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Learning sciences as "pequeños cientificos" in Colombia

Summary : The University of the Andes has collaborated with the French Foundation “La main à la pâte” to implement inquiry-based science education in Colombia. They are now developing a similar program in mathematics with Canada, and are working with the Ministry of Education to adapt their own curricula

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  • Start date : 2000
  • Implementation site : Colombia
  • Budget : 400000 $
  • Source and details on funding : Private foundations and businesses




Editorial committee

  • Date of proofreading :  19/04/2015 00:00
Opinion of the Committee : Should be generalized !
Solution(s) : Education
Country :  Colombia
Stature of the programme :  International
Participant :  Academic,research Institute
  • Beneficiaries :  Pupil, students
  • Domain :  Science, Education, Training

Copyright: Licence Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ )
To reference a document published by RESOLIS : Gomez Margarita , « Learning sciences as "pequeños cientificos" in Colombia », **Journal RESOLIS** (2015)

Background to the programme

After a lecture given by Georges Charpak in 1998 at the University of the Andes, the Lycée Français Pasteur in Bogota carried out an initial adaptation of La main à la pâte pedagogy: inquiry-based science education (IBSE). Several people from the University of the Andes participated in the training and observed the implementation in the classrooms and launched a similar project in 2000 in 5 public primary schools they were supporting. The “Pequeños Científicos” programme was launched.
The University of the Andes tried to organize several times seminars with the stakeholders to agree on a common strategy, but the strategic plan has remained very informal.
There have always been good relationships with the Ministry of Education that, at the beginning, put the team of Pequeños Científicos in touch with private businesses and foundations. They now are collaborating directly in order to reform the schools’ curricula.

Objectives of the programme

- Overall objectives: improve science education by changing the way teachers teach, especially by promoting cooperative learning and IBSE. Attract more students into science programmes, promote sciences and careers in sciences.
- The goal of Pequeños Científicos is to implement the program in some schools and to look for insights concerning IBSE implementation aspects. The programme seeks a sustained, but slow growth
- At the beginning, the goal was to urge the Ministry into implementing the new pedagogy, but then Pequeños Científicos has been valued more as a laboratory to experiment new teaching methods and to build up its own expertise in order to be able to advise the Ministry.

Implemented actions

- Adaptation of Lamap’s pedagogical approach in Lycée français Pasteur
- Adaptation of several teaching materials, with the support of different international partners including Lamap. With the support of Alianza educativa, the University of the Andes deployed the pedagogy in 5 public primary schools in poor neighborhoods of Bogota. The University of the Andes trained teachers and provided them with sufficient materials, and Lamap came several times to help with the adaptation and the trainings. The University also organized annual national seminars to improve teachers’ abilities. Since 2000 the Programme “Pequeños Científicos” has worked with other schools in Bogota and created a national network including local universities to develop regional cores of Pequeños Científicos.
- 2011: adaptation for secondary schools and expansion to other schools
- 2012: Adaptation of the IBSE pedagogy for teaching mathematics, with the support of Canada
- 2013 Design of an open training program for teachers (club de maestros) in order to get them closer to science and science education. The program includes talks, presentations and visits to the universities of science and engineering labs.
- 2013: start working with the Ministry of Education as an adviser to help them re-design a national professional development program and teachers’ training in languages, science and mathematics in primary schools. The collaboration with the Ministry will expand in 2015 to programs in secondary schools and in sciences.

Quantitative and qualitative results from the implemented actions

- The program develops several sessions of professional development (lasting around 78 h for a year) each year. Around 3,000 teachers have been trained since the beginning. 300 to 400 schools have implemented the strategy promoted by Pequeños científicos.
- Concerning ‘Pequeños científicos’, the teachers enter the program voluntarily, and almost all of them are satisfied with it. As for the collaboration with the Ministry of Education, it is slightly different because the Ministry decides in which schools they want to work. In that case, it is hard to say how many teachers are really motivated with the new pedagogy, but around 50% of teachers are very interested in this kind of teaching approach.

Original characteristics

- Colombia has been one of the first international partners of Lamap. Strong collaboration for several years: Lamap helped with the training and the development of a new website in Spanish. Mauricio Duque has also visited France several times to develop evaluation tools, and to discuss the programme’s problems and progress. The Colombian and Lamap programs have changed, and therefore further collaboration for the future needs to be discussed.
- Collaboration should be stronger with Lamap and with Lamap’s partners about some topics that are difficult to tackle alone, e.g. assessment and evaluation. For instance, developing tools that evaluate the impacts of IBSE is a long, costly and difficult process. Moreover, it would be interesting to develop common evaluations to be able to draw conclusions from different situations, especially about the impacts of IBSE upon the students’ education.

Partnership(s) developed in the context of the programme

- Many international partners: Lamap and Pôle Régional pour l’Enseignement de la Science et de la Technologie (Canada) are the main ones. Other partnerships with Panama, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Mexico. In the Dominican Republic: training of teachers in a small group of schools, with the aim of reproducing the experience of Pequeños Científicos: experiment at a small scale to then advise the Ministry of Education.
- Colombian Ministry of Education, and local authorities in some cities.
- Several private foundations and businesses to finance the programme (SIEMENS foundation, Gas Natural Foundation, Mamona, Fundation, Techint…)
- Currently there is a project led by Propagas Foundation in the Dominican Republic to develop materials and training about environmental education and sustainability using an IBSE approach –
- Several universities in Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Panama


Difficulties and/or obstacles encountered during the programme’s implementation :

- Difficulties to find funding to evaluate the impact on the students.
- The teachers often change schools every 3 or 4 years. Pequenos Científicos can train all the teachers of one school, and 5 years later, most of them will have left. When they arrive in a new school, some try to continue with the IBSE, but the other teachers may disagree and they may not have the needed equipment or support.
- Regarding Colombian educational context in general:
• Poor quality of teachers’ initial training
• In rural areas: schools are geographically dispersed, often only one person teaches in several grades and lack of materials
• Lack of reference material for teachers or outdated textbooks at schools, which is a serious issue especially when it is combined with poor initial training.

Solutions used to overcome the difficulties and/or obstacles :

- In the schools where Pequeños Científicos is intervening, private foundations finance the teachers’ training and the purchase of equipment
- Training has changed along the way to meet the specific needs of teachers in Colombia, looking to improve pedagogical content knowledge and including an important number of classroom visits.
- Development of agreements with local universities to include IBSE basics into pre-service programs for future teachers.
- Collaboration with the Ministry in order to produce deeper longer-term effects.

Suggestions for future improvement :

- Deepen the collaboration with the Ministry while continuing the Pequeños Científicos project
- Learn from the current evaluation and carry out an evaluation on the impact of the programme. Collaboration with other programmes to develop evaluation instruments that could be used in all the countries using IBSE and LAMAP strategies
- Involve graduated students into research about the programme, its fundamentals and impact.

Summary of factors responsible for the programme’s success :

- Having a strong academic foundation, using results of research in science education to design and implement training strategies,
- Continuous review of results and evaluation of the workshops and materials.
- The relationship with the Ministry of Education. In Chile and Panama, the Ministries took the lead of the project that has thus been deployed in the whole country. In the case of Colombia, the University is now working with the Ministry. In cases where there is no partnership with the Ministry, it is important to mobilise a large part of the educational system; for example, the structures responsible for the teachers’ training (but in Colombia, several universities are in charge of this training, and do not always have the same viewpoints and priorities).
- Arrive in the schools with the sufficient materials, with a precise teaching programme for the teachers

Ideas for basic or applied research topics, that could be useful to the programme :

Research would be important to
- Develop better materials, to measure the impact of the programme and especially to create more effective training of teachers.
- Better understand relationships between math and science in the curriculum
- Better understand how to include arts as part of a STEAM strategy and how to include language and literature into the development of science education.

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