Author Archives: kevinhmc

Ever the Twain Shall Meet?: Poor Students and the Public/Private Divide in Colombian Higher Education

Understanding access to education for Colombia’s lower-income students – “estudiantes de escasos recursos” seems to be the most common, politically correct term while “los pobres” is the most frank – has required reconsidering certain assumptions based on the U.S. education system. There are plenty of similarities on the surface: racial minorities and poor students are at a greater risk of dropping out; affirmative action programs have noble intentions and difficult goals; everyone has a four-letter word to share about student loans. Stringing these issues together is a ubiquitous debate about the privatization of higher education, and what sort of education reform the country really needs.

Again, much like in the U.S., the “scarce resources” of the students in question refer to more than income. Key amongst these resources are solid primary and secondary education and “social capital” – which is, loosely speaking, knowing how to dress, talk, and behave in order to successfully navigate society. This can include things as simple as a parent showing a child how to shake hands before an interview, or knowing how to write and speak in proper Spanish – that is, the Spanish that employers and university professors want to hear. This is why, if I have to generalize, I use the term “disadvantaged” students. “Lower-income” implies that the problem is merely a lack of money, and can thus be solved with more money (spoiler alert: it can’t). Continue reading

Bogotá and Bicycles: Steps Towards Sustainability

Bogotá is an enviously bike-friendly city, although the bikers themselves are less than friendly to tourists ambling haplessly across one of the city’s 300 km* of ciclorutas. Despite neglect by recent mayors, this network of bike paths and the city’s weekly ciclovía have managed to create quite a bike culture. It’s an impressive urban development in a city where the average driver can out-careen any New York taxi.

Since my thesis research currently looks a bit like squirrels nesting in a frat house, I’ve decided to write about this bike culture that has caught the eyes of sustainability-minded transportation planners around the globe.

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Estudia y DESOBDC: the Higher Education Debate in Colombia

McLoughlin - Colombia - Graffiti

“Study and Disobey,” graffiti from the Plaza de Bolivar

I wasn’t in Bogotá for last year’s spate of student strikes and protests, nor have I seen its student movement in action. Its wake, however, is everywhere.

The graffiti doesn’t last long in the ritzier areas of the city. It’s wiped off advertisements rather quickly; the pretty woman declaring her desire to “estudiar” from the wall of the bus stop by my hostel was, by morning, yearning once more for the “solidez” of the cell phone network Claro. It lasts longer on university walls, but the artistic vandalism is at its most rambunctious and its most visceral in the Centro, where colonial architecture becomes a platform for modern conflicts and paintball protests have turned government buildings into Jackson Pollock paintings.

Sometimes it’s hard to discern who’s responsible for what when conducting graffiti archaeology; Bogotá is a city with protests in its mortars and a lot to be discontent about. Continue reading