Photo: IED Germán Vargas Cantillo Fe y Alegría Colombia

One of the many collective challenges we have faced as a society throughout the pandemic has been keeping schools open, kids in school, and delivering quality education. What is important to note, though, is that even before the pandemic more than 260 million children and youth were out of school. This was (and continues to be) largely due to a lack of access to quality and inclusive education. Ensuring all children, especially those at the margins, have an opportunity to become the protagonists of their own future is a challenge that one organization cannot face alone.

In September 2011, IBM, the New York City Department of Education, and The City University of New York designed and launched the P-TECH school model, with its first school in Brooklyn, New York. The P-TECH schools model was developed to provide a holistic approach to education and workforce development.

The model focuses on providing high school students from underserved backgrounds with an opportunity to dream of a different future for themselves. Through academic, technical, and professional skills training, students earn the credentials they need for competitive STEM jobs. Students who participate earn both their high school diploma and a two–year associate degree linked to growing, competitive STEM fields.

Through public-private partnerships, each P–TECH school is the center of a relationship between a high school, a community college, and an industry partner or partners, who work together to ensure students have the support required to graduate high school and college–and be career-ready. The model combines rigorous coursework with workplace experiences that include industry mentoring, worksite visits, paid internships, and first–in–line for job considerations with a school’s company partner.

In 2019, this model was expanded to Latin America as Federación Internacional de Fe y Alegría (“FIFyA“), the Asociación de Universidades Confiadas a la Compañía de Jesús en América Latina (“AUSJAL“), Magis Americas (“MA“) and IBM Corporation (“IBM/P-TECH“) joined forces to bring P-TECH to Fe y Alegría schools in five countries: Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru. This partnership was a natural fit, as all four institutions share a common perspective on human dignity, education, and workforce development in the 21st Century.

“Fe y Alegría has worked in education with community groups for many years, and P-TECH is a great initiative that promotes social inclusion through STEM learning,” said Carlos Fritzen, S.J., FIFyA General Coordinator, when the partnership was first announced. “Allowing equal educational opportunities is key.”

FIFyA is a popular education and social transformation movement, operating in 22 countries around the world, 17 of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean. Working “where the asphalt stops”, FIFyA is committed to social justice through guaranteeing a public, quality, and inclusive education for all.

The implementation of this collaboration has been structured into a project with three main phases:

  1. Preparation Phase – In this phase all partnering organizations set up the bases for the monitoring and success of the collaboration. We conduct an assessment of the participating schools to understand demographics, existing learning pathways, the curriculum, location, and leadership. We also review status of existing technology, equipment, and materials and then work to ensure alignment among the participating high schools, universities, and companies. Finally, we implement professional development training sessions for teachers.
  2. Opening Phase – This is the phase in which schools have established formal agreements with their industry partner and universities.
  3. Implementation Phase – The final phase is that in which schools start implementing training to gain critical workplace skills and higher education credentials that lead to career and university opportunities. At the beginning of this phase, investments are made, based on the most critical needs identified in the initial assessment.

As of 2021, 13 centers in Argentina, Colombia, and Ecuador were in the opening phase. Additionally, agreements with seven industry partners and six higher technical education centers have been formalized. In 2022, these 13 centers will enter into the implementation phase and 15 new schools across Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Peru will enter into the opening phase

As we celebrate this year’s International Day of Education, and its theme “Changing Course, Transforming Education”, our joint project with IBM, FIFyA, and AUSJAL is a perfect example of how public-private partnerships can leverage resources to ensure quality and inclusive public education that truly transforms. From first-hand experience, we can attest to how the P-TECH model is changing how education is delivered and opportunities are made accessible, especially in the context of a global pandemic, to some of the most vulnerable populations in the LAC region.

Classrooms and schools are essential, but they need to be constructed and experienced differently in the future. These spaces must build the skills needed in 21st Century workplaces. Transforming the future requires us to rebalance our relationships, as individuals and as organizations. We must continue to find opportunities to enact change, focusing on equity, inclusion, and justice for all.