School Year Woes: Chaos or One-Time Glitch?

March 11, 2005

ACCORDING to the Ministry ofPublic Education, it is a one-time logisticalglitch.According to teachers’ unions, chaosreigns in the nation’s public classroomsbecause of a devious ministry ploydesigned to strip teachers of the bonusesdue them in September.The truth seems to lie somewhere inthe middle: while many students’ schoolyears got off to a normal start Feb. 7,there are also schools where problems inthe process of naming teachers to theirpost left children without teachers, teacherswithout principals, and parents furious.IN Costa Rica’s public-school system,teachers, rather than interviewing and signinga contract directly with a certainschool, apply to the ministry for jobs.They can specify the areas of the countryin which they would like to work, but arenot guaranteed placement near theirhomes.Teachers who have received positionsen propiedad, similar to tenured positions,are notified of their placements by certifiedmail in November or December, the ministry’shead of personnel, María JuliaPicado, told The Tico Times.Teachers for interim positions arenotified by telegram in December orJanuary.This year, Radiográfica Costarricense,S.A. (RACSA), the state telegram andInternet company, was late in sending thetelegram notifications, according to Picado.As a result, some interim teachers werenever informed they had been given a job.PICADO described the situations ofvarious “muchachas” (young women) whowere not notified of their teaching positions.In one case, Picado said, a teachernever received a telegram and thereforeassumed she had not been given a job.When the woman went to withdrawmoney from her bank some days later, shewas astonished to find her balance had skyrocketed.Realizing she was being paid fora job she was not doing, she called theministry to find out what her placementwas, according to Picado.In other cases, teachers found out abouttheir jobs when angry school principalscalled to find out why they weren’t comingto work.THE Association of Secondary SchoolTeachers (APSE) claims the ministry hasorchestrated the delays to prevent teachersfrom completing the required 200 days ofschool, and thereby from receiving theSeptember attendance bonus equal to150% of their monthly salary.“The ministry is using all kinds oftricks to economize,” said a statement fromAPSE last month. The organizationclaimed 3,000 teachers had not beennamed as off Feb. 22.Last week, APSE president DaniloRojas told The Tico Times close to 2,000positions were still vacant.“The ministry won’t pay them thismonth, nor the September bonus,” Rojassaid of the teachers who have missed workdue to ministry delays.“That is totally false,” Picado said ofAPSE’s claims. While she would not estimatethe number of teachers that have notyet been placed, she said the number isnowhere near APSE’s estimate.All school principals have now beenplaced, she said, after approximately 30personnel changes because of parent complaintsor other concerns.Picado added that the ministry andRACSA have scheduled a meeting thismonth to discuss ways to improve thelogistical side of the naming process fornext year.Meanwhile, with sufficient controversyover whether qualified teachers are beingplaced, it appears that a number of unqualifiedteachers have found their way toclassrooms. The daily Al Día reported thisweek that 1,740 teachers without universitydegrees were given teaching positionsthis year because of a shortage of applicants,especially in English, French, counselingand special education.The ministry defends this action,claiming it has no choice and must focuson protecting students’ rights to have ateacher in the classroom.ANOTHER unexpected challenge toschools this year – the floods in theregion’s Caribbean slope, provoked byheavy rains Jan. 8-9 – has causedtension between the ministry and thepress.Vice-Minister Mora criticized themedia for exaggerating the problems facingstudents of the region, and for recyclinga “permanent photo” of students inclassrooms full of mud.“It’s just not true,” she said. “Theserumors are painful for the country.”

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