In 2009, Henry May first visited Colombia while working for Teach First in London and saw an education system he describes as frozen in time. After 50 years of civil war, fear, and mistrust, Colombia has reached a period of peace, but their education system is consistently ranked as one of the lowest achieving in Latin America.

The future of a country depends on investing in education and youth. Tweet This Quote

The future of a country depends on investing in education and youth. According to a study by the World Bank, in Colombia, youth represent almost 30% of the working age population—a huge potential and opportunity for the country’s development.

“Kids listen to teachers lecture and prepare for exams without learning about who they are, who they want to be, and what they could do for Colombian society,” says May, who as a passionate teacher was disheartened by the education climate. He stuck a pin in his map, determined to return to find a way to not only teach, but to form the leaders of tomorrow.

And in 2012, he returned with Teach for Colombia with plans to implement his own educational program. CoSchool, founded in 2013, is designed to encourage leadership in students by asking youth the fundamental questions: who are you and what do you want to do?

Colombia’s leadership can be rebuilt with Colombia’s children. Tweet This Quote

May says he believes that Colombia’s leadership can be rebuilt with Colombia’s children, and to prove it CoSchool uses a simple three-step process working with students between the ages of 13-18. The method transforms the conventional learning paradigm where the teacher is the only one talking and conveying information in a classroom. The idea is that students are placed in the center of the learning process in communities.

“Students work together to identify a problem in their community and design a project to solve it,” explains May. “Mentors advise them to help turn the projects into reality. In the process, students learn key skills such as perseverance, collaboration, teamwork and problem solving that Colombia needs going forward. More importantly, students learn about themselves, how they can be leaders, and how they can transform their communities.”

Students learn about themselves, how they can be leaders, and how they can transform their communities. Tweet This Quote

CoSchool addresses the disparity gap between public and private schools by linking them up. Karla, a student described as shy and reserved, expressed feeling trapped in her school and unclear on how to fulfill her potential. She identified the problem of sales of drugs and alcohol to kids her age in her community. Through CoSchool, she ran a campaign after talking with local shopkeepers and winning their support. She won a civic prize in her community and was inspired to continue building community projects.

Karla teamed up with a boy called Cesar who, although afforded the privilege of private school, still struggled with the problem of feeling worthy and engaged. Together, they started a summer camp for low-income kids where they practiced sports and challenged each other to return to their own communities and implement projects.

To ensure a wide reach, CoSchool partners with the Ministry of Education in Colombia, NGOs including Ashoka and many of the private schools. In a country where potentially 11 million kids stand to benefit from the support, May says he is determined to scale by continuing to form key partnerships.

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“When we pull this off in Colombia, we could have a template for other countries, truly utilizing education as a key driver for social development,” says May.

Cayte Bosler

Author Cayte Bosler

Cayte is an Unreasonable correspondent. She collects stories and lessons from and for entrepreneurs dedicated to solving the world's most pressing problems. She writes on a variety of subjects including science, technology, international development, the environment and travel.

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