Reading and writing education formally begins in preschool with geometric print letters in both cases. In first and second grades, students learn and use joined cursive writing.
In accordance to Ley General de Educación 115, or General Education Law 115, ratified in 1994, and the Decreto Único de Educación 1075, or the education decree 1075, of 2015, the Ministerio de Educación, or the Ministry of Education, sets up general guidelines and objectives for educational institutions in Colombia, which establish their own teaching methodologies. The ministry organises and administers educational services through regional bodies to reach the smallest towns, and rural areas in the country.
In Colombia, rates for public services are divided into six strata, through a system devised in 1986, to ensure that the entire population has equitable access to services. Higher income strata (5 and 6) subsidise lower income ones (1, 2 and 3). This system has generated a social and cultural segmentation that has permeated many aspects of daily life, including access to education, and the offerings to students.
Compulsory initial education includes one year of pre-school (5 years old), and five years of basic primary education (6–11 years old). Private schools often offer two years of kindergarten before the compulsory pre-school year, which they call transition level.
Reading and writing education formally begins in preschool with geometric print letters, both upper and lower cases. In first and second grades (6–8 years old), students learn and use joined cursive writing, locally known as letra cursiva or letra pegada. Towards the end of primary school, most children abandon cursive writing in favour of unjoined print letters, which are featured predominantly in textbooks, primers and other hand-out materials. In teaching reading comprehension and writing, generally attention is given to expressive language, rather than physical production.
The Ministerio de Educación does not provide any resources or guidelines for handwriting education. As a result, schools either produce their own workbooks and teaching resources, or purchase popular handwriting books produced by private publishers. Some of the most popular booklets, such as Coquito, Nacho Escribe, and Valentina Lee, are based on handwriting models that date back to the 1960s, but continue to be in use. In public institutions with fewer resources, teachers create their own visual aids or find them online while higher strata schools are able to publish their own material. In either case, it is common to see fully joined continuous cursive style alongside geometric “ball and stick” print letters.
The role of cartillas
Letra pegada in Colombia is visibly rooted in the traditions of the Palmer method, created by Austin Palmer (1860–1927) in the United States at the turn of the last century. It has many similarities with cursive writing models in North American countries like the United States, México and Canada, which also descend from the same style.
In Colombia, Palmer’s influence can be seen in cartillas, or handwriting education booklets produced by private publishers, which play an important role in the teaching of reading and writing in the country. The first such booklet was Cartilla Charry (1917), which was adopted for use in public schools in 1949 by the Ministerio de Educación Pública, orthe Ministry of Education. It featured geometric print letters alongside a heavily slanted cursive hand. Another important publication was Alegría de leer (1938) that presented cursive handwriting based on the Palmer method. Peruvian booklet Coquito (1955), created by school teacher Everardo Zapata, also gained popularity in Colombia. As did the locally-produced, Nacho (1974) published by Susaeta.
The cartillas are distinctive in their use of “ball and stick” style letters, either before or alongside continuous cursive handwriting, and this feature can be seen in books by private publishers, and the Ministerio de Educación Pública’s 1985 publication, Cartilla básica de Educación fundamental integral.
Cartilla Alegría de leer, 1932