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Colombian Teacher's 'New School' Model Spreads Worldwide, Wins Recognition

An educational model developed in Colombia for poor, rural schools has spread to 19 countries and been honored for its contribution to international education.

Vicky Colbert of Colombia helped create Escuela Nueva, or New School, in 1975 for rural teachers who had multiple grades in the same class. Instead of teachers guiding lessons, students had more control of their learning and worked at their own pace. The curriculum is relevant to students' daily lives, and it aims to strengthen relationships between schools and their communities.

"While the philosophy is not new, its application in a low-cost way in rural communities by Ms. Colbert's team is revolutionary," according to a recent story about Colbert in The New York Times.

By 1988, Colombia's rural schools were outperforming most urban ones, and it provided the best primary education in all of Latin America to children living in rural areas, according to the Escuela Nueva website.

More than 5 million underprivileged children worldwide have been taught using this method, which has been recognized by the World Bank and the United Nations as one of the most successful public policy reforms among developing countries.

Colbert has won multiple awards, with the most recent being the $500,000 WISE Prize for Education, which highlights innovative contributions to education, from the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar.

"When you see these isolated, invisible schools, why wait for big educational top-down reform from the government?" said Ms. Colbert, while in Doha to receive the prize, in The New York Times story. "We started the fire from the bottom up, by making small changes in classrooms and working with rural teachers to improve morale, results, and resources."

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