Design Thinking in Education: developing future leaders in Colombia

Design Thinking in Education: developing future leaders in Colombia

By Rebecca Spohrer and Ed Halliday, Acumen+ London chapter members

Global education systems are not giving students the opportunity to develop the critical character skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. CoSchool is using Human-Centred Design methodologies as part of their programs with students, teachers and schools across Colombia. You can learn this methodology too in the free +Acumen/ online course – Design Kit: The Course for Human-Centered Design.

Across the world, employers invest four times as much in developing these skills as in any technical skills. Nevertheless, children lack the opportunity to develop them in school. Our Western education system prioritizes cognitive subjects such as literacy, maths, and sciences; so how do children develop the socio-emotional skills critical for employability and success in adulthood – such as perseverance, problem-solving, and empathy?

Two teachers, one from Bogota and one from London, recognized this problem in Colombia. The country is beginning peace talks after 50 years of conflict between guerrilla, paramillitary and military groups that has created an environment of fear, distrust and hopelessness. Colombia needs new leaders, a generation of young people with the perseverance and problem-solving skills to tackle major personal and social challenges. But, in an assessment of those two skills, Colombia tested 65th out of 65 countries (PISA 2012).

To fill this gap, in 2014 the two founded CoSchool, which runs innovative leadership programmes, urban summer camps and teacher training to help students develop the skills they need to be successful in the future. Their methodology brings students together from different schools, ages and backgrounds, and support them as they then tackle a problem in their local community.

Ed Halliday, an Acumen+ London chapter member, joined CoSchool in 2014 as Director of Strategy. He found the opportunity on Escape the City, a great job site for careers in social change. He shared with me how CoSchool is applying Human-Center Design in its approach, their sustainable business model, and plans for scale-up.

“Think about your last job interview. The interviewer probably spent five minutes of questions on your hard skills, and 55 minutes on soft skills – ‘how good are you at working on a team, describe how you would solve a problem.’ Developing these skills is critical to becoming a well-rounded human being.”

CoSchool’s innovative programs developing character skills by training kids in the’s Human-Centred Design methodology to support them tackle real-life social problems. It’s already helping kids have an impact on their local communities.

Over the past year, their students have: built solutions to combat poor working conditions for in-school cleaners; designed a character education program for low-income kids using sports; developed and launched a campaign to reduce cigarette and alcohol sales to minors; and helped design and run a summer camp for 100 public-school kids, the first of its kind in Colombia.

After validating their product and business model with students at top private schools in Bogota, CoSchool is increasingly selling to clients ranging from NGOs to corporate CSR departments and the public sector. By using their partnerships with private schools to gain free access to facilities, they can offer quality two-week summer camps to low-income kids for $20 per head. In 2014, they worked with 390 students (67% from lower-income backgrounds) and 100 teachers, and students reported at 24% increase in skills. By the end of this year, they will have reached 2,000 students, as well as 20,000 teachers through curriculums they have designed. The long-term goal is to work with educational institutions to track impact on academic results, school participation, and outcomes into further education or employment after school.

They are now partnering with big players including the Ministry of Education of Colombia, Ashoka, and Socialab – as well as some of the leading schools in Bogota – and have ambitious plans for scaling up across Colombia. They are currently representing South America at the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado, a social enterprise accelerator program where they hope to define the models and access the investment to help achieve this scale, and reach their goal of educating students to become leaders of the future.