Sebastián seeks to change Chile’s educational system so that students’ passion and desire to learn are awakened through creative learning. Sebastián equips students with skills that support both academic achievement and psychological well-being. He does this through Consejo de Curso, a series of education programs that build upon children’s natural curiosity and desire to learn while positioning education as the opportunity to create life-long learners.
The New Idea
In Chile, there is a growing learning gap between children who have the resources to get an education, and those who don’t. Since there is not a practice of summer camps in Chile, Sebastian uses the school vacation to improve learning outcomes and model a different approach to education.
He is leading an effort to make summer a time of learning for young people. This is done through Consejo de Curso, a program which brings together children and young people between 7 and 18 years of age to spend their summers engaged in fun and challenging learning experiences. Consejo de Curso is modeling a new type of learning environment in Chile, where the approach to education remains traditional and yet struggles to produce results.
Sebastián is changing the learning experience for young people by making it a highly engaging, project-based, collaborative experience that broadens young people’s horizons and motivates and equips them to be lifelong learners. Sebastián is likewise changing the teaching experience by inviting and rigorously selecting professionals of all areas to spend their summer teaching something they are passionate about. This is done in ways that develop cognitive and social-emotional skills in the students. Furthermore, by bringing together students from different socioeconomic realities, Consejo de Curso successfully breaks down barriers in Chile's highly segregated society.
For Sebastián, creates the best space for a laboratory, an untapped opportunity not just to reverse learning loss but to model a radically different way of teaching and learning. Using his program as a model, Sebastián is working with the government to develop policies that encourage and incentivize summer learning opportunities nationally. He also recognizes, however, that most of students' learning time is during the school year, and is thus working to change the conversation about education more broadly. He is bringing his new model into classrooms by leveraging an existing yet unused regulatory opening that allows public schools in Chile autonomy over twenty percent of their class time. He has started working with schools to use this time to implement the Consejo de Curso approach to teaching and learning.
The Chilean education system has been stuck for decades. In terms of academic achievement, it is consistently ranked as one of the worst among the OECD. Moreover, Chile is the country with the worst levels of educational inequality in Latin America. Not only is the Chilean education system failing at teaching its students, it also appears unable to motivate them. Children have come to associate school with boredom, drudgery and stress.
Most people who work in education agree on many of the problems with how schools are run: Students learn and memorize content rather than developing skills; the stakes of country-wide exams are too high so teachers naturally end up teaching to the test; both students and teachers have lost their curiosity and share a dispassionate feeling of boredom for school. Innovation within the school system is extremely slow, and efforts at change have largely failed due to the focus on notoriously low scores on national and international standardized tests such as PISA. Additionally, national efforts to reform the educational system, led by a student movement in Chile, are centered almost exclusively on having free access to education for everyone, rather than on improving quality and ensuring that the system equips students with the skills needed for life and jobs in today´s world. Furthermore, the approach of the movement has been a series of sometimes months-long strikes that have kept students out of school for large parts of the year.
At the same time, the overwhelming percentage of time children spend outside school (afternoons, weekends, and especially holidays) is largely ignored. This is a problem since study after study finds that learning decreases during the summer holidays. Studies even suggest that up to two thirds of the achievement gap between high and low income students can be explained by the lack of learning opportunities that lower income students have during the summer months. In Chile, as in most of Latin America, little attention has been paid to such research, and the availability of summer learning opportunities is very limited, especially for low-income children.
As any large, complex system, the education system resists change. Moving away from the status quo or even trying out new ideas has proven extremely hard in a system that houses thousands of schools, tens of thousands of teachers and where people have been told for generations that the point of school is learning to get good grades.
Sebastián recognizes that summer in Chile is an untapped resource for education. In fact, it is seen as an obstacle due to the absence of any form of education. Sebastian sees the summer as an opportunity to innovate, experiment, and model a different approach. As such, he offers a free, fun summer opportunity open to all young people that introduces a new learning and teaching experience designed to maximize motivation of both students and teachers. He rigorously collects learnings and data from this summer experience to be able to drive replication and change policy to encourage the multiplication of programs providing summer and other out-of-school learning opportunities. Finally, he seeks to change the school system by introducing his innovative learning and teaching model into public schools.
Consejo de Curso offers fun and enriching summer learning opportunities for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. There are two primary programs: Verano Trampolín, which focuses on improving primary school students’ literacy skills and attitudes towards learning through self-directed reading, project work, and play. The other program is Academia de Verano, which offers middle and high school students the opportunity to build their own summer curricula from an exciting and unique range of options. Consejo de Curso’s programs are marketed according to their target audience. Academia de Verano is mainly marketed through social media, achieving vast coverage at a low cost, while achieving a diverse student population in terms of gender and socioeconomic status. Verano Trampolín, on the other hand, is marketed directly to the parents and students of the public school where the program is carried out. Promotion includes school visits, in-house visits, and information regularly handed out to parents by school teachers.
There are no selection criteria for the students. Consejo de Curso’s programs are free for all students and share a blind admission approach. It only requires applicants to state their motivation for applying and provide a parental consent. The latter is especially important in the case of Verano Trampolín, which requires parents to actively participate in a number of workshops designed to help them support their children’s reading habits at home. While Verano Trampolín is limited, due to mobility issues of young children, to the students at the schools where the program is held, Academia de Verano is open to young people from anywhere, which makes for a diverse population.
Choice, project-based learning and teamwork are integral aspects of all Consejo de Curso programs. Academia de Verano offers a wide variety of classes in the arts, sciences, humanities and sports, and students get to choose those they wish to partake in. Class topics include: “Superheroes and genetic regeneration”, Hacker culture and free software: introduction to political philosophy”, “Culture and history of Rock”. Once in class, students also have choices as to what they work on. Classes are all designed with hands-on activities and group projects. They are also multi-age, which allows for a more efficient use of resources and greater number of courses for students to choose from. In the Verano Trampolín program, every student follows the same overall program, but choice is embedded in each of the modules: they choose what they want to read, what kind of projects they wish to engage in, and so on. By allowing for choice, Sebastián ensures that students are driven by their own interests and motivation. Moreover, since no prior knowledge or experience is needed for any of the courses or activities, there are no limits for the students to pursue their own interests and socialize with a diverse range of peers, all united by the same curiosity, the same passion. The emphasis on teamwork facilitates collaboration and the development of meaningful connections between students.
Consejo also changes the experience of teaching. While most people think that improving education requires amazing teachers, Sebastián believes it’s more a matter of having to swim against the tide of the current system. So Consejo de Curso shifts the tide, changing the job description for teachers. The job is to engage young people in a topic that the teacher is passionate about, to do it through project- and team-based activities rather than lecture, and to do it with the objectives of cultivating both cognitive and social-emotional skills as well as personal well-being in the students. Sebastián also makes it selective. Teachers in Consejo de Curso are highly-qualified professionals from all disciplines. Many are academics or school teachers because they have time during the summers, but many are other professionals who take time off from their jobs for three weeks to share their passions with young people. Selection involves a multi-stage application process that includes evaluation of their academic credentials, the strength of their class proposal, and their personal attributes (charisma, passion for teaching). It also involves interviews where they are asked to teach a sample class. The evaluation committee is composed of Consejo de Curso professionals from diverse academic backgrounds, including teachers and educational psychologists. The selection process is rigorous: the percentage of teachers admitted to the Academia de Verano in 2016 was only 6 percent. Those chosen are paid between 350.000 to 500.000 pesos (about US$700) for the three-week program, which is considered above the average in respect to what school teachers earn.
Teachers are given a great amount of freedom and flexibility regarding the courses they teach, but they all undergo intensive training that focuses on three areas: the development of crucial pedagogical skills; techniques to foster their students’ non-cognitive skills, including social intelligence and a growth mindset; and the design of evaluation instruments that allow the teachers to assess the learning objectives they have set for their classes.
Consejo de Curso has become popular in a short time, with current participant numbers doubling this year to 2000 students at about 64 sites across Santiago. It is able to operate at very low cost—less than US$200 per student for the three week program—as it leverages existing resources free of charge, such as the infrastructure of the public schools where it operates, which otherwise sit idle during the summer.
The experience gained by Consejo is allowing the organization to become an authoritative voice in the education system. Sebastián collects various forms of survey data to be able to show the impact of the program and is building in more rigorous evaluation processes. 87% of the students rates the courses as very fun, of these, 71 percent rates them also challenging and 93 percent plans to keep in touch with the new friends from different context. After the 3 weeks, the children evaluate the teachers, with the outcome being the 89% of the students giving the highest score to them.
While many of the existing instruments for measuring growth in areas of social emotional development are not yet sophisticated enough to show progress within a short summer program, Sebastián is working to develop other ways to evaluate impact, including comparing young people who participate in the program with those who do not. Additionally, Consejo has more standardized assessments to evaluate literacy progress among the Verano Trampolín students.
On the other hand, parents are very happy with the results of the academy, 94% of them evaluates Academia de Verano with a 9 or 10 (on a scale from 0 to 10), and also there is an important measurement, that shows that 79% of the students that participate in Academia de Verano consider new possibilities for work or study. This means that they found new topics of interest thanks to the different courses they can choose.
The national government has an understanding of the value of Consejo, working with Sebastián to expand the program and currently covering 60 percent of the cost. Sebastián has an agreement with the Ministry of Education that they will increase the total amount of their funding while helping decrease the percentage of Consejo’s budget they cover by supporting Sebastián’s efforts to diversify to local governments and other organizations. Now, backed by the experiences and data of Consejo, Sebastián is currently helping the Ministry design a nationwide summer education policy to expand summer learning opportunities for students across the country as part of a new public education push. He is also working to get the Consejo methodology online so that others wanting to start summer programs can use it.
Success for Sebastián, though, is when schools are built around the same principles as Consejo. Therefore, he is also working with the Ministry on a new program to transfer into public schools many of the innovations piloted during the summer. This program, “Cursos Libres,” makes use of a long existing yet untapped regulation that grants public schools autonomy to use 20 percent of their teaching time however they choose, as long as their plan is approved by the Ministry. Making use of this time, Consejo will implement a program that supports classroom teachers to use the Consejo methodology. Teachers design and teach original and creative courses of their choice through a project- and team-based pedagogy that also arranges students in multi-age groups and allows them to choose from amongst many courses. As in the summer program, Consejo will help teachers make sure their classes are rigorous and have evaluation criteria. Once Consejo has data from the school year pilot, Sebastián hopes to be able to use it to get governmental support for further pilots in which schools would be able to test out using aspects of the methodology more broadly across the other 80 percent of the standardized curriculum.
Sebastian’s passion for education finds its roots in his own extraordinary educational experiences. He grew up in a house filled with books and after-dinner conversations with his father, a physician with a revolutionary spirit, who spoke passionately of social justice and the importance of making a difference. In these conversations, education was often talked about as a powerful means to achieve a better, fairer society. Never quite satisfied with the quality of education his children were receiving, Sebastian’s father had them switch schools multiple times, in search of a better quality and more challenging education.
Without telling his parents and guided purely by his curiosity and motivation Sebastian applied to the United World Colleges (UWC). Having secured a spot, at 16, he boarded a plane headed to a tiny town in the north of Norway, where he spent the next two years immersed in a vibrant learning community, with peers from all kinds of backgrounds, representing numerous nationalities. UWC was Sebastian’s first encounter with a transformative educational system: one that offered a rigorous academic experience combined with multiple opportunities to engage in arts, sports and social work outside the classroom; one that gave students a choice in their learning, and encouraged diversity and critical discussion. A few years later, Sebastian would incorporate many of these elements in Consejo de Curso.
After UWC, he moved to the US to attend Middlebury and later Harvard. As in Norway, he was inspired by an engaged group of peers and became even more keenly aware of the importance of personal development outside the classroom. Upon graduation he returned to Chile and joined the Ministry of Finance, where he headed the Ministry´s green agenda, which often involved representing Chile in international fora, including the Global Climate Talks. Not long after, he was offered a position to work closely with the President of Chile as one of his ten young advisers on public policy. He was responsible for advising the President on most issues related to the work of the Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Culture.
During this time, the student movement was at its peak and students marched in front of La Moneda (the presidential offices) every Thursday morning. As such, education was often the main topic of discussion on the weekly meetings that Sebastián and the other advisors had with the President. One of the most striking issues for Sebastian was that the opportunity of out-of-school time was never on the agenda. Armed with a dozen global research papers on the issue, he wrote a memo to the President and others in the administration, arguing for the need to invest in summer reform. But the education agenda had already been set by the student movement, and his proposal was rejected. He decided he could have a bigger impact from outside the system and left his job to start Consejo de Curso.