entrants leaving the teaching profession more than traditional teachers (Durán Sandoval, Acosta Zambrano and Espinel Montaña, 2014[40]; Jurado Valencia, 2016[41]).

Towards a culture of teacher evaluation in schools

The new teacher statute (1278) has introduced a comprehensive and systematic approach to teacher evaluation that has the potential of supporting the continuous learning of teachers. In addition to evaluation for entry into the profession, the new statute requires regular performance evaluations within schools and on a voluntary basis for promotion.

Evaluación Anual de Desempeño Laboral: If well designed and implemented, school internal evaluations can be a key lever to put the focus on the quality of teaching and learning in schools (OECD, 2013[35]). While there is still substantial room to improve teacher evaluation and make the best use of the process, regular evaluations have the potential to establish a strong culture of professional feedback, learning and improvement in Colombian schools – an important development in a context where teachers enjoy a large degree of pedagogical autonomy as discussed below.

In the schools visited by the review team, there was evidence of an emerging culture of teacher evaluation. While in some schools the principal took responsibility for engaging in performance discussions and establishing development plans on the basis of the evaluation, in other schools this depended on the school site that the teacher was working in – in Colombia, public schools are organised in clusters of multiple sites. In these cases, the school principal and middle leadership, such as the responsible co-ordinators, took responsibility for evaluating their respective teachers. Various teachers and school leaders to whom the review team spoke made reference to the central guidelines for teacher evaluation. In some schools, evaluations of teachers under the new statute had in fact resulted in evaluations for all teachers, including those under the old statute.

Evaluación de Carácter Diagnóstico Formativa: Effective teacher evaluations can also be a tool to recognise and reward high-quality teaching and to manage teachers’ career advancement (OECD, 2013[35]). Colombia has a second evaluation process in place for this purpose with the external assessment of teachers’ competencies for promotion. While there are some challenges for implementation as for school internal evaluations, this process provides a basis for acknowledging good teaching and creates an indirect link between teachers’ performance and compensation. Such an indirect link is preferable to direct links through student assessment results which have produced mixed results and can have perverse effects, such as a narrowing of the curriculum (OECD, 2013[35]).

More time is needed to fully evaluate the changes introduced to the design of this evaluation process in 2015, particularly since negotiations about the process between the largest teacher union and the ministry were ongoing at the time of writing. Compared to the old process, the new evaluation process, however, entails two positive features.

Whereas the original evaluation was based on a written assessment, the new process entails peer evaluations (one national, one regional) realised through the use of a classroom video. While teachers interviewed during the review visit raised concerns about the reliability of the use of this tool and the weight given to it, the classroom video as one evaluation instrument puts the focus on classroom practice. The involvement of peer evaluators who can apply and are trained for this role is also a promising approach to build capacity (OECD, 2013[35]). The use of video technology is an innovative approach, also considering the limited amount of resources required for the use of this technology.

In addition, the new process provides an opportunity to identify strengths and weaknesses and to feed into teacher learning, in particular for those teachers who have a second chance at promotion following completion of a related professional development course.

The ministry has supported teacher development with multidimensional and targeted initiatives that have the potential to create a culture of peer learning in schools and have had a considerable impact in rural schools

While the organisation and management of professional development is largely the responsibility of the Secretaries of Education, the ministry of education has developed and implemented national initiatives to strengthen the quality of education through its budget for investment projects, notably the Let’s All Learn programme (Programa Todos a Aprender, PTA) and the Rural Education Programme (Programa de Educación Rural, PER) but also other initiatives like Classrooms Without Borders (Aulas sin fronteras) or Pioneers (Pioneros) (for more information about the latter two, see Sánchez (2018[1])). The government’s National Development Plan for 2014-18 explicitly recognised the importance of high-quality teaching and the need to foster teaching excellence as one element of the plan’s strategy for education (DNP, 2015[42]).

Considering the difficulty to reform initial teacher education, in general as well as in Colombia, and the concerns about the different levels of capacity and resources for Secretaries of Education to develop, implement and monitor professional development, these central initiatives meet an important need in the system. Central initiatives seem to have been well received by regional and local authorities, schools and individual teachers as was also evident during the review team’s interviews with different stakeholders. They have been well-targeted, improved teaching and learning in schools and contributed to closing achievement gaps between rural and urban areas. Evaluations have facilitated adjustments to the design and implementation of the initiatives and learning about successful practices (Sánchez, 2018[1]).20

The Let’s All Learn programme

The Let’s All Learn programme follows a multidimensional approach to improve student learning in the core subjects language and mathematics with a cascade teacher education model at the heart of the programme (see Box 4.2).

Tutors provide situated professional development to teachers within participating schools, working both with individual teachers and with groups of teachers. The programme thus puts the focus on classroom practice within particular contexts and has the potential to improve teachers’ competencies. For one, it has the potential to develop the competencies of teachers taking part as tutors. While there is a trade-off in as far as the programme takes effective teachers out of their classrooms to coach others, tutors may develop additional competencies and experiences they can bring back to their own school afterwards. Tutors, furthermore, undergo training for their role and learn through their mentoring activity. More importantly, accompanied teachers develop their skills through both individual feedback from their tutor and through peer learning within study groups.

In doing so, the Let’s All Learn programme pursues a multidimensional approach that combines professional development with other elements such as curricular materials and student assessment tools. Such approaches to teacher learning that are built around the interaction between and among teachers, students and content have been shown to enable teachers to envision what new practices might look like and how to transfer these ideas into their classroom (Gallagher, Arshan and Woodworth, 2017[43]).

Multidimensional takes on teacher learning also seem relevant in the Colombian context where schools and teachers have a large degree of pedagogical autonomy, e.g. to choose educational materials. Since the programme works around the activities of tutors within individual schools, it facilitates adaptation the implementation of the programme to the constraints of specific local contexts and schools’ and teachers’ needs to foster student learning and development (see Díaz (2016[44]) for a case study).

The Let’s All Learn programme also has the potential to contribute to changing the culture of schools. While the success of coaching depends on trusting school cultures and teachers’ willingness to open themselves to criticism (Kraft, Blazar and Hogan, 2018[45]), the work of tutors within classrooms and groups of teachers itself can create greater openness of classrooms and foster mutual learning among teachers around their students’ learning needs. Reportedly, teachers in many Colombian schools have shown openness to receiving their tutor within their classrooms (Sánchez, 2018[1]).

Box 4.2. Let’s All Learn (Programa Todos a Aprender)

Let’s All Learn is a large-scale programme initiated by the ministry in 2011 and implemented since 2012 as part of the government’s National Development Plans for 2010-14 and 2014-18. The PTA has been funded through the ministry’s budget for investment programmes and received almost half of the budget of the ministry’s quality directorate for school and pre-school education in 2017, about COP 130 billion.21 The programme targets primary education (Years 0 to 5) and follows a multidimensional approach to improve student learning in language and mathematics. This includes pedagogical components related to the curriculum and educational materials, situated professional development, school management and community involvement.

The programme’s main objective is to build teachers’ skills and competencies and to improve their practices in the classroom through a cascade teacher education model. Tutors are selected from across the country and prepared for and supported in their role by trainers holding a master’s or PhD degree. Tutors then provide situated professional development to teachers within participating schools. They work directly as peers with individual teachers in the classroom, observe teachers’ practices and provide feedback on pedagogical and didactic strategies. They work with groups of teachers and organise peer learning activities and discussions around pedagogical topics within schools. In addition, tutors are expected to support other activities and pedagogical processes and provide support for the development and implementation of student assessments, the use of curricular guidelines, the selection and use of materials and textbooks, and the development of the Día E, a day in the school calendar to discuss school development within the school, for example.

By 2017, the programme had employed 97 trainers and trained 4 100 tutors. Tutors had worked with 109 357 teachers in 13 455 sites of 4 476 public schools in 885 municipalities in all of the 32 departments. Between 2012 and 2017, the participation of public schools in the programme grew by 88% and the number of participating teachers more than doubled. The programme prioritises schools with low achievements as measured by the standardised student assessments for Years 3 and 5 (Pruebas Saber 3 and 5). Schools achieving their improvement objective in standardised assessments and high results in their Synthetic Education Quality Index (Índice Sintético de Calidad Educativa, ISCE), a school performance measure explained below and in Chapter 3, end their participation in the programme, thus making resources available for support to other schools.

While the programme was not designed as a strategy targeting rural schools in particular, it has had a particular impact on schools in rural and remote areas in departments like Amazonas, Chocó, Guainía, Guaviare, La Guajira, Vaupés and Vichada. Sixty-five percent of participating schools were classified as rural, compared to 30% which were classified as urban schools.

Sources: Sánchez, J. (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Colombia; OECD (2016), Education in Colombia, Reviews of National Policies for Education,

Rural Education Programme

The Let’s All Learn programme builds on the successful experience of the Programme of Rural Education (Programa de Educación Rural, PER) implemented between 2002 and 2015 (also see Chapter 1 for a full description of the programme). Like the Let’s All Learn programme, the Rural Education Programme pursued a multidimensional approach that included the use of flexible pedagogical models and teaching materials designed for rural schools, teacher education and development, and capacity building of participating Secretaries of Education.

Between 2013 and 2015, the programme complemented the Let’s All Learn programme with the implementation of school-based professional development (Desarrollo Profesional Situado). Teams of experts provided support, technical-pedagogical advice and didactic materials and guides to rural school sites to support teacher learning in those schools. It included on-site visits and workshops, virtual coaching and the creation of study groups (círculos de estudio) (Colombia Aprende, 2018[46]).

Teachers are relatively satisfied and have a considerable degree of autonomy and voice in schools and in the development of their profession

The Colombian school system can build on relatively high levels of overall satisfaction among teachers, a large degree of pedagogical and curricular autonomy for teachers and schools, possibilities for teacher involvement in school decision-making, as well as a say for teachers in the development of their profession and education overall – aspects which can be considered essential aspects of a professional teaching body (OECD, 2016[23]).

Teachers’ satisfaction with their profession and their schools

Colombian teachers are generally satisfied with both their profession and their school which can help teachers contribute to a positive school climate and to support their students’ learning. As research suggests, teachers’ satisfaction is associated with lower absenteeism, stress, and turnover and with the use of innovative instructional practices in classrooms. It is also related to teacher efficacy, that is their attitudes and beliefs about their ability to teach and make a difference through their teaching (Mostafa and Pál, 2018[47]; OECD, 2014[48]), even though one has to recognise that teachers’ job satisfaction and student learning do not always go hand in hand (Michaelowa, 2002[49]).

According to surveys, Colombian teachers are satisfied with the career choices they have made. The teacher questionnaire administered for the OECD PISA 2015 reveals that a great majority (86%) of Colombian teachers agreed that the advantages of being a teacher clearly outweigh the disadvantages, and a large majority of them reported that their goal was to become a teacher when they completed upper secondary education. Only a small proportion of Colombian teachers (7%) regretted their choice of career. Colombian teachers are, in fact, more satisfied with their profession than those in the other 17 school systems that distributed the PISA teacher questionnaire, except for the Dominican Republic. In Brazil, for instance, only 55% of teachers agreed that the advantages of being a teacher outweigh the disadvantages, and in Chile, 13% of teachers regretted their choice of career (Mostafa and Pál, 2018[47]).

Colombian teachers are also extremely satisfied with their schools. As many as 95% of teachers stated that they enjoy working at their schools, 6 percentage points above the average of the 18 educations systems that distributed the PISA teacher questionnaire (Mostafa and Pál, 2018[47]). These results are consistent with those in other international surveys, such as the UNESCO TERCE, which shows Colombian teachers being the second most satisfied with their job across the region (UNESCO, 2016[50]).

Teachers’ say in school governance and involvement in decision-making for pedagogical and curricular matters within their school

As analysed in Chapter 3, schools in Colombia have considerable freedom in making pedagogical and curricular decisions as well as established platforms for participation in school governance. Teachers have a prominent role in school decision-making through their participation in the school’s directive and academic councils (consejo directivo and consejo académico). The school calendar further promotes teachers’ participation in school development through five weeks of institutional development in the school year.

Also, the conception of teachers’ working time provides a strong basis for involving teachers in school life and decision-making. Defined on a workload system rather than by their number of required teaching hours alone, the definition of working time recognises the variety of tasks teachers fulfil in schools today (OECD, 2005[32]), such as participation in school management, but also parental engagement. Teachers are furthermore required to spend a comparatively large share of their statutory working time at school – the fourth largest after Chile, the United States and Sweden when compared to OECD countries (OECD, 2017[14]). This provides a strong basis for school leaders to manage their teachers effectively, facilitate collaborative practice, and involve teachers in school governance.

While the level of teacher involvement in practice differs between schools, schools have the means of involving teachers and for creating a shared pedagogical vision. Data from the OECD PISA 2015 provide some indications for teachers’ levels of involvement in schools: 78% of students were in a school whose principal reported that they provide staff with opportunities to participate in school decision making at least once a month, about six percentage points more than on average across OECD countries (OECD, 2016[17]). As school visits also suggest, teachers are typically very autonomous in making pedagogical decisions within their classroom, which can allow them to exercise their professional judgment to respond to the complexity of classroom teaching and learning.

However, possibilities for teacher participation have to be put into the context of weak pedagogical leadership as analysed in Chapter 3 and concerns about teachers’ learning explored below. Teachers interviewed during the review visit suggested that curricular autonomy had not yet translated into a greater sense of empowerment. Teachers often resorted to central curricular guidelines and standards, and textbooks and assessment tools provided through specific initiatives, such as the Programa Todos a Aprender.

Findings from the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2013 in fact highlight that autonomy for teachers defined as teacher involvement in school-based decision-making is not sufficient. While teacher autonomy has a small positive correlation with teachers’ satisfaction with their profession and their work environment, it can actually make teachers feel less capable in their ability to do their job. Teachers thus need adequate support to make use of and build their collective capacity to use their autonomy, get involved in school decision-making and feel empowered (OECD, 2016[23]) – which, in turn, can foster a vision of teaching as a true profession and help build teachers’ commitment to teaching and their school (Pearson and Moomaw, 2005[51]).

These findings are mirrored in recent research which similarly suggests that combining teacher leadership, that is involvement in school decisions, and teacher accountability can help improve student learning (Ingersoll, Sirinides and Dougherty, 2017[52]).

Teachers’ voice in the development of their profession and education policy

Teachers not only play an essential role in individual schools and classrooms but through unions and professional bodies, such as teacher councils, also shape the operation of school systems and the formulation and implementation of education policy.

One line of literature on teacher unions and education policy conceives of unions as contributing to policy development and implementation, as well as facilitating information flows. This view also highlights the role of unions in facilitating professional learning and promoting a positive professional identity (Bascia, 2005[53]; OECD, 2015[54]). Scholarship from Latin America highlights unions’ potential and history of playing a proactive rather than a reactive role through teacher development and policy advocacy, including for some of their countries’ most vulnerable citizens who are served by public education (Gindin and Finger, 2013[55]). A second line of literature tends to see unions as special interest groups pursuing a self-interested agenda, blocking education reform and undermining reform implementation when members’ benefits or working conditions are threatened (Bruns and Luque, 2015[25]; Moe, 2015[56]).

Even though the relationship between education authorities and teacher unions in Colombia has often been fraught with difficulty, Colombia’s largest teacher union (FECODE) has played a prominent role in the development of the profession and in improving working conditions over time. As in other countries in Latin America, the union was fundamental in establishing binding work conditions, salaries and other benefits through the introduction of a first teacher statute in 1979. This arguably improved teachers’ status and working conditions. Considering the country’s long-standing armed conflict, the union has also played an important role in denouncing violence against teachers and advocating for the transfer of threatened teachers.

The union has in addition played a positive role in education policy more broadly, for instance with the formation of a social movement initiating a reflection about the role, nature and status of teaching (Movimiento Pedagógico) in the 1980s, as an advocate for democratic participation in education policy with the formulation of a new Constitution and General Education Law in the 1990s, and as a promotor of children’s right to a free education, including three years of early childhood education and care (Correa Noriega, 2013[57]; López, 2008[58]). More recently, FECODE has informed reforms, as was the case with the introduction of changes to teacher evaluation, advocacy for strengthening participatory structures in education through the reactivation of education councils (juntas de educación) and participation in discussions of a reform of school funding.


A sustained and shared effort to advance further in the professionalisation of teaching is needed, built on effective involvement of the profession

Colombia has taken important steps to professionalise teaching over the last two decades, as just described. As is explored in the following sub-sections, challenges remain, however, in developing a high-quality profession that supports the learning and development of all students – something that also fundamentally requires stronger school leadership (see Chapter 3). Promising changes that have already been initiated still need to be implemented successfully or sustained over time, and there is significant scope to reflect about and develop other aspects of professionalism while building on key strengths such as teachers’ involvement in schools and high levels of teacher satisfaction.

Such a renewed vision of professionalism is not only needed to further improve teaching and learning but also to further raise the status of the profession. Better working conditions, more diverse career development opportunities and collaborative ways of working could help make teaching a more attractive career choice for highly qualified candidates. The reform of the teacher statute in 2002 is an initial step towards the recognition of the teaching profession, and civil society has contributed to changing the status of the profession with interesting initiatives such as the Premio Compartir (Vaillant and Rossel, 2012[59]).22 Also the ministry of education has put in place interesting initiatives, such as Ser Pilo Paga Profe to raise the attractiveness of teaching for high-performing students finishing their secondary education.23

But professional degrees in education at the university level are among those with the lowest numbers of applicants, attracting students who are less likely to have performed well in the school leaving examinations (Prueba Saber 11) (Bonilla and Barón, 2014[60]; García et al., 2014[10]). A career in teaching represents possibilities for social mobility but does not always attract the candidates best equipped for teaching (Duarte, forthcoming[61]).

Difficult relations between the government and FECODE have made the implementation of past reforms challenging, and frequent teacher strikes have hampered the education of children and young people. The implementation of significant changes brought about by the new teacher statute, in particular, has been challenging considering limited effective stakeholder involvement at the time of putting the statute in place, something which is considered essential for the effective governance of education (Burns and Köster, 2016[62]). There is therefore significant scope to keep improving the dialogue between the government and the largest (and potentially other regionally and locally operating) unions as recommended below (López, 2008[58]).

There are various teacher competency descriptions and profiles that have not yet become a shared framework to develop the profession based on validated practice

The Colombian school system counts with a substantial degree of decentralisation and autonomy in the management of education, such as the organisation of teachers’ professional development by Secretaries of Education and schools, the development of educational projects in schools by the school community and teachers, and the design of initial teacher education programmes by faculties of education. However, despite this range of actors and their significant autonomy, there is no common and shared vision of good teaching in the form of coherent teaching standards. While some argue that teaching standards can narrow teaching practice and autonomy, standards can guide teacher development, improve the standing of teaching in the broader community and provide a framework for developing teacher identity, provided they are well-designed and used appropriately (Adoniou and Gallagher, 2017[63]; Darling-Hammond, 2017[64]).

In Colombia, there are a number of laws, decrees and resolutions that describe teacher competencies (e.g. the manual of functions for teachers, quality characteristics for initial teacher education programmes, and guidelines for school internal teacher evaluations). But these descriptions of teachers’ competencies are not detailed enough and do not define the full range of competencies of excellent teachers (OECD, 2016[4]). The teacher profile developed for the competency assessment required for promotion (ECDF) most likely comes closest to a broad framework of good teaching. However, it is not yet widely recognised as a reference within the profession and has not become the basis for the development of teacher policies. As Duque et al. (2014[65]) highlight, Colombia needs to advance in teachers’ acceptance of a set of good practices to become a true profession. These standards need to be validated and adjusted over time with changing social demands and new knowledge. There are, furthermore concerns that teachers in particular contexts, such as rural teachers, lack a clear profile in Colombia (Sánchez, 2018[1]).

Not all teachers receive formative feedback from their school leaders and regular teacher evaluations are more challenging in school clusters with many rural sites

The new teacher statute (1278) has introduced an annual mandatory performance evaluation for teachers recruited since 2002, but implementation has proven to be challenging. This was also evident in qualitative case studies of four high and low performing schools (García et al., 2014[10]). As analysed in Chapter 3, pedagogical leadership in schools is weak, thus making it difficult to implement school internal evaluations effectively. In the last six years, between 50% and 65% of teachers were given the highest performance rating, which illustrates these challenges (Sánchez, 2018[1]). There does not seem to be much attention to preparing teachers for their evaluations and developing teachers’ understanding of the processes and criteria that are used. Besides, the requirement for evaluation for new teachers was introduced against the opposition of the union FECODE, thus also complicating the implementation of the process. Teacher evaluation will only work if teachers make it work (OECD, 2013[35]).

Teaching is at the core of a teacher’s professional responsibilities and the observation of teaching should be part of a robust system of evaluation and feedback (OECD, 2013[35]). However, while the review team noted that teachers employed under the new statute were appraised by school leaders, practices of classroom observation varied considerably between schools and teachers. School principals’ reports as part of the OECD PISA 2015 also suggest that classroom observations are not an established practice in all schools (OECD, 2016[17]) (see Figure 4.6 further below). The organisation of schools into clusters with multiple sites can furthermore create challenges for the effective organisation of evaluations in rural school sites which are sometimes left without much support.

Importantly, the teacher evaluation process introduced with the new teacher statute needs to resolve tensions between its developmental and accountability functions. Teacher evaluation seems to be often perceived as an accountability tool, something which is also stressed in the related regulations (Decree 3782). In some schools, evaluations resulted in personal and professional development plans for teachers, but evaluations did not always seem to provide useful feedback for teachers on how to improve their practice and thus build a culture of professional inquiry. School leaders also seemed to make very limited use of the knowledge gathered through teacher evaluations for the development of the school as a whole (OECD, 2013[35]).

Since mandatory teacher evaluations only apply to permanent teachers recruited under the new statute, evaluation and feedback practices for teachers under the old statute (2277), as well as provisional teachers who are more likely to work in rural areas, vary even more. While school visits showed that some schools had established teacher evaluation processes for all teachers regardless of their status, this was not the case in other schools.

The implementation of the new salary structure has been difficult, is likely to have unintended effects and does not provide opportunities for professional growth

The salary structure of the new statute (1278) introduced a skills- and competency-based approach to compensation in an attempt to better recognise effective teachers, provide incentives for teachers to perform well and retain high-quality teachers in the profession. The evidence base on these types of compensation is still inconclusive and the effects on teachers and students depend on the context as well as design and implementation. Also, the costs of such schemes as well as other factors that determine incentives for teachers, such as working conditions, job security and the status of the profession, need to be taken into account (OECD, 2005[32]; OECD, 2009[66]; OECD, 2013[35]).

One important concern about individual incentives is their possible negative effect on teacher collaboration by introducing competition between teachers (Murnane and Cohen, 1986[67]). Approaches that combine individual with group incentives may thus be a more promising alternative (OECD, 2009[66]), even though group-based bonuses have not always shown positive effects (Jackson, Rockoff and Staiger, 2014[68]). Colombian schools benefit from such a school-based performance bonus tied to a school performance index, the Synthetic Education Quality Index (ISCE).24 But there is no evidence of its impact, and the review team had concerns about its design as discussed in Chapter 3.

Further concerns of competency-based pay relate to the complexity of teaching, the variety of education outcomes valued by society and the role of feedback to improve teaching and learning (Jackson, Rockoff and Staiger, 2014[68]). Some competency-based compensation schemes rely on student test scores and thus encourage teacher gaming and “teaching to the test” or fail to give teachers information on weaknesses to improve (OECD, 2013[35]). It is therefore positive that the new system of salary progression and promotion in Colombia is based on multiple instruments since the revision of the related competency assessment in 2015. This process avoids direct links with student performance and is linked to feedback and development opportunities for teachers.

However, the new system of compensation and promotion is unlikely to have the intended positive effects on teachers and students. For incentives to have an impact, they have to be perceived to be both attainable and significant enough to change behaviour (OECD, 2009[66]). Successful reforms of teacher pay, furthermore, require adequate fiscal capacity, political will and support from teachers (Firestone, 1994[69]). In Colombia, the new system of compensation has not been fully accepted by teachers, as changes to the system in 2015 following pressure by the main union, ongoing negotiations between the union and the ministry at the time of writing, and interviews of the review team with teachers highlight. The system of evaluation on the basis of a single video was very often considered neither fair nor reflective of actual teacher competency (OECD, 2016[4]).

Criticism of the competency evaluation also stems from the difficulty of obtaining promotion. The barrier to applying and passing the evaluation as initially conceived was very high. Between 2011 and 2014, around one in five permanent teachers applying for promotion succeeded in the respective year. As a result, in 2016, 6% of teachers of the new statute (1278) held a master’s or PhD degree but were not employed in the respective grade of the salary scale (authors’ calculations based on Sánchez (2018[1])). However, the process has been changing and 71% of teachers passed the evaluation organised in 2016 for teachers who had been unsuccessful in previous evaluations (data provided by the ministry).

Like the traditional single salary scale (Statute 2277), the new salary structure also fails to provide systematic opportunities for teachers to lead and grow professionally while remaining in the classroom. The main route for teachers to take on leadership responsibilities is still to move to a school leadership role (director, rural director or co-ordinator) or into education administration (e.g. within a Secretary of Education). For instance, many of the administrators interviewed during the review visit were teachers. These roles may, however, also mean that skilled teachers leave the classroom. Attempts to introduce additional roles for teachers, such as teacher support leaders (docente lider de apoyo) to contribute to school development were met with strong opposition by the country’s largest teacher union and discontinued after only two years in 2017.

The new salary structure entails a risk of considerable financial costs for the system in the long run through large bonuses for postgraduate qualifications

Postgraduate qualifications are a fundamental element of Colombia’s system of teacher education and the new salary structure provides an incentive for teachers to complete higher level qualifications either prior to assuming a teaching role or during their career.

Whereas the completion of a postgraduate degree is only taken into account for promotion to the final grade in the old statute, the new statute provides a large salary bonus for graduates from master’s and PhD programmes in the third salary grade (more than 60% higher for master’s over a professional degree and about double for PhDs on entry in Step A) and to a lesser extent to graduates from specialisations in the second salary grade (8% on entry) (see Annex 4.A).

The ministry and Secretaries of Education also support teachers in the pursuit of further study, for example through the ministry’s Fondo de Formación Posgradual para Docentes y Directivos Docentes en Servicio del Sector Oficial (MEN, 2013[3]). Recently, the ministry has developed an innovative scholarship programme that takes teachers’ working contexts into account, the Becas para la Excelencia Docente programme. Participating teachers work in groups within their school and develop and implement a school improvement project centred on classroom practice (Sánchez, 2018[1]). This programme and its school-based aspect were referred to positively by some teachers, including in rural schools, during the review visit.

While the greater recognition of postgraduate qualifications and financial support for completion of higher level study may contribute to raising the social status of the profession (OECD, 2005[32]; OECD, 2016[4]), they may not necessarily improve the quality of teaching and learning. In the United States, for example, such financial incentives have been a considerable factor in an increasing share of teachers’ with a master’s qualification (Larsen, 2010[70]), while evidence for the impact of higher qualifications on student learning is inconclusive (Jackson, Rockoff and Staiger, 2014[68]; Monk, 1994[71]; OECD, 2009[66]).

Similar trends seem to be evident in Colombia. As in other countries in Latin America, a considerable share of teachers reported participating in a qualification programme for the OECD PISA 2015. More than half of science teachers reported having completed a qualification programme in the past twelve months (Mostafa and Pál, 2018[47]). Based on national data, 29% of teachers employed under the new statute (1278) held a postgraduate qualification in 2016 (authors’ calculations based on Sánchez (2018[1])). Research undertaken in Colombia, however, also suggests mixed effects of teachers’ levels of qualifications (Bonilla and Galvis, 2012[21]).25 Large bonuses for postgraduate qualifications may furthermore put rural teachers at a disadvantage who may have greater difficulty in gaining such qualifications given a lack of tertiary institutions in rural areas.

Promotion through completion of a postgraduate qualification requires passing the related competency assessment, and the possibility for promotion depends on sufficient central budgetary resources, both of which may help maintain costs. Making promotions dependent on available resources is a reasonable approach given resource constraints, the potential cost pressures of automatic step increases (Odden and Picus, 2011[72]) and an already high share of teacher salaries of total education expenditure (see Chapter 2). However, the competency assessment has been subject to considerable debate and modifications and was subject to further negotiations at the time of writing. Furthermore, since 2014, following negotiations with the teacher union, teachers in the second salary grade with postgraduate qualifications who have not passed the competency assessment, also benefit from higher salaries (15% for master’s and 30% for PhD in Step A compared to teachers with a professional degree but no postgraduate qualification).

Teachers benefit from different working conditions and employment frameworks which can have negative effects on the working climate in schools

The introduction of a new teacher statute has left the old statute in place and thus created different employment frameworks for teachers performing the same responsibilities and tasks – with potential negative effect on schools’ working climates and collegiality.

Teachers of the new and old statutes differ in two important aspects. First, teachers of the old statute are not evaluated regularly on a mandatory basis and second, they benefit from a single salary scale which treats them equitably on the basis of seniority and education and provides a predictable career progression. Almost 3 in 4 teachers belonging to this statute have, in fact, already reached the highest salary step (74% in 2016) (calculations based on Sánchez (2018[1])) (see Annex 4.A). This probably explains, among others, teachers’ relatively high levels of satisfaction with their compensation. According to the UNESCO TERCE, Colombian teachers are the most satisfied with their salaries in the region, only after Guatemalan teachers (UNESCO, 2016[50]).

This, however, compares to a relatively high concentration of teachers employed under the new statute in the first step (Step A) of their respective salary scale (89% in Grade 1 and 59% each in Grades 2 and 3) (authors’ calculations based on Sánchez (2018[1])). Even among teachers within the new statute, teachers with the same qualifications can receive different levels of compensation depending on their achievement in the competency assessment required for promotion (see Annex 4.A). Looking at the distribution of teachers of different statutes by geography also reveals a divide between urban and rural areas, with teachers from the new statute making up the largest part of teachers in rural areas (61% of rural teachers in 2017) (Sánchez, 2018[1]).

The reasons for teachers not coming to work can be related to a range of factors from the individual teacher and their school to the community and the wider school system (Guerrero et al., 2013[73]). It is therefore difficult to draw conclusions on the impact of working conditions on teacher absenteeism in general and teachers of different statutes in particular. In general, however, teacher absenteeism seems to be a challenge in Colombia. According to data from the OECD PISA 2015, school principals view teacher absenteeism as hindering learning more than in many other countries: 4.9% of 15-year-olds were in a school whose principal reported that teacher absenteeism hindered learning a lot or to some extent, compared to 1.3% on OECD average (OECD, 2016[17]).

Teacher education and development does not sufficiently prepare teachers for and support them in their work and does not sufficiently reflect rural contexts

Professional learning for teachers throughout their career is essential to create a highly skilled profession that effectively promotes student learning and development (OECD, 2005[32]; OECD, 2016[23]).

Data from international surveys show that teachers in Colombia are relatively highly qualified. According to data from the UNESCO TERCE, more than eight in ten Colombian teachers have a post-secondary degree, above the Latin American average, and only behind Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Uruguay (UNESCO, 2016[50]). Data from the OECD PISA 2015 also reveal that, in the schools attended by 15-year-olds, 82% of science teachers in Colombia have a university degree with a major in science, above the OECD average (74%) and countries in the region, such as Chile (75%), Brazil (33%), Peru (21%) and Uruguay (6%) (OECD, 2016[17]).

National data confirm the relatively high levels of qualification of Colombian teachers. In 2016, almost all teachers of Statutes 1278 and 2277 had acquired a professional or postgraduate degree, and more than 3 in 4 of these had done so in education (authors’ calculations based on Sánchez (2018[1])) (see Figure 4.4). But while teachers are generally well qualified, there are concerns that teacher education does not adequately prepare and support teachers for their work with students in the classroom and with the school community as analysed in detail in the following.

Figure 4.4. Teachers' level of qualifications, 2016

Note: The total number of teachers under each statute is indicated in parentheses.

Source: Sánchez, J. (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Colombia,

There are concerns about the quality of teacher education at faculties of education, including the geographical concentration of high-quality programmes

Colombia has a long tradition of considerable autonomy for public and private tertiary education combined with quality assurance (OECD, 2016[4]; OECD/IBRD/The World Bank, 2013[74]). Within this context, faculties of education have a considerable degree of autonomy to define their teacher education programmes (licenciaturas). The main mechanism to monitor the quality of initial teacher education is the requirement to be listed in the register of qualified programmes (registro calificado) introduced in 1998, without which a programme cannot be offered.

Accreditation is a powerful means to stimulate improvement from within institutions, influence the quality of teacher education in line with evidence and best practices about effective teacher learning, establish a common set of expectations regarding teacher knowledge and skills and shape public perceptions of the quality of teacher education (Ávalos, 2008[5]). However, the basic registration process in Colombia is generally considered to lack rigour and the standards required are considered to be quite low (OECD, 2016[4]; OECD/IBRD/The World Bank, 2013[74]), thus also raising concerns about the quality assurance and standards of universities’ teacher education programmes.

A second process to certify a programme’s high quality (Acreditación de alta calidad) is voluntary for institutions. This accreditation process is considered to be of high quality following clear and well-enforced standards (OECD, 2016[4]; OECD/IBRD/The World Bank, 2013[74]). However, only a small share of programmes and institutions, in general, as well as in education have sought or achieved this type of accreditation. In 2015, only 78 out of 352, that is less than 1 in 4 first-level degree programmes in education, had been accredited (CNA, 2017[75]).

The quality of initial teacher education offered by faculties of education is thus considered to vary considerably between institutions. Also, admission requirements are considered to be relatively low (García et al., 2014[10]; Jurado Valencia, 2016[41]; Sánchez, 2018[1]). The poor quality of some programmes, together with students’ poor preparation in school education, may also be one factor related to the high dropout rates from teacher education: in 2009, only 52% of teacher students completed their programme (Castaño et al., 2009[76]).

As tertiary programmes in general, high-quality programmes are furthermore distributed unequally between different regions of the country, and in places such as Antioquia, Bogotá and Boyacá. This adds to concerns about the quality of new teachers in some areas of the country, such as the departments Chocó, La Guajira, Magdalena, Putumayo and Sucre (CESU, 2014[77]; García et al., 2014[10]), although one has to bear the important role of higher teaching schools for teacher education in rural areas in mind.

Reform of initial teacher education has been difficult and the effective preparation of new teachers depends on capacity and resources to improve quality

In recognition of the importance of preparing future teachers well for their career, the ministry of education has implemented changes to the quality assurance and accreditation requirements as part of the National Development Plan for 2014 to 2018.

As a first element, the related legislation introduced the requirement for all education degree programmes to undergo the process of high-quality accreditation to remain in the register of qualified programmes.26 The process, however, was criticised by some as giving institutions little time to adjust their programmes to the accreditation requirements. Criteria were deemed as being too demanding in some areas, such as the requirement to raise teachers’ competency in English. Programmes that do not reach the required standards need to be discontinued, which furthermore raised concerns about the overall provision of initial teacher education, particularly in some parts of the country with weaker tertiary institutions (Atehortúa Cruz, 2017[78]).

As a second element, the related legislation envisaged more specific regulations for the content and method of programmes, such as degree titles and teacher practica, as the basis for being listed in the register of qualified programmes (Sánchez, 2018[1]). A first resolution introduced in 2016 (Resolución No 02041) was, however, met with strong resistance from faculties of education (see for example ASCOFADE (2015[79])). Only one year later, it was replaced with a new resolution (Resolución No 18583) which changed some minor criteria, such as the areas teachers can focus their practical experience on and the point at which students should engage in their practicum.

As in various other contexts, initial teacher education in Colombia entails a tension between theory and practice (Flores, 2017[80]). While higher teaching schools (ENS) have stronger links to practice, but challenges concerning theory and research, tertiary programmes and institutions tend to often have little contact with schools. As a result, beginning teachers from faculties of education often lack strong pedagogical methods and skills (OECD, 2016[4]). Colombian schools typically also don’t provide systematic mentoring and induction for beginning teachers which could help teachers adjust to the practical challenges of classroom teaching and keep new teachers in the profession (Guarino, Santibañez and Daley, 2006[81]; Ingersoll and Strong, 2011[82]).

Even if the new accreditation requirements entail a lower number of credits for practical experience, they thus still constitute an important step to embedding practice more strongly alongside subject matter and pedagogical theory. This is considered essential to prepare future teachers for the dynamics of classroom teaching (Darling-Hammond, 2017[64]; OECD, 2018[24]). But the effect of the new criteria will necessarily take time and depend on the ability of and resources for faculties of education to create well-integrated forms of preparation that combine practical experience with theory and research while increasing in complexity, and to build effective partnerships with schools and their staff.

As Ronfeldt and Reininger (2012[83]), for instance, found, it is not the length of pedagogical practice, but the quality (e.g. in terms of collaboration between student and mentor teachers) that influences teachers’ feelings of preparedness and efficacy. Both steps to improve the quality of initial teacher education at faculties of education therefore need to be put into the context of concerns about the limited resources available to improve programme quality and develop a strong research base, including for institutions that could take on a leadership role in teacher education such as the National Pedagogical University (Universidad Pedagógica Nacional) (Jurado Valencia, 2016[41]). Such resource constraints are a particular concern for tertiary institutions and thus initial teacher education in peripheral and rural areas, which face challenges to finance quality improvements, improve quality of staff and attract more and better-qualified academics (OECD, 2016[4]; OECD/IBRD/The World Bank, 2013[74]).

The low socio-economic background of students in teacher education programmes, concerns about the quality of school education and the skills of teacher students, and the need for teacher students to often seek employment while studying constitute additional challenges for faculties of education to prepare students well for their teaching career (Jurado Valencia, 2016[41]; Louzano and Moriconi, 2015[84]). Improving teacher education quality and integrating theory and practice is even more pronounced in the many distance and part-time programmes (Louzano and Moriconi, 2015[84]). According to the UNESCO TERCE, the majority of teachers surveyed in Colombia had actually completed their education through such a programme (UNESCO, 2016[50]).

Teacher learning is not sufficiently targeted at the diverse learning needs of students, such as multi-grade or ethnically diverse classrooms

Teacher learning should recognise that student learning needs always reflect a teacher learning need. In Colombia, students are very diverse – from students in rural and urban areas, ethnic minorities, and special needs students to students affected by the armed conflict (also see Chapters 1 and 3).

Teachers require particular pedagogical knowledge and strategies to work with these different groups of children and youth. To only mention a few of the particular skills that are required of teachers, teaching in rural schools, for example, requires the ability to teach children of different ages in the same classroom through multi-grade teaching, particularly in primary education. Based on ministry estimates, about 39 000 teachers worked in a multi-grade setting in 2017. Multi-grade teachers need to teach several grade-specific programmes in a range of subject areas in the same amount of time available to the single-grade teacher to teach one year level (McEwan, 2008[85]). This requires the use of particular teaching methods, the organisation of space and time and the use of specific learning materials (Peñafiela and Boix Tomàs, 2015[86]).

Effective educational interventions for indigenous students, only one of Colombia’s ethnic minorities, require teachers having an appreciation of the cultures and knowledge valued by indigenous peoples and ability to take into consideration the historical, economic, political and cultural factors that give rise to discrimination against indigenous peoples. In light of internal migration, this is increasingly relevant not only in rural but also in urban areas (Cortina, 2017[87]), as is also evidenced by initiatives of the Secretary of Education of Bogotá to further develop models for ethnic education.

Colombia’s long-standing armed conflict and the related violence require strategies for teachers and school to mitigate the effects of students who may have been exposed to chronic violence and the resulting stress (Harker, Molano and Cristancho, 2017[88]). Teachers and schools thus need to be equipped to connect with students, support their engagement in school, deal with conflict and promote social and emotional learning.

Teacher education in Colombia, however, does not sufficiently prepare teachers for working with this diversity of students (Sánchez, 2018[1]). Initial teacher education is not sufficiently diverse and contextualised for different cycles and disciplinary areas, groups of students and regions of the country. Only a small share of programmes has a focus on particular issues like rural, special needs or ethnic minority education (MEN, 2013[3]) and the quality of programmes may be a concern. Programmes on ethnic education, for example, were the least likely to gain a high-quality accreditation which is now required to keep operating (24 out of 33 programmes did not meet the required standards) (CNA, 2017[75]).

Initial teacher education cannot prepare teachers for all of the contexts they will face throughout their career, but they do need to give them the competency to assess and act on their students’ learning and well-being and work those students with greatest learning difficulties (Darling-Hammond, 2017[64]). Concerns about the varying quality of initial teacher education raise concerns if programmes effectively fulfil this task. Similarly, there are concerns about the offer and quality of professional development as analysed in the following paragraphs. Data from the OECD PISA 2015 illustrate that teacher development in Colombia requires greater attention to special needs education and individualised learning, for example (see Figure 4.5).

Figure 4.5. Topics included in teacher education or training programmes, or other professional qualifications, PISA 2015
Percentage of students whose teachers received training in the following topics:

Notes: Countries are ranked in descending order of teaching students with special needs.

The figure presents data for a selection of countries that distributed the PISA teacher questionnaire.

Source: Authors’ elaboration based on OECD (2015), PISA 2015 Database, (accessed on 15 March 2018).

Territorial authorities may lack the capacity and resources to develop, implement and monitor effective professional development, including for rural teachers

While the ministry has assumed an important role in the development of teachers’ skills and competencies with initiatives like the Let’s All Learn and Rural Education programmes, Secretaries of Education hold primary responsibility for co-ordinating and managing teachers’ professional development in Colombia.

However, not all Secretaries of Education have the capacity and resources to develop effective strategies for their schools. Resources for professional development available through fiscal transfers (Sistema General de Participaciones) are limited and few territorial entities can complement these resources with their own funds. In the case of departments which tend to provide education to rural students, some resources that could be spent on teacher learning go to their non-certified municipalities, requiring effective co-ordination.

Secretaries of Education and territorial teacher education committees are also responsible for monitoring and evaluating the quality of provision but may lack the capacity to select adequate providers and formats and to identify weaknesses in provision, thus making sure that time and money for professional development are used effectively. Essential feedback loops between professional development and teachers and schools may be lost, and teachers may take part in professional development that is of poor quality.

International surveys provide a comparative perspective on professional development in Colombia (see Table 4.5). These data suggest that Colombian teachers are less likely to participate in professional development than peers in other countries. For the UNESCO TERCE, Colombian teachers were among the region’s least likely to report having participated in professional development (UNESCO, 2016[50]). Furthermore, data from the OECD PISA 2015 suggest important differences between teachers in urban and rural areas, with rural teachers being significantly less likely to participate in professional development than their urban peers (18 percentage point difference, the second highest among participating countries) (OECD, 2016[17]).

Table 4.5. Teachers' participation (%) in professional development, UNESCO TERCE

Year 3

Year 6

Highest reported participation







Dominican Republic



Lowest reported participation










Note: Teachers were asked about their participation in a professional development course related to their subject in the past two years. The table represents the 6 countries with the highest and lowest rates of reported participation among the 16 participating education systems.

Source: UNESCO (2016), Tercer Estudio Regional Comparativo y Explicativo (TERCE) Informe de Resultados Factores Asociados [Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study, Report of Results Associated Factors], UNESCO OREALC/UNESCO Santiago, Santiago, Chile.

School-based professional development and peer learning and collaboration need to be further developed, including for teachers in small rural schools

Teacher learning is not an event, but a complex and dynamic process that is critically related to the context in which a teacher is working. There are many ways for creating teacher learning. School-based activities that are integrated into daily practice and involve co-learning among teachers emerge as particularly powerful forms of learning. Change then becomes an ongoing and collective responsibility rather than an individual one (Ávalos, 2011[89]; Opfer and Pedder, 2011[90]). In the OECD PISA 2015, professional collaboration among teachers in a school is the only professional development activity positively related to student performance in science after accounting for students’ and schools’ socio-economic profile (OECD, 2016[17]). Collaborative school cultures also show one of the strongest associations with teachers’ self-efficacy and job satisfaction in the OECD TALIS 2013 (OECD, 2016[23]).

Although the Let’s All Learn programme has made an important beginning in changing school cultures, the review team gained the impression that school-based teacher development and peer learning can still be further developed in Colombia (also see Figure 4.6). Teacher development does not seem to be a common part of school self-evaluation and improvement planning, and pedagogical leadership in schools which could lead to such learning is relatively weak. The remote location of some school sites within a cluster creates a particular challenge to facilitate peer learning for rural teachers.

Based on contextual data from standardised assessments (Pruebas Saber) for Years 3, 5 and 9, only 1 in 4 students was in a school where the majority of teachers perceived high levels of peer collaboration (Gutiérrez, 2015[91]). Data from the OECD PISA 2015 suggest that in-house professional development is less developed than in other countries and that the extent to which teachers’ development is geared towards school needs varies widely (OECD, 2016[17]).

Figure 4.6. Monitoring teacher practices and teacher mentoring, PISA 2015
Percentage of students where the following practices exist:

Source: OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools,, Table II.4.39.

Sufficient time is an important precondition for peer collaboration and learning within schools. Teachers in Colombia have a high annual teaching load by international standards as described above, but it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions in the absence of data on teachers’ actual working time. Differences in reporting also make it difficult to compare data on the share of teaching time across countries. But there is some uncertainty about the time available for teachers to collaborate in their everyday work, which should be subject to further research.

On a weekly basis, teachers have between 15 and 18 hours available for non-teaching tasks depending on the level they are teaching. At the same time, teachers’ job profile entails a wide range of tasks, including general administrative work and school management. Teachers interviewed during the review visit reported that they faced challenges in managing their time effectively, that they found it difficult to find time to work together and that the expansion of full-day schooling (Jornada Única) had put an additional burden on them – a major policy promoted in recent years is the increase of learning time in the school day as analysed in previous chapters. Additional time for pedagogical activities seems often to be provided through overtime.

The monitoring and steering of the teacher labour market is challenging, and there are inefficiencies and inequities in teacher recruitment and allocation

The monitoring of the teacher labour market and the steering of entry into initial teacher education seem limited in a challenging context of fluctuating demand

Colombia faces challenges in managing an adequate supply for teachers with specific competencies at different levels of the system. The total enrolment of students has been decreasing in line with demographic trends, and particularly so in primary education as described in Chapter 1. At the same time, coverage is not yet universal and Colombia has committed itself to extending pre-primary education, to making upper secondary education compulsory and to expanding learning time in schools (Sánchez, 2018[1]).

While demographic trends suggest a lower number of required teachers, increasing coverage in all levels of education requires additional teachers, particularly considering that class sizes and student-teacher ratios are still high and likely to remain so (Bruns and Luque, 2015[25]). At the same time, enrolment trends and therefore the number of required teachers differ between rural and urban areas, and this is likely to be exacerbated by internal migration in the context of Colombia’s armed conflict and ongoing peace process (OECD, 2016[4]). While enrolment in lower and upper secondary education has been decreasing in urban areas, it has been increasing in rural areas (Sánchez, 2018[1]).

The prognosis and forecasting of the demand for and supply of teachers at different levels and across the country over time, however, seem to be limited. There does not seem to be sufficient regular analysis on whether entry into initial teacher education is sufficiently geared to the evolving needs of the system. As a result, there is no systematic knowledge that could inform strategies of teacher education institutions and the ministry to adequately steer the number and profile of students entering initial teacher education and respond to shortages that seem to exist already in specific subjects like mathematics and science (Bruns and Luque, 2015[25]; OECD, 2016[4]). Such knowledge would be essential to inform students’ decisions to enrol in specific programmes, also considering Colombia’s growing enrolment in upper secondary education which brings an additional pool of potential candidates for initial teacher education.

Weak regulatory frameworks for faculties of education make it difficult to monitor and steer the potential supply of teachers from initial teacher education. This can lead to more or fewer teachers than are needed, to having few teachers in scarce fields such as mathematics and science and too many in already saturated areas (Ávalos, 2008[5]). Different types of public and private institutions offer a large number of programmes (García et al., 2014[10]; Jurado Valencia, 2016[41]). In 2015, tertiary institutions offered 509 programmes across the country and the number of different degree titles has traditionally also been very high, even though the new quality assurance requirements bring greater clarity. Under the new regulations, programmes have to be offered in 47 denominations in 9 subject areas (Sánchez, 2018[1]).

Initial teacher education provided by faculties of education in rural areas or opportunities for practical placements in rural schools is limited

Initial teacher education institutions are highly unevenly distributed across the country, limiting the supply of teachers in areas that are experiencing a shortage of qualified teachers. Some parts of the country have a high concentration of different institutions, while rural and remote regions do not count any type of initial teacher education, be it a university education faculty or a higher teaching school (ENS) (MEN, 2013[3]). The institutions that do exist may not have sufficient incentives to improve their quality given limited alternatives for students.

More than 85% of universities offering education degrees are in municipalities with more than 100 000 inhabitants (García et al., 2014[10]). There are a number of distance or part-time programmes that can provide initial education in remote and border areas, such as departments of Arauca, Casanare and Putumayo, but there are concerns whether or not they provide a quality education (Jurado Valencia, 2016[41]). In the high-quality accreditation process, only 5 out of 21 distance programmes were accredited as being of high quality in 2017 (CNA, 2017[75]). The new basic quality assurance requirements introduced additional quality criteria for distance learning (Sánchez, 2018[1]). At the time of drafting this report, however, it was too recent to evaluate these new criteria in terms of their impact on offer and quality of provision.

Teacher education programmes at faculties of education also do not typically seem to provide teacher students with the opportunity to gain experience in rural areas. Practical experience would be important to allow teacher students to gain a realistic understanding of what it is like to live and teach in a rural community, and thus positively influence student teachers’ attitudes towards working in rural areas and help attract and retain teachers to rural schools (CESE, 2013[92]; Yarrow et al., 1999[93]).

Higher teaching schools play a crucial role in supplying teachers for rural areas but face challenges in operation due to governance and funding arrangements

“Grow your own” strategies can play an essential role in meeting the demand for teachers in rural and remote areas (Sipple and Brent, 2015[94]). Research, furthermore, suggests that teacher labour markets have an important regional dimension (Jaramillo, 2012[95]; Reininger, 2012[96]) and that women who make up a large share of teacher are more likely to prefer working close to home and in their community (Engel and Cannata, 2015[97]).

In Colombia, higher teaching schools (ENS) fulfil an important role in supplying teachers for pre-primary and primary education in rural areas. About 9 in 10 higher teaching schools are located in municipalities with less than 100 000 inhabitants. As was evident during the review team’s visit to Colombia, higher teaching schools may also take on a leading role in rural education on their own initiative, for example organising practical experiences for their students in rural and remote areas.

As in other countries in the region, initiatives have sought to maintain and improve the quality of higher teaching schools (Ávalos, 2008[5]). Building on previous quality assurance processes in 1997-98, 2002 and 2010, the Single Regulatory Decree of Education (Decree 1075 of 2015) lays out quality conditions related to academic, pedagogical and organisational aspects of teacher education in higher teaching schools which should be assessed through the ministry and CONACES, the national quality assurance body for tertiary education (MEN and ASONEN, 2015[6]). Higher teaching schools are also required to form partnerships with higher education institutions, which can bridge some of the potential gaps to theory and research and facilitate the progression of “normalists” to tertiary-level professional degrees in education (MEN and ASONEN, 2015[6]). Initiatives such as the Rural Education Programme have entailed measures to strengthen the quality of higher teaching schools.

The quality of teacher education in higher teaching schools is considered to be relatively high as results in the country’s school performance indicator, the Synthetic Education Quality Index (ISCE) suggest (Sánchez, 2018[1]). “Normalists” also perform relatively well in the assessment of graduates from technical and technological tertiary programmes (Saber TyT), particularly in reading and writing, but less so in quantitative reasoning and civics (ICFES, 2016[98]).

Nevertheless, higher teaching schools face challenges in their operation and enrolments have been decreasing, particularly in private higher teaching schools. Between 2010 and 2016, overall enrolment in the complementary programmes of public and private higher teaching schools decreased by 6%, and even more so in rural areas (-13%). Enrolment in public higher teaching schools has been less pronounced with an overall decrease of 1.8% (Sánchez, 2018[1]). “Normalists” have been less successful in the national merit contests, for reasons which are unclear. While 8% of candidates in the contest for 2016 had a “normalist” degree, they only represented 2% of successful applicants (data provided by the ministry).

While a consultative process on the normative status of higher teaching schools was ongoing at the time of drafting this report, the governance and funding arrangements for higher teaching schools created challenges. Teachers allocated to higher teaching schools have the same profile and status as teachers for all other levels of education and have the same workload arrangements which can make it difficult to engage in research and reflective practice. Secretaries of Education are responsible for the oversight and management of higher teaching schools but may not have the capacity for providing effective technical pedagogical support and for creating high-quality teacher education programmes. They may also rely on national quality assurance mechanisms rather than implementing their own processes. National quality assurance, on the other hand, is not articulated and has been criticised for not focussing sufficiently on processes.

Lastly, higher teaching schools receive resources as all other schools based on the criteria set out in the fiscal transfer mechanism (Sistema General de Participaciones) without taking the particular role of higher teaching schools into account (MEN and ASONEN, 2015[6]). For students, universal free education does not extend to teacher education in higher teaching schools and there is no financial support to begin and complete a teacher education programme at a higher teaching school.

There are operational challenges for teacher recruitment and rigidities in the teacher labour market, resulting in an overly large share of provisional teachers

Flexible working arrangements in the public sector can bring benefits to both employees and the government (OECD, 2013[7]). Of particular importance in Colombian education is reaching an adequate balance between teachers in permanent positions (profesores de planta), on the one hand, and temporary or contract teachers (provisionales) and private contractors (matrícula oficial contradata), which are discussed in depth in Chapter 3, on the other. While teachers in permanent positions should assure a certain degree of teaching quality and stability, provisional teachers and publicly-funded private providers bring the indispensable flexibility to adapt to changes in student enrolment. Such flexibility seems particularly pertinent in Colombia considering the long-standing conflict, the difficulty to recruit teachers in particular areas and high levels of internal migration.

In Colombia, however, a relatively large share of teachers are employed as provisional teachers (OECD, 2016[4]) which essentially seems to be related to more than unexpected changes in student enrolment and are likely related to strict control on the growth of staff costs in the public sector going back to the fiscal crisis in the late 1990s (OECD, 2013[7]). In 2017, 15% of all teachers did not have a permanent position according to data provided by the ministry. The relatively large share of provisional teachers is also related to the current recruitment processes of permanent teachers. This is also evident from the fact that more than 1 in 4 teachers from the new statute (1278) are employed under a temporary contract in a vacancy that could not be filled through this process whereas teachers from the old statute are essentially all employed as permanent staff (see Table 4.6).

Table 4.6. Contract status (%) by statute and geographical location, 2017

Employment framework

Geographical location

Statute 2277

Statute 1278

Decree 804




Permanent staff







Permanent vacancy







Temporary vacancy







Note: Data on permanent staff include teachers in a probationary period. Teachers in a permanent vacancy fill a position which could not be filled through the merit contest with permanent staff. Teachers in a temporary vacancy replace a staff teacher that is only temporarily away. There are also temporary teachers (planta temporal) not reflected in this table, typically teachers taking part in an education initiative or programme.

Source: Authors’ elaboration on the basis of data in Sánchez, J. (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Colombia

Recruitment processes can be lengthy as described by teachers during the review team’s visit. The merit contest opened in 2012 took about 3 years from the publication of vacancies to the assignment of teachers to schools. While central recruitments could, in theory, be organised on an annual basis, they have been scheduled only intermittently in practice. In some regions of the country, permanent positions may be opened even more sporadically since Secretaries of Education are responsible for reporting the number of their vacancies to the ministry and some may not have the resources or willingness to do so. While candidates could apply for permanent positions in 92 out of the 95 certified territorial entities in the merit contest for 2013, this was only possible in 66 entities in the preceding contest in 2009 (Brutti and Sanchez, 2017[22]). As for recruitment in the public sector in general, the involvement of the National Civil Service Commission in the day-to-day management of the selection process creates operational challenges for filling permanent teaching positions within a reasonable time (OECD, 2013[7]).

The lengthy and sporadic recruitment process may have negative effects on the pool of applicants. Highly qualified applicants may choose to seek and take up employment elsewhere rather than wait for the organisation of the selection process and the publication of results. While no information on applicants’ profiles is available, overall, about 40% of graduates from education programmes decided not to take part in the selection process between 2007 and 2009 (Saavedra et al., 2017[12]).

Rigidities in the teacher labour market further contribute to the proliferation of provisional teaching positions to provide teaching where a position could not be filled due to a lack of interested candidates that have passed the central recruitment. The reassignment of teachers in permanent staff positions within territorial entities to reflect changes in enrolment, for example between urban and rural areas, is often difficult and Secretaries of Education may resort to the contracting of provisional teachers or private providers instead. In 2016, 3.5% of all teachers were transferred by their Secretary of Education among their schools, out of a total of 4.0% of teacher transfers. Rates of internal transfer differ between certified territorial entities, from less than 2% in entities such as Bolivar, Floridablanca and Valle del Cauca, to between 8% and 10% in Guainía, Vaupés and Yumbo, and 14% in Duitama (data provided by the ministry, which include both teachers and school leaders). The reasons for these transfers and the extent to which they are linked to strategic human resource management are nevertheless unclear.

The teacher labour market also seems to be segmented between different territorial entities. An administrative agreement between Secretaries of Education is needed to transfer teachers between different authorities and authorities may not want to lose teacher resources to another territorial entity (MinHacienda, 2015[99]). In 2016, only 0.3% of all teachers were transferred between territorial entities (data provided by the ministry). These rigidities may affect in particular departments which are responsible for the provision of education in rural and remote areas but which cannot make use of teachers from certified municipalities located within their territory.

The use of provisional teachers with temporary contracts has implications for the school system overall, individual teachers as well as students. As a review of the use of contract teachers in developing countries concludes, contract teachers can improve access to education and ensure provision, strengthen accountability, and save costs in the short run. Studies suggest that students studying with contract teachers perform at par with and in some studies even better than students studying with regular teachers (Chudgar, Chandra and Razzaque, 2014[100]).

This also holds true in the Colombian context. As provisional teachers cannot progress up the salary scale, reliance on these types of contracts helps save costs and keeps long-term financial commitments in check. At the same time, the requirement to hire provisional teachers to fill permanent vacancies in the short run from a Pool of Excellence (Banco de Excelencia) guarantees that they fulfil minimum requirements. Research by Brutti and Sanchez (2017[22]) suggests that provisional teachers still have a greater impact on students’ learning outcomes compared to teachers from the old statute (2277), but less so than permanent teachers who have passed the central recruitment process (1278).

However, as the review of contract teaching also suggests, the use of contract teachers may not be sustainable in the long run and may have a negative impact on teacher morale and the professional status of teaching as well as equity as analysed in the following point (Chudgar, Chandra and Razzaque, 2014[100]). Provisional teachers in Colombia also do not benefit from many opportunities for professional development, for instance.

There are inequities in teacher allocation between rural and urban areas and advantaged and disadvantaged schools

Good teachers can make a big difference for student learning and development, but in Colombia, highly-skilled teachers do not necessarily work in the most challenging geographical areas and schools. As a result, disadvantaged and struggling students in Colombia are not given the same educational opportunities as their best-performing peers.

National research provides evidence for inequities in the distribution of both the number and the profiles of teachers working in different regions of the country (Bonet, 2006[101]; Galvis and Bonilla, 2014[102]; García et al., 2014[10]). While student-teacher ratios overall are large, there are important differences between regions. There are also differences in the distribution of teachers with different levels of qualifications, experience and results in the merit contest as García et al. (2014[10]), for instance, have found.

While the Andean region has a clear advantage in terms of the level of qualification and performance in the central recruitment process, the Amazonas, Caribbean and Pacific regions have relatively less qualified teachers in terms of the level of education, and the Amazonas has those teachers with the lowest scores in the merit contest, on average. Analysing differences in teacher allocation between different municipalities reveals that municipalities with a higher poverty rate, with a higher number of terrorist attacks or a higher share of displaced population have less qualified teachers as measured by different criteria (García et al., 2014[10]). Research also suggests that a violent context is related to higher teacher turnover (Haugan, 2016[103]).

Data from the OECD PISA 2015 show that inequities in the distribution of teachers do not only exist at a regional level but also between schools. Principals in disadvantaged schools are considerably more concerned about their education staff than their peers in advantaged schools (Figure 4.7).

Inequities in the distribution of teachers are likely related to a number of factors, including the attractiveness of teaching in rural, remote and post-conflict areas as well as challenging working conditions in disadvantaged schools. But they are also related to Colombia’s system of teacher recruitment and salary structure. While a central teacher allocation system has, in theory, the potential to steer a more equitable distribution of teachers and avoid some of the potential inequalities associated with school-based teacher hiring (Han, 2018[104]), teacher recruitment in Colombia is essentially based on guaranteeing teachers’ rights rather than on meeting student needs.

Figure 4.7. Shortage of education staff by school characteristics, PISA 2015
Results based on school principals’ reports

Notes: The figure shows the difference in the index of the shortage of education staff between different types of schools. The definition of advantaged and disadvantaged schools is based on the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status. Rural schools refer to those in communities with fewer than 3 000 people, urban schools to those located in any city with more than 100 000 people. Public schools are those managed by a public education authority, government agency, or governing board appointed by a government or elected by public franchise. Private schools refer to schools managed directly or indirectly by a non-government organisation

Countries are ranked in ascending order of differences between advantaged and disadvantaged schools.

Significant differences are marked in a darker tone.

Source: OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools,, Table II.6.15.

The allocation of teachers for both statutes is based on teachers’ preferences depending on their seniority (Statute 2277) or ranking in the central recruitment (Statute 1278). As the available data suggest, more experienced or qualified teachers generally prefer to avoid working in disadvantaged contexts. This was also evident during the review team visit in which teachers often reported that teaching in a rural school was only a stepping stone towards teaching in another context. Many teachers however also recognised the benefits of working in a rural area, such as possibly closer ties with families and the community and possibly greater safety than in challenging urban contexts.

The recruitment process does not sufficiently reflect the needs of particular contexts. As a result, teaching positions in disadvantaged contexts cannot always be filled with permanent teachers – local teachers do not succeed in the merit contest and nationally eligible candidates are unwilling to fill these vacancies (see Table 4.6). For example, in the sparsely populated departments of Guainía, Vaupés or Vichada, between 40% and 50% of teachers were employed on a temporary contract to fill a permanent staff position, and some positions have been vacant for more than 10 years. This compares with 18 out of a total of 28 125 teachers in the capital Bogotá (data provided by the ministry). Anecdotal evidence suggests that teachers in rural areas are often hired late in the school year, only teach for a reduced schedule or leave the school before the end of the year (Sánchez, 2018[1]), resulting in lost learning time for students (Papay and Kraft, 2016[105]).

More lenient merit contests are being organised for 170 municipalities that have been most affected by the armed conflict within the framework of the peace process and its Development Programmes with a Territorial Focus (Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial, PDET)27 as explained in Chapter 1. These contests give more weight to experience acquired in the region and may help in filling some of the vacancies and providing better levels of compensation for teachers working in these challenging areas.

But they do not offer a structural solution and address the large inequities in the distribution of highly qualified teachers between regions, rural and urban areas, and schools. The salary structure for teachers under both statutes provides insufficient incentives for highly-skilled teachers to choose challenging schools. Students’ characteristics, such as the proportion of disadvantaged and underachieving students, are rarely factored into teachers’ salary. While teachers in remote areas receive some financial and fringe benefits, such as a salary bonus, these are not sufficient to serve as a financial incentive to work in rural and remote schools (García et al., 2014[10]).

Research from the United States provides evidence that also the allocation of teachers within schools should be considered to make the best use of teachers’ profiles and competencies in response to students’ needs. School principals are responsible for providing an educational offer with limited resources, time and teaching staff, but may need to assign teachers to teach out of their fields without taking into account the impact this will have on teaching and learning (Ingersoll, 2005[106]). Politics within schools may also result in an inequitable distribution of teachers within schools, with more experienced teachers successfully lobbying for teaching less challenging classrooms (Grissom, Kalogrides and Loeb, 2015[107]).

While there is no evidence for such practices in Colombia, school principals are responsible for assigning teachers within their school and between sites within their school cluster. School leadership, however, is relatively weak, thus raising concerns if school leaders are adequately prepared to make equitable decisions for the allocation of teachers within their school and between different school sites, including those in more rural and remote areas (more on this in Chapter 3).

Policy recommendations

Further promote the development of a new vision of teacher professionalism built on effective engagement and consensus with stakeholders

Colombia has established a strong focus on excellence in the teaching profession for a considerable time. Building on the introduction of a new teacher statute (1278), recent governments have made particular efforts to improve teacher learning and development. Overall, past reforms have mainly focussed on the individual teacher and paid less attention to the organisational and institutional conditions, structures and processes required for effective teaching and learning.

The quality of individual teachers is critical, but so is the environment in which teachers work (OECD, 2017[108]; OECD, 2018[24]). A more comprehensive model of teacher professionalism needs to consider the ways in which teaching and learning are embedded in complex systems and community contexts (Johnson, Kraft and Papay, 2012[109]; Little and Bartlett, 2010[37]; Oakes, 1989[110]), and the ways in which teachers work together to support student learning (OECD, 2016[23]).

As research on school improvement and effectiveness from Chile highlights, sustainable school improvement is a complex and multidimensional process that requires time. The qualitative multiple case studies suggest that, besides other factors such as the community and policy context, a professional culture built around a sense of collective responsibility among teachers for their students’ education, common expectations among teachers for both students’ learning and teachers’ performance, and teacher collaboration and peer learning, are essential for school improvement (Bellei et al., 2014[111]). Similarly, a longitudinal mixed-method study of school reform in Chicago in the United States highlights that classroom learning depends in large measure on how the school as a social context supports teaching and sustains student engagement (Bryk et al., 2010[112]).

Initiatives such as the Programa Todos a Aprender have laid the foundations for a collaborative school culture and other existing elements, such as a substantial teacher autonomy and involvement in school development, the regular teacher evaluations and the organisation of schools into school clusters, have the potential to further develop strong collective professional cultures. The review team recommends keeping this momentum of past initiatives and making further strides in developing a strong professional approach to teaching based on a conception of collective capacity and the recognition of the contextual and complex nature of teaching and learning. This also requires considerable efforts in strengthening school leadership as analysed in Chapter 3.

At the same time, many of the past initiatives have faced challenges in implementation. While some initiatives have been hampered by resistance to change or a lack of capacity, others have been difficult to implement due to a lack of resources. Future efforts and policies should be underpinned by the effective engagement of all relevant stakeholders early on, including the country’s largest teachers’ union (and other unions at local and regional levels), school leaders and teacher educators, and be informed by evidence and research in education (see Box 4.3). The views and experience of effective teachers and school leaders should be central to the development of their profession. Effective consultation would not only facilitate implementation and help build trust between actors but could also contribute to greater continuity in teacher policy (Burns and Köster, 2016[62]). Changes in practice take time. In Colombia, however, policies have often had to be changed following difficulties in implementation and criticism from stakeholders.

Box 4.3. Lessons on stakeholder engagement, open dialogue and capacity building

As an OECD project on Governing Complex Education Systems highlighted (Burns and Köster, 2016[62]), capacity building, open dialogue and stakeholder involvement are key principles of effective governance. Effective stakeholder involvement creates and sustains trust and facilitates the implementation of education policy. In contrast, a lack of stakeholder involvement can result in weak dialogue, ownership and co-operation, and a breakdown in trust.

Effective reform thus entails clear communication, consensus building among the various stakeholders, and the possibility of prioritising competing claims on time and resources. In order to build consensus, it is important that all stakeholders see proposed education policies within the broader policy framework and strategy. Individuals and groups are more likely to accept changes that are not necessarily in their own best interests if they understand the rationale for these changes and can see the role they should play within the broad education strategy. There is therefore much scope for authorities to facilitate successful policy implementation by improving communication on the long-term vision of what is to be accomplished as the rationale for proposed reform packages.

In this context, a priority should be the involvement of a broad set of stakeholders in consultation processes, focus groups, negotiations or other forums to voice concerns, based on an understanding that discussions and consultations require time. This should go alongside the involvement of practitioners such as school leaders and teachers in the design, management and analysis of education policies.

In Chile, for example, negotiations between the government and the Colegio de Profesores, the country’s main teacher union, facilitated the passage and implementation of teacher evaluations and incentives schemes as did the technical, proactive policy-making nature of the union. While the teacher union maintained a traditional labour orientation in the first few years following return to democracy, it has since taken on a broader policy orientation and become actively involved in designing proposals for individual teacher evaluations and incentives since the late 1990s. The government has been willing to include the union in the design of these schemes. For instance, the creation of a tripartite technical committee that included the union and central and local education authorities helped to come to a consensus on policies (Gindin and Finger, 2013[55]).

Sources: Burns, T. and F. Köster (2016), “Modern governance challenges in education”,; Gindin, J. and L. Finger (2013), Promoting Education Quality: The Role of Teachers' Unions in Latin America, Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2013/4, Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All, UNESCO, Paris.

National councils or education boards can steer and develop matters relating to teacher professionalism as well as other matters affecting teachers and their work in schools and classrooms, such as the curriculum and assessment (Menter and McLaughlin, 2015[113]). In Colombia, the General Education Law envisages such education councils at different levels of governance (JUNE, JUDE, JUME). As recommended in Chapter 2 to ensure greater continuity in education, these boards should be re-established and also play a role in shaping discussion around teacher professionalism.

At the same time, the teaching profession itself and the unions need to engage in constructive dialogue around the development of the profession while placing students at the centre of the education system. The largest union has been an important voice in education policy in the past and should be central in future efforts to raise teaching quality. Policies should, furthermore, be developed on the basis of adequate forecasting of resource implications and feasibility – the implementation of education initiatives often has implications for the workload of school agents and may require additional resources.

To put the necessary conditions in place for schools to become learning organisations and to create a strong profession, the following options should be considered for discussion.

Promote a common understanding of effective teaching practice with the profession on the basis of existing profiles and regulations

A national teacher profile, vision or standards of practice can provide the basis for the further development of a strong vision of teacher professionalism and communicate expectations regarding teacher practice that are at the heart of this vision (e.g. collaboration and teamwork in schools, mentoring and peer feedback and observation, reflective practice, etc.). Considering teachers’ considerable degree of professional autonomy for pedagogical and curricular decisions in Colombia, a commonly accepted teacher profile would establish a foundation for teachers to explore their practice in relation to students’ learning objectives and for schools to develop strategies to improve teacher practice. As teachers are expected to fulfil increasing and more diverse responsibilities, such a framework would also help establish a common understanding of what teachers’ role entails in different areas, including rural areas.

In Colombia, a number of competency descriptions exist already. In particular, the teacher profile that provides the basis for the new competency assessment (ECDF) developed by the evaluation institute ICFES and education researchers provides a strong foundation for establishing a profile that is more widely shared and accepted by different stakeholders (MEN and ICFES, 2015[114]). The key part will be to establish a framework that is more commonly shared and accepted throughout the system and used for teacher development overall – from initial teacher education, recruitment and probation, to professional development, performance evaluation and career progression (OECD, 2005[32]; OECD, 2013[35]). A profile should, for instance, guide the different authorities responsible for developing these aspects of the profession, such as Secretaries of Education, territorial teacher education committees and schools in developing their professional development strategies, and facilitate the implementation of recent reforms, such as changes to initial teacher education or teacher evaluation within schools.

Facilitate the effective implementation of school-based teacher evaluation and strengthen its developmental function, also for rural teachers in small sites

School-based teacher evaluation for teachers employed under the new statute (1278) provides an important opportunity for critical feedback on teachers’ practice, but the potential of formative evaluation in schools is often not realised due to a lack of capacity in schools to carry out evaluations, develop related improvement plans for individual teachers and inform school’s development planning.

Both school leaders (principals, rural directors and co-ordinators) and teachers should have the opportunities to develop competencies for evaluation, and this should be reflected in initial teacher education programmes as well as professional development strategies developed by Secretaries of Education and territorial teacher education committees. As analysed in Chapter 3, pedagogical leadership in schools, in particular, needs to be strengthened to implement school-based teacher evaluation and develop school-wide approaches to evaluation.

Secretaries of Education can play a key role in validating school processes for developmental teacher evaluation and in providing feedback on school leaders’ practices (e.g. as part of their evaluations of school leaders). This would help ensure that teacher evaluations are more consistent across schools. The extent to which school-internal teacher evaluation processes can be implemented for all teachers in a school will also depend on the effective organisation of school clusters and sites that enable school leaders to work effectively with all teachers in their school.

The school-based teacher evaluation is often perceived as mainly serving an accountability function. Instead, the ministry should communicate more clearly that the main purpose of this evaluation process is the continuous improvement of teaching practices in schools. While teacher evaluations are an important opportunity to address underperformance, the primary goal should be to provide critical feedback for improvement and to inform teachers’ professional development and school improvement planning (Hallinger, Heck and Murphy, 2014[115]; OECD, 2013[35]; OECD, 2018[24]).

The promotion of peer observation and feedback can be very powerful in strengthening the formative role of evaluation. A stronger focus on the developmental nature of evaluation could make evaluation more acceptable to teachers employed under the old statute (2277) who typically do not take part in evaluation and who could also benefit from regular feedback on their work.

Create opportunities for teachers to take on other tasks and leadership roles

While reform of the teacher career and salary structure will be difficult politically and require strong leadership, consensus building and stakeholder involvement, Colombia should consider the development of a differentiated career structure that allows for vertical and horizontal progression in the medium to long-term. The development of a new career structure could also be an opportunity to establish one single teacher statute for the profession as a whole. In the short term, Colombia should make renewed efforts to introduce new roles for teachers to take on leadership and development responsibilities within their school, such as the teacher leader positions that were abolished in 2017.

As can be argued, a more diverse career structure would have the potential to professionalise teaching and support a new organisation of schools without necessarily making schools more hierarchical. It could also help make teaching more attractive to and satisfying for motivated and skilled individuals, and retain effective teachers in the profession (OECD, 2005[32]; OECD, 2013[35]). Chile provides an example for a designated career structure. Since 2017, teachers in Chile also benefit from the possibility of progressing in their career in five stages. While the first three stages are mandatory, the last two are optional. The final mandatory stage gives teachers the opportunity to access functions such as mentor teacher or team leader, among others. Teachers in the two optional stages have preferential access to roles of pedagogical leadership and guidance (Santiago et al., 2017[116]).

Consider trade-offs in teacher policies, gather evidence about teachers’ use of their time and use resources for teacher remuneration more strategically

Countries face important trade-offs in the number of teachers they employ, how teachers are used in schools and classrooms and how they are remunerated, all of which affects teachers’ working conditions and the attractiveness of the profession, and ultimately student learning. Countries may, for instance, raise teachers’ salaries to attract good candidates but this might limit the number of teachers the system can afford. Or countries may hire more teachers at the expense of teachers’ salary levels to keep classes small. For a given student-teacher ratio, there is also a trade-off in average class size and teachers’ class contact time. Teachers may, for example, spend more time in face-to-face teaching and thereby reduce the average class size or have more time for preparation, but teach larger classes (OECD, 2005[32]).

Resource constraints inevitably require trade-offs in Colombia’s teacher policies. Considering that levels of teacher compensation overall compare relatively favourably with the labour market and have been increasing significantly over time, more priority could be placed on improving teachers’ working conditions. Given the difficulty of drawing final conclusions about teachers’ actual workload and distribution of time during the school year on a weekly and daily basis, the ministry should first establish a solid knowledge base about teachers’ use of their time. This is gaining further relevance in light of the introduction of full-day schooling. The OECD TALIS 2018 will provide some insights from an international perspective but commissioning national research would provide important insights and evidence.

A high share of contact time with students can make it challenging for school leaders and schools to develop collaborative learning cultures and to make time for peer collaboration in teacher schedules – practices which should be at the heart of a renewed vision for teacher professionalism. In Colombia, sufficient time is also important considering school and teacher autonomy to develop pedagogical and curricular approaches, for example, to develop educational materials with colleagues and to implement other elements of teacher development, such as school-based evaluations and mentoring.

In any case, teachers should be supported to use their time well. The requirement for teachers to spend a relatively large share of their time at school provides a good basis for using non-teaching time for other professional tasks and responsibilities. But school leadership needs to be strengthened considerably to manage teachers’ time effectively (see Chapter 3). The ministry and Secretaries of Education should also reflect about the mix of pedagogical staff at school in recognition that other types of staff may carry out some responsibilities more effectively, possibly at a lower cost.

Further spending on teacher remuneration should take into account the existence of different types of teachers and clearly focus on improving the working conditions of teachers recruited under the new statute (1278), who are also more likely to work in rural areas. While teachers of the old statute continue to progress automatically in their single salary scale and a large share benefits already from the highest salary grade, the promotion of teachers of the new statute (1278) is more challenging to achieve and also depends on sufficient budgetary resources. Taking the budgetary resources that are available into account for determining the number of possible promotions is an important element to control spending on teachers’ salaries. Given the challenges of implementing performance-based promotions and the risk of potential negative effects, however, the competency assessment should be subject to ongoing evaluation and improvement in consultation with the profession.

The ministry should also monitor the attractiveness of compensation in the teaching career compared to the public sector more broadly as well as the private sector (e.g. through benchmarking and compensation studies) and use pay projections as a basis for longer-term compensation policies.

Strengthen teacher learning to ensure all teachers have the competencies to meet diverse student needs, including of rural children and young people

Facilitate the implementation of initial teacher education reform and smooth new teachers’ transition into schools through systematic induction processes

Recent changes to the quality assurance of initial teacher education offered by faculties of education hold the promise to address some of the known weaknesses in initial teacher education in Colombia. Changes to quality assurance were, however, not without controversy. The initial changes to regulations for programmes to be admitted to the register of qualified programmes had to be revised to take effect. The second part of the reform – the requirement for programmes to undergo the process of high-quality accreditation – was similarly subject to criticism and concerns about the provision of initial teacher education.

Recent reform efforts thus reveal unresolved tensions between autonomy and regulation and control of initial teacher education. They also reveal a lack of certainty and stability which would be needed to implement changes, generate improvements and monitor results (Ávalos, 2008[5]). These challenges highlight the need for effective implementation and for evaluation and follow up on both reforms. The national quality assurance body for tertiary education, CONACES, could take on a leading role in this, but other stakeholders, including the association of education faculties (ASCOFADE), and the education research community should also be involved.

Institutions should have stability and continuity to adjust to new requirements and should be supported in creating the desired changes in teacher education. This requires adequate attention on the side of the ministry to provide institutions with the conditions to develop adequate personnel and organisational structures, such as an adequate supply of qualified staff and management structures, and adequate funding for basic educational research. Also, schools and student teachers should have guidance and support, from their Secretary of Education and faculties of education, for example, to develop meaningful practical experiences in school. Brazil’s Government Grant Programme for Initial Teacher Education (PIBID) provides an example for ways to strengthen partnerships between teacher education institutions and schools (Marcondes, Finholdt Angelo Leite and Karl Ramos, 2017[117]).

Induction processes can play a role in smoothing the transition of beginning teachers into the system. Induction can support new teachers in their probationary period and help retain effective teachers at the beginning of their career in the profession. Colombia can build on pilot experiences implemented in the past years in a small number of territorial entities in developing more systematic approaches to induction which could be organised locally. Secretaries of Education and territorial teacher education committees, for example, could support schools in developing school-based induction processes. For this to happen, school leaders would need to learn about effective strategies to create time for expert teachers to work with new teachers, including those allocated to rural school sites, observe them while teaching and provide feedback, or co-plan and co-teach lessons.

Pay more attention to the preparation of side-entrants and the quality of postgraduate qualifications

The possibility for individuals to become a part of the teaching profession at different points of their lives and careers is a strength of the profession, but processes need to be in place to ensure that side-entrants transition successfully into teaching.

This requires adequate quality assurance processes for programmes in pedagogy for these teachers as well as monitoring processes of teacher turnover and attrition on the part of the ministry. Programmes for side entrants should recognise the complexity of teaching as demanding intellectual work involving specialised knowledge and skills, and form professionals who do not just implement scripted teaching strategies but have technical expertise and are able to adapt their teaching in the classroom to the varied needs of their students based on their discretion and judgment (Zeichner, 2014[118]). Schools, Secretaries of Education and territorial teacher education committees have a role to play in developing adequate local strategies to support new teachers coming from other professions.

Considering the possibility for side entry through the completion of postgraduate qualifications and strong incentives and financial support for teachers, particularly those under the new statute (1278), to take part in postgraduate education, the ministry should also pay adequate attention to the quality of these programmes. Programmes should be subject to rigid quality assurance procedures, such as the process for high-quality accreditation, and the benefits of postgraduate qualifications should be closely followed and evaluated in terms of student learning to ensure that resources in terms of time and money are used effectively. The Becas para la Excelencia Docente programme is an innovative initiative but should be subject to rigorous impact evaluation on teachers’ practices, school cultures and student achievement.

Ensure teachers are prepared for and supported in working with a wide range of learners, such as rural students, special needs students and victims of the conflict

Classrooms are inevitably diverse places and each class presents its own possibilities, resources and challenges. No single method will be able to reach all students. Teachers should thus have opportunities to develop the ability to use multiple methods and routes to achieve learning and development goals that have proven to be effective. Different actors are responsible for ensuring that teachers are well prepared and supported to work with a wide range of learners and for enabling teachers to connect subject matter with the knowledge, perspective and needs of diverse learners. This goes from faculties of education and higher teaching schools in the design of their initial education programmes to Secretaries of Education, territorial teacher education committees and schools in the design of opportunities for ongoing professional learning.

The ministry should provide leadership and support for building the conception that teacher learning which includes strategies and tools for students with the greatest needs may be beneficial for all learners. For instance, skills such as curriculum planning and reflection, classroom practice, effective classroom management and the use of a variety of teaching strategies that are appropriate for a particular context not only facilitate teachers’ work in multi-grade classrooms but are relevant for all teachers (Mulryan-Kyne, 2007[119]). To give another example, teacher learning about the development of social and emotional skills of children and young people, such as motivation, self-regulation, curiosity and perseverance, would not only benefit teachers working with students affected by violence, but rather all teachers (Jones and Kahn, 2017[120]).

At the same time, the ministry should ensure an adequate offer of specialised degree programmes to ensure an adequate supply of specialised teachers in areas such as ethnic education and special needs education. These teachers could act as mentors and build the capacity of other teachers in the system. Faculties of education could be encouraged to develop particular research profiles, such as rural education and social and emotional learning, offer programmes and provide evidence on pedagogical strategies in these areas.

Strengthen teachers’ professional development by connecting effective school-based teacher learning with external supports and develop models of teacher learning for teachers working in rural and remote areas

Opportunities for teachers to keep learning and build their knowledge and skill to teach to high standards throughout their career and in line with their acquired expertise and experience need to be strengthened. Schools should play a more prominent role in providing such opportunities that ultimately support student learning and well-being.

As Duque et al. (2014[65]) suggest, professional learning should be based on latest research on the discipline and teaching practice, adequate educational materials and assessment tools and pedagogical leadership. Initiatives, such as the Let’s All Learn programme, which recognise that school is where teaching and learning takes place and where the problems of practice become apparent, need to be sustained. They should also inspire initiatives at other levels of school education to establish job-embedded forms of teacher learning in Colombian schools. Considering the risk that the effects of teacher coaching may fade over time (Kraft, Blazar and Hogan, 2018[45]) or that teacher coaching may benefit some teachers more than others (Albornoz et al., 2017[121]), these programmes should be subject to further evaluations to inform adjustments in the future.

However, more needs to be done to develop schools as learning organisations (Banerjee et al., 2017[122]; Kools and Stoll, 2016[123]; Vescio, Ross and Adams, 2008[124]). Investments in stronger leadership in schools, as analysed in Chapter 3, and sufficient attention to teachers’ working conditions, such as teacher assignment, time, space, materials and access to colleagues, as discussed above, would all help strengthen school-based professional learning (Little, 2006[125]). School principals in Colombia are crucial in scheduling and creating time for staff to collaborate and in cultivating a professional community within their school across different school sites.

External professional development also has an important role to play in teacher learning and in providing teachers with new knowledge about subject content, teaching and learning, as well as externally developed tools and materials. Ideally, high-quality external training and professional communities within schools intersect and reinforce each other (Little, 2006[125]). Secretaries of Education and territorial teacher education committees need to have the resources and capacity to ensure training is of high quality, well-connected to school-based development and available to all teachers, including those working in more remote school sites. They need to make sure that professional development does not only meet teachers but school and student needs.

Adequate monitoring and control of the quality of providers and their offer is a further area that needs to be strengthened. The ministry could establish research-based quality criteria for the content (e.g. focus on content knowledge and student thinking, learning and assessment) and methodology (e.g. collective participation, active learning, sustained duration) of teacher development courses. Central leadership on teacher learning should be strengthened. The creation of a central institution on teacher learning and development, such as Chile’s Centre for Pedagogical Training, Experimentation and Research (Centro de Perfeccionamiento, Experimentación e Investigaciones Pedagógicas, CPEIP), could support a central role for teacher learning on a long-term basis. Information from the country’s formative diagnostic teacher evaluation (ECDF) can provide useful information for ensuring an offer that relates to teachers’ learning needs, while surveys of teachers could provide information about quality.

Colombia should also strengthen efforts to provide rural and remote teachers with opportunities to improve their practice, reflecting the different needs of rural and remote schools. This could entail a number of elements:

  • School leaders should be equipped to build learning communities within their school that involve teachers from all school sites. The ministry and/or Secretaries of Education should put in place more systematic opportunities or incentives for different schools to work together, tackle similar challenges and learn from each other (also see Chapter 3); external professional development can, for example, be organised for teachers from multiple schools.

  • Higher teaching schools have the potential to contribute to teacher learning in rural areas more widely and should be encouraged and enabled to do so.

  • Distance learning and technology-based models of teacher development have proven effective in certain contexts when combined with follow-up and opportunities for in-person support and meetings (Sipple and Brent, 2015[94]).

Ensure that the provision of teachers meets the needs of the system as well as students and that the allocation of teachers is both equitable and efficient

Improve the monitoring of the supply and demand for teachers

While the Ministry of National Education stands out in the Colombian public sector together with the Ministry of Defence in strategic workforce planning (OECD, 2013[7]), the ministry should improve the monitoring of teacher supply and demand. This should include a regular analysis of the profile of the current teaching profession and teachers’ subject-specific education and qualifications, as well as the employment of temporary teachers in different territorial entities and at a national level. Monitoring should pay adequate attention to potential implications of other factors that influence the demand and supply of teachers and the wider context of higher education and the labour market. Collecting data about teacher attrition, including for different types of teachers, at different stages of their career and for different types of schools, including rural schools, would facilitate monitoring the supply and demand for teachers with different profiles.

Secretaries of Education should be involved in the monitoring of the teacher labour market, e.g. by providing information about their teachers’ qualifications gained throughout their career and employment of temporary teachers. Initial teacher education institutions should also be involved, for example through their member associations (ASCOFADE and ASONEN) and respond to identified needs, for example by gearing admission to teacher education programmes and by adjusting the offer of programmes. Territorial teacher education committees provide particularly useful platforms to provide knowledge about the competency needs of the system and in monitoring teacher labour markets at a local level. Such knowledge should be available to and be used by the ministry to inform planning as well as candidates interested in a career in teaching, informing their decision to enrol in initial teacher education (e.g. through platforms like Buscando Carrera). Within schools, this could inform the work of guidance counsellors in providing information to high-performing students about a career in teaching.

Ensure an adequate provision of initial teacher education in all parts of the country, including rural areas

Teacher labour markets have an important local dimension. An adequate supply of high-quality options for initial teacher education in all regions of the country, including rural areas, will be essential for ensuring an adequate supply of qualified teachers in these areas. The ministry should take steps to strengthen the provision and quality of initial teacher education. As analysed above, the ministry has made efforts to improve the quality of programmes through more rigid quality assurance, including of distance learning options. These should be monitored and evaluated in terms of impact for the provision of high-quality education in different parts of the country. Necessarily, it will take time to establish an adequate supply of high-quality programmes and prepare students leaving school with the competencies to excel in initial teacher education.

Higher teaching schools fulfil an important function in providing teacher education in more rural parts of the country. This is also evident from the experience of other countries in the region, such as Peru, where the potential closure of higher teaching schools threatened the provision of teachers for rural and indigenous students (Bruns and Luque, 2015[25]). It is therefore important that higher teaching schools benefit from adequate funding and governance arrangements to offer high-quality teacher education to their students and favourable conditions for their staff, e.g. to engage in action research and collaborate with faculties of education. An adequate school climate and environment in higher teaching schools is likely to influence students’ interest and persistence in pursuing a career in teaching. Secretaries of Education should be encouraged to provide adequate pedagogical and technical support to their higher teaching schools and also have the capacity and resources to do so.

Initial teacher education at faculties of education and higher teaching schools should prepare their students to work with a wide range of learners, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds and in rural communities, not only through theoretical courses but also through practical opportunities. A practicum in a rural or remote community, for example, can provide teacher students with more accurate information about teaching and living in a rural or remote community and influence their attitudes towards working and remaining in a rural or remote school. Considering that practical placements require adequate organisational, financial and social support for students to participate, e.g. to find and pay for housing and transportation, compensate for loss of income from part-time work and to deal with disruptions to family life, shorter visits or field trips to rural schools provide an alternative for teacher students who are not able to spend long periods of time away from family and work commitments (CESE, 2013[92]).

Make the recruitment of permanent teachers more efficient and equitable, also to ensure adequate working conditions in rural schools

The OECD’s public governance review of Colombia carried out in 2013 (OECD, 2013[7]) commended Colombia for its efforts to establish a culture of integrity and performance and for its clear commitment to transparency and openness in the management of the public service. But it also highlighted serious challenges in managing the growth, allocation and cost of the public-sector workforce and the operational challenges of the government’s merit-based recruitment system. This also applies to the effective recruitment of teachers into permanent staff positions.

While the merit contest has established a transparent and fair recruitment process, filling positions within a reasonable time is a considerable challenge. The long recruitment cycle may deter high-quality applicants and has led to an overuse of temporary teachers, concentrated in particular geographical areas of the country, although other factors are also at work, including budgetary restrictions, greater flexibility in managing temporary teachers and the lack of willing teachers to work in challenging contexts. As a result, the system has contributed to different types of employment for staff performing the same work, and teachers in the most challenging schools, including rural areas, are most likely to be employed with less favourable employment conditions.

The ministry’s goal should be to maintain reasonable numbers of temporary teachers and reduce the number of temporary teachers in disadvantaged areas. This should entail regularising temporary teachers who often bring useful skills and experiences, e.g. by providing them with financial and logistical support to gain further education to meet the requirements to become a permanent teacher or by appointing them to a staff position after a certain period of time and positive evaluations by their school leader.

Steps to reduce rigidities in the teacher labour market by facilitating transfers across certified territorial entities and by monitoring the efficient allocation of permanent teaching staff within them would also help reduce the use of temporary employment. Together with the National Civil Service Commission, the ministry should make sure the merit contests better reflect the needs of particular contexts. The recruitment of teachers would also benefit from a wider reform of public sector employment, e.g. with the National Civil Service Commission focussing more on strategic oversight (OECD, 2013[7]).

While there is limited evidence on what motivates effective teachers to work and remain in challenging settings, a number of studies consistently find that both financial and non-financial factors are important (Rice, 2010[126]). General quality of life and issues such as personal security certainly matter and long-term improvements in disadvantaged areas will help attract and retain effective teachers. The ministry and Secretaries of Education, however, can help to make teaching in disadvantaged schools more attractive by shaping the working conditions and professional opportunities in these schools, e.g. by providing external support, opportunities for collaboration with colleagues, accommodation in remote locations, support for transportation, etc. The collection of data on and analysis of teachers’ needs in rural areas would provide a useful basis for defining related strategies. Initiatives should reflect the challenges of different contexts, such as the difficulties of working in a remote rather than a rural school close to an urban area.

Stronger financial incentives, for example in the form of higher salary allowances which have been shown to be effective in attracting teachers to rural schools, even if less so for remote schools, could also be put in place (Dal Bó, Finan and Rossi, 2013[127]; Pugatch and Schroeder, 2014[128]). A study of the financial attractiveness of teaching positions in rural areas compared to urban areas and other job profiles in rural areas should provide the basis for determining such financial incentives. Teachers’ salary allowances should be monitored over time so they are no longer provided once teachers change schools or the context of a school changes (Urquiola and Vegas, 2005[129]).


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Annex 4.A. Teacher salary scales
Annex Table 4.A.1. Salary scales for Statute 2277, 2017


Monthly wage (COP)

Percentage of teachers


1 034 911



1 072 754



1 138 396



1 183 337



1 257 973



1 330 678



1 489 190



1 635 782



1 812 106



1 984 123



2 265 591



2 691 054



2 983 219



2 297 579


Note: The percentage of teachers refers to 2016.

Source: Sánchez, J. (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Colombia,

Annex Table 4.A.2. Salary scales for Statute 1278, 2017




Monthly wage (COP)

Percentage of teachers

“Normalist” or education technologist



1 405 442



1 791 454



2 309 434



2 862 951


Education graduate or professional in another career


Without specialisation

With specialisation


1 768 850

1 922 618



2 311 221

2 456 434



2 699 475

3 043 201



3 225 871

3 601 424


Master’s degree



2 034 176

2 299 504



2 657 905

3 004 590



3 104 396

3 509 317



3 709 750

4 193 630


Education graduate or professional in another career with a master’s or a PhD


Master’s degree



2 960 470

3 927 294



2 505 312

4 610 155



4 335 213

5 821 445



5 023 226

6 682 827


Note: The percentage of teachers refers to all teachers in a salary step and grade regardless of particular qualifications in 2016. For example, 60.8% of teachers were in Grade 2, step A holding a specialisation or no specialisation.

Source: Sánchez, J. (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Colombia,

Annex Table 4.A.3. Salary scales for Decree 804, 2017


Monthly wage (COP)

School graduate or other training

1 183 375

“Normalist” or education technologist

1 405 442

Education graduate or professional in another career

1 768 850

Education graduate or professional in another career with postgraduate studies

1 922 618

Source: Sánchez, J. (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Colombia,


← 1. There are also teacher unions at sub-national levels, such as the Asociación Distrital de Educadores (ADE) of Bogotá, the Sindicato de Maestros del Tolima (SIMATOL) of Tolima, and the Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de la Educación Quindío (SUTEQ) of Quindío.

← 2. Private schools refer to schools managed directly or indirectly by a non-government organisation. Private schools can be classified as government-dependent or independent private depending on whether or not they receive funding from the government (50% or more from private sources). These enrolment figures here refer to independent private schools only.

← 3. In Colombia, decentralisation in education has been managed by a process of certification of departments (the regional level) and districts and municipalities (the local level). All departments and large municipalities are certified to provide pre-school and school education and referred to as certified territorial entities. Education in municipalities that have not been certified (referred to as non-certified municipalities) is under the responsibility of the respective department and its Secretary of Education.

← 4. Tertiary degrees with a specialisation in education in Colombia are referred to as licenciaturas. This is different to some other countries in Latin America where this qualification describes all tertiary degrees regardless of specialisation.

← 5. There also used to be short-cycle tertiary programmes in education at technical and technological institutions (ISCED level 5). These qualifications are not sufficient to enter the teaching profession under the new statute (1278) and the share of teachers with these qualifications is very low.

← 6. Specialisations (Especializaciones) are 1-year programmes between a bachelor’s and a master’s qualification.

← 7. According to ministry data, 98% of all public school teachers are paid with resources provided through the General System of Transfers; 95% of teachers paid with resources from territorial entities’ own resources are employed by only two Secretaries of Education, Bogotá and Medellín. Only 29 out of the 95 certified territorial entities employ teachers with their own resources and sometimes only 1 teacher.

← 8. The regional level here includes departments and municipalities, superintendencies, public establishments and industrial or commercial companies of the state.

← 9. These data refer to enrolments in compulsory education from the transition year to the end of upper secondary education in public and government-dependent private provision.

← 10. A process has been underway to provide ethnic minorities with greater autonomy through the creation of their own intercultural education systems (Sistemas Educativos Propios e Interculturales). Among these, the Individual Indigenous Educational System (Sistema Educativo Indígena Propio, SEIP) is the most advanced. Through this system, administrative, pedagogical and organisational responsibility will be transferred to the indigenous territories, which will function similarly to the certified territorial entities.

← 11. School education in Colombia is mainly regulated by the Constitution of 1991 and the General Education Law of 1994 (Law 115), as well as the Single Regulatory Decree of Education (Decree 1075) of 2015 and Law 715 of 2001. While Decree 1075 combines all education decrees enacted before as well as after 2015, Law 715 regulates the system of fiscal transfers across levels of governance which also distributes financial resources for education.

← 12. Territorial teacher education committees are under the leadership of the Secretaries of Education and include representatives of higher teaching schools (ENS), faculties of education, education research centres, and, if relevant, representatives of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities.

← 13. Co-ordinators fulfil functions within the school leadership team. Guidance counsellors develop, among others, strategies that promote a positive school climate and peaceful coexistence. For more information on both roles, see Chapter 3.

← 14. This includes tasks and responsibilities such as the preparation of the academic assignment; evaluation, planning, discipline and training of students; teacher meetings; group and student guidance; community collaboration, primarily with parents; and cultural and sport activities as part of the school’s institutional project (Proyecto Educativo Institucional, PEI).

← 15. Brutti and Sanchez (2017[22]) find positive and significant, although not very large impact on student learning in Year 11. Ome (2013[27]) finds positive and significant effects on test scores for Year 9, but unstable effects in Year 5 and no effects in Year 11. He also finds a reduction in student dropout, but also an increase in students transferring to another school.

← 16. Teachers’ statutory salaries expressed as a ratio of GDP per capita have a number of limitations that need to be acknowledged. Statutory salaries do not represent actual salaries which also include other benefits such as annual leave and pensions, and the reference point, GDP per capita, does not reflect compensation levels in comparable occupations (OECD, 2005[32]).

← 17. Relative wages compare statutory salaries of teachers with 15 years of experience and typical qualification, relative to earnings for full-time, full-year workers with tertiary education (ISCED 5 to 8).

← 18. As described in Chapter 1, there are two types of early childhood education provision in Colombia: pre-primary education managed by Secretaries of Education; and early childhood education managed by the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare and its providers.

← 19. These data need to be interpreted with caution. They do not provide a full picture of side entry into the profession. For example, they do not include side-entrants with postgraduate qualifications in education with other first-level professional degrees.

← 20. Based on an evaluation carried out by Universidad de los Andes, the share of students with satisfactory and advanced levels of achievement in mathematics and language in the Pruebas Saber for Years 3 and 5 increased between 2015 and 2016. In all participating schools, the percentage of students with minimum and insufficient levels of achievement decreased and more so than in schools not participating in the programme.

← 21. Numbers are expressed in short scale throughout the report.

← 22. The Premio Compartir award has the goal to reward outstanding teachers in Colombia, promote greater social prestige and recognition of the teaching profession, and support the professionalisation of teaching. The award was first implemented in 1998 and is based on a selection process which includes visits by referees to get to know first-hand the projects that are presented for the award. Teachers from public and private schools from across the country may apply for the award.

← 23. The programme supported 1 000 students, 884 of which to study any professional degree, followed by a postgraduate qualification in education; 116 to study 2 degree programmes at the same time, including one in education.

← 24. Since 2015, the ministry of education and the educational evaluation institute ICFES calculate a Synthetic Education Quality Index (Índice Sintético de Calidad Educativa, ISCE) – a multidimensional index of school performance for primary to upper secondary education. The index is calculated individually for each level of education and ranges from 1 to 10. It measures the performance of schools and certified territorial entities, but also the system as a whole.

← 25. While higher qualifications have a small positive effect on student learning overall, the effect is much smaller in public schools and differs between mathematics and language.

← 26. The requirement applies to programmes that had been offered for at least four years and needed to be completed within two years until June 2017. Institutions in municipalities most affected by the armed conflict, however, have more time for successful accreditation. Between January and May 2017, 172 out of 274 programmes underwent the process, with an overall passing rate of 44%. Programmes offered at public institutions were more likely to be successful than programmes at private institutions (53% vs. 26%) (CNA, 2017[75]).

← 27. The peace agreement entails the implementation of a comprehensive rural reform. This reform does not only promote the economic recovery of the countryside through land access and use, but also the development of national plans to improve public services and infrastructure, including education. In the zones most affected by the conflict, these national plans will be implemented and funded through Development Programmes with a Territorial Approach (PDET).

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