Beyond Borders: Tackling an education crisis in Colombia in partnership with the Government of Canada


Since 2014, there has been a severe migration crisis in Venezuela. Millions of families have fled their homes to escape violence, the collapse of the Venezuelan economy and political turmoil, which has caused severe food and medicine shortages.

For many Venezuelan migrant children they are travelling by foot, not knowing their final destination, where they have been out of school with no learning opportunities. Girls are particularly at risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) along their journeys, where the long-term effects are detrimental to their development.

Many migrants have settled in communities along the border in Colombia; however, this influx has weakened the Colombian education and protection systems. In September 2021, there were just shy of half a million migrant children in the formal education system. There are not enough teachers, not enough resources and not enough support to provide quality and safe learning environments for all children. On top of that, during the height of the pandemic, lockdowns led to children being out of school for almost a full year and opportunities for remote learning, especially for migrants and low-income families in rural areas at the border, either did not exist or were ineffective. This has set many children back full grades and is expected to cause future dropouts.

Though the Venezuelan migrant crisis is the second largest crisis that exists globally, very little attention is paid to it and it is becoming more and more of a forgotten crisis. Girls and boys—both Venezuelan and Colombian—have the right to quality education and if we do not act now will have devastating effects for children and families long-term. We all have a responsibility to play to support girls and boys’ education in Colombia and globally so that every child everywhere is learning, positively developing and realizing their rights.


The Beyond Borders Project

Beyond Borders is a two and a half year, $11 million project funded in partnership with Global Affairs Canada that has reached more than 26,000 girls and boys affected by the conflict and crises on the Colombia-Venezuela border to support the realization of their right to quality, safe and inclusive education.

The project has three main pillars – 1) to increase equitable access to education for girls and boys; 2) to improve the quality of teaching and school provisions; and 3) to improve educational governance by strengthening policies, planning and coordination to ensure the needs of crisis-affected girls and boys are met. To do this we work with all stakeholders at all levels of society.

Shifting harmful attitudes & stereotypes about girls and migrants

We work with girls and boys, families and communities to shift harmful attitudes and behaviours that can lead to children, particularly girls and migrant groups, dropping out of school. For instance we work to tackle norms where violence against women and girls is acceptable; perpetuating high rates of domestic violence and sexual and gender-based violence. Or, attitudes that girls should only be caregivers and not work outside the home. Girls are expected to take care of younger siblings, prepare meals and clean instead of studying and continuing their education as they get older.

We have set up Girls Club that are safe spaces girls can go to in their communities, with activities to discuss issues of gender equalities; build confidence and solidarity; gain knowledge and skills about SGBV prevention; and get referred to additional mental health and psychosocial support when needed. In addition, we set up Boys Clubs for boys to separately discuss key gender equality issues and toxic masculinities that lead to violence against women and girls. Through these clubs we also work to build girls and boys’ advocacy and leadership skills, and created platforms at community, district and national levels for girls and boys to share their stories and experiences, and advocate for their rights; breaking down barriers between Venezuelan migrants and host communities. Families and community members are also engaged in dialogues and campaigns to promote equal education for all.

Strengthening a gender-responsive & safe learning environment

The project also works within the education system – in schools and classrooms. We work with teachers to develop their skills on gender-responsive and inclusive pedagogies so they have strategies to ensure their lessons meet the needs of all girls and boys with different learning needs, and that teachers are equipped to support children’s wellbeing and respond to cases of SGBV. Additionally we work with teachers to address their own biases about girls and boys – for instance that girls who become pregnant don’t deserve to continue their education. At the school level, we also work to improve schools’ infrastructure and provide necessary learning materials where there are gaps. For example, we improve toilet facilities and ensure they are gender-separated so girls and boys have proper privacy, which is one of the main reasons girls miss school when they are on their period.

Making up for lost learning

One of the things that we found in Colombia—and globally—is that with COVID we need dedicated accelerated and remedial learning programs. The project implemented Save the Children’s innovative solution – Catch-up Clubs – to accelerate the recovery of lost learning during the pandemic and help children successfully return to schools. These clubs are highly targeted, evidence drive and cost-effective to help children struggling with reading and writing catch-up on their education. We know that if children fall behind, there is a greater chance that they will drop out, so these programs have a significant impact on children’s futures.

Catch-up Clubs employ community-based facilitators to group children by their reading ability rather than their age or grade level, and lead play-based learning activities. The clubs operate on a 3-month cycle after school with rapid assessments throughout to measure and support girls and boys’ progress.  In the Beyond Borders project, there has been strong buy-in from community volunteers who include local women’s rights organizations, mothers and university students. Results from the Colombia Catch-up Clubs showed that 84% of participants reached a Grade 2 reading level by the end of the 3-month learning cycle. Learnings also indicate that children with the lowest levels of reading proficiency are making the biggest gains, particularly Venezuelan migrant girls and boys.

“I was happy to be back in a classroom. I felt very good. The Catch-up Club has helped me to read better and understand texts. Many times we read for the sake of reading and we don’t understand anything of what we are reading. Now I am not embarrassed to speak in public and I express myself much better thanks to the exercises we do in each class.” – Majo*, 10 year old girl participant, Arauca

“My children are studying in Catch-up Clubs. They have not been able to study for two years because I am a Venezuelan migrant [and they could not access school]. They did not know how to read and write and [the clubs] have allowed them to advance in reading and writing.”


Save the Children has launched Catch-up Clubs in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda, with a goal to directly reach 5,000,000 children and tens of million children in-directly to catch-up on literacy and numeracy over the next 5 years. We are continuously innovating and refining the model to achieve stronger results, building on Save the Children’s strengths and thought leadership in literacy, numeracy, education technologies, and child protection. If we don’t prioritize children’s foundational literacy and math skills and support safe and inclusive learning environments, a whole generation will be left behind in Colombia and globally. Research from the OECD recently reported that learning losses will have lasting economic impacts both on affected children’s future earning potential but also nations’ GDP for the remainder of the century. Investing in education is as important as eliminating poverty or hunger.