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Conéctate con La Estrella - Media and NGO Cooperation to Close the Gap in Education in Panama

Fierce Media competitors and education non-profits unite resources for a common purpose: the continuity of education of Panama's children

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This is the story of how a group of professionals from different sectors of society united for one great cause: Closing the gap in Education in Panama.

The challenge: to offer educational opportunities to teachers and to students of all ages during this time of Covid-19, in a country with less than 30% reach in internet connectivity, among public school sector families.

In the month of March, a group of six non-profit organizations dedicated to educational opportunities united to create a program for professional development of teachers in the public sector. We presented a plan to the Minister of Education, Maruja Gorday, and in less than one week after launching the courses, more than 20,000 teachers, representing almost 50% of all teachers in Panama, responded to our call and began taking online courses related to their teaching practice, plus courses on how to teach using digital tools and contents.

Understanding the need to reach out to students through virtual education, some of these same non-profits began promoting on-line courses, certain that we were leaving behind hundreds of thousands of students without connectivity. Thus, we created a team of broadcast television, cable tv and radio companies, which offered their production facilities and air time to reach out, all together, almost 90% of our student population from every corner of our small but diverse nation.

The morning of May 15, 2020 marked the beginning of a new era for our country. Every national TV broadcaster and cable TV operator, most radio stations and NGOs offering on-line education, sat in a virtual meeting with the Minister of Education, to sign an agreement offering, among all of us, 15 hours of daily academic material, validated by the Ministry of Education. We are executing Clause #17 from the United Nation ́s Objectives for Sustainable Development, which reads: Alliances to Reach the Objectives, where Objective #4 is defined as: Quality Education. Recognized international institutions such as the Interamerican Development Bank, UNICEF and OEI joined in our effort, providing content and technical advice.

Teachers from the Education sector are coming to TV and Radio studios to offer their knowledge, complementing their lessons with on-line sources like PRUEBAT (Fund Carlos Slim) and EDUCACION DIGITAL (Fund Profuturo), which have given us rights to use their educational contents as part of our new “tele-classes.” Fierce media competitors have joined resources in this Crusade, as we enter a New Present, in which rating points have been replaced by numbers of students able to watch our tele-classes. 

As part of this inclusive effort, we decided to introduce sign language in every single class offered on TV, plus a five minute segment at the closing of each tele class, with a Special education teacher offering advice to parents on how to adapt the content of each class to the special needs of their children. The Minister of Education and I share a passion for inclusive education, and we are making sure, every step of the way, that no child is left behind.

Every day we develop new ideas… for next month we have decided to incorporate from CAPACITATE PARA EL EMPLEO platform (Get Ready for Work) from Carlos Slim Foundation, a daily hour of vocational training for young adults who must get ready to join a New Normal characterized by high unemployment rates where learning new trades and creativity will be key to thrive. We will be offering courses on Technology, Entrepreneurship, Accounting and other important areas of knowledge.

Just today I proposed to our TV colleagues from El Salvador, to adopt our whole project and we will be donating our contents so that this country's students can also benefit from this massive educational content.

I am very honored to see a dream come true. I have seen this Crusade evolve from just a dream to a real and effective solution to our society and to our future: our children and youth.

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

When we return to the New Normal, my hope is that we, as a nation, will multiply the efforts to take our public education system to the level of technological advances that it deserves. I would not like to see our teachers go back to the old ways, using printed lesson guides and blackboards alone. The new way of teaching, accessing academic contents from incredible virtual sources, must become part of the day-to-day teaching methodology. I don´t want to listen to teachers saying: I have always taught this way, and I will not change. I don´t want to see the media in this country giving their back to education or not fulfilling their important role in the education of our students across the country. It will still take many years before we reach high levels of connectivity, so the role of the media will continue to be relevant. I would like to see a continued excitement in being part of the New Normal in education.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

Our father preached to my 6 siblings and myself that we must give back to those in need, especially in education, which is the real way to reduce poverty and improve lives. I worked during 25 years in the TV industry, our family business. Then I went to lead a Presidential team whose mission was to rebuild schools in our country.  I visited hundreds of schools, from ghetto to indigenous communities. I understood our disparities, and huge educational gaps. I met Mr Carlos Slim, who leads the largest virtual education effort in Latin America, and soon became his foundation´s representative in Panama. I now work in improving the academic learning of our students through the use of technology. In parallel, I have led during 30 years Special Olympics Panama, and participate in the International Board. So, I combined my passion for excellence, my knowledge about the power of media, and my sensibility towards underprivileged children and young adults, and came up with this national project. 

What region are you located in?

  • Latin America and the Caribbean

Where are you located?

I am located in Panama city, Panama, but our education efforts span across every corner of Panama. We are a tiny, but diverse nation, a melting pot of races and cultures, including six indigenous groups with their own language and traditions.

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