We must count the effects of the pandemic on education: director of Icfes


Two and a half years after the start of the health emergency due to the covid-19 pandemic, the country still doesn’t really know how big the impact of isolation was on learning of children and adolescents.

Andrés Molano Flechas, new director of the Colombian Institute for the Evaluation of Education (Icfes), considers that this is precisely the great debt of the education sector, and therefore points out that this is the priority work of the entity in the first months in office.

In dialogue with EL TIEMPO, Molano spoke about what will be his two big bets, which are derived from the orders received by the president Gustavo Petro and the Minister of Education, Alexander Gaviria: change the conception of the evaluation of education as just a score that measures academic competencies to include a socio-emotional approach, and create a more local vision of the measurements.

How is the Icfes you receive?

This is an institution with a very important track record. I receive an institute, it is worth saying, very strengthened, with very interesting strategies for technological modernization, and with an innovation project in formative evaluation, which is ‘Evaluate to advance’, which has some important challenges but which dared to take the step to think about the use of educational evaluation to provide feedback on teachers’ practices.

And we cannot forget that it is a sector that was affected by the pandemic, which at this time opens the doors for us to rethink how the educational system will function, addressing the challenges and shortcomings that have become evident due to this emergency.

Returning to school after two years was not just about opening the doors. It is necessary to address students’ socialization problems, learning delays, issues in which the Icfes must be vital to obtain information that may be useful for the construction of public policy.

What do you think should be the main objective of Icfes in these four years?

We have to tell the country what the consequences were in the learning, development and socialization of boys, girls, adolescents and young people. This has an additional challenge, and that is that we cannot keep a national image. We have to start doing analysis at the territorial level, even much more specific than the 96 secretariats of education in the country. Within the same secretariat there may be different challenges and ways of dealing with the problem. We are in debt at this point.

What evaluation strategies are contemplated to attack this?

There are two very important ones. The first is to promote the use of ‘Assess to Advance’. This tool allows teachers to use instruments to measure their students’ learning and performance in real time, and in turn take actions to address these shortcomings. This system originated in school return, but it has challenges, especially in the way in which this information is fed back to teachers.

We must, in coordination with the Ministry of Education and territorial entities, find a way to deliver pedagogical tools to teachers so that they can deal with the complex scenarios that exist in classrooms today, of minors with significantly more noticeable delays than others in the same room, because it is not the same to attend to three students with the same level of academic delay as three students with different variations.

The idea is, basically, not only to measure and now, but also to make it useful for the country, to promote learning.

All this you mention involves logistical challenges…

Icfes has extensive experience in this logistics. The Saber testing ecosystem has been around for many years and across the country. We are already reaching many regions. But this must be leveraged to reach all schools, the community, teachers with strategies, which is more difficult and will require a joint effort of the entire educational system.

There is another point to take into account and that is that having a presence throughout the territory cannot be only with technology, because a large part of Colombia does not have connectivity.

And the second strategy?

We must conceive learning with a holistic vision. In addition to the five basic skills (mathematics, language, natural sciences, social sciences and English), we are also interested in the emotional health of students, how they establish relationships with others, how they deal with their conflicts. This is challenging, because measuring this is not the same as an academic competency. There are already advances in these measurements, but we must clearly download the information to know how to work in this dimension.

What to do so that the Saber test results are not just a grade, but useful for students?

We must begin to count that more than an average, there are subscales that can inform about vocational decisions. My vision is that ranking does not serve much in the educational system. You have to think about profiles, what are the abilities and skills in which the students (and the institutions) are strong, and help them to use this to choose a professional career or, why not, a technical and technological one. Again, previous governments have made progress on this issue, but there is much to be done. That we understand that the general average is only an indicator that does not define the student, but it is the detail that gives us useful information. In this we must work with the universities that use tests as a selection criterion.

Have you thought about modifying the contents of the Saber tests?

This is a process that is done all the time and that citizens do not know about. Icfes also has an evaluation laboratory, where, with the implementation of electronic tests, we are working on taking advantage of technological tools to build new items, where a response can be verbalized or written, include audio, image, video components and even interaction with another person. Use this technology to do more than just a multiple choice question.

Is it contemplated that the Saber 11 tests be electronic as is already the case with Saber Pro and Saber TyT?

It is a subject that can be reviewed and it would be interesting, but there are several factors to take into account. There is the problem of access to connectivity, which is not the same throughout the country and initially makes this model unfeasible in the Saber 11 tests.


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