THE steadily increasing tourism industry, the growing presence of multinational corporations and the possibility that a free-trade pact with the United States will bring a wave of U.S. businesses to Costa Rica mean that job training and English classes have become more important than ever to Costa Ricans.
As a result, the National Training Institute (INA), which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, grew by leaps and bounds in 2005, INA President Róger Carvajal said Tuesday.
At a special presentation at President Abel Pacheco’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Carvajal announced that since its founding in 1965, the state-funded institute has served 2.33 million students – and of that group, 640,000, or 27.5%, studied at the institute after May 2002, demonstrating INA’s steep growth curve in the new millennium.
In 2005 alone, the institute had 198,607 students, he said. “We have a demand far above the offerings we had planned,” he said, explaining that with help from other institutions such as universities and the Public Education Ministry, the institute expanded its offerings throughout the year. INA’s budget for 2006 is ¢36 billion ($72 million), up from ¢30 billion ($60 million), Carvajal told The Tico Times.
The institute serves a wide range of students, from those with no schooling whatsoever to professionals with college degrees; a growing number of women eager to prepare themselves for careers; and indigenous groups seeking to gain the skills they need to begin tourism projects or export their goods.
MUCH of the pressure for new training for workers came from the private sector, according to Carvajal. One year ago, INA, in partnership with the Costa Rican Investment Board (CINDE) and businesses, began offering free, intensive English classes in response to the booming industry of customer-service call centers here. (The program graduated its first 215 students last month, under Pacheco’s watchful eye.)
When the classes began, CINDE General Director Edna Camacho called the need for English classes “gigantic” (TT, Jan. 28, 2005), and the sector grew still more throughout 2005 as several multinationals expanded their Costa Rican operations. If Costa Rica ratifies the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), these needs will expand still further (see separate story).
But INA’s goals are broader than filling one niche, Carvajal said. The organization’s overall goal is to help Costa Ricans enter the job market and achieve social mobility. Approximately 50% of the institute’s students have not graduated from high school, and some of those received little or no schooling, he said.
An increasing percentage of INA’s students are women – 54% in 2005, to be exact.
“Women are working every day in a significant way to incorporate themselves into the world of work,” he said, adding that the predominance of women at the institute has been a growing trend for the past 10 years and extends throughout the organization’s course offerings, from English to computer training.
MEMBERS of the Maleku indigenous group, of the Guatuso reserve in north-central province of Alajuela, have also benefited from INA’s programs, thanks in part to their own requests for more training.
The institute began by offering courses in arts and crafts and some businesses classes to the Maleku. As the reserve residents began offering new products, tourism in the area increased, and the Maleku began to ask INA staff members for conversational English classes, Carvajal said. They now sell their products in area hotels and are offering tours of the reserve, he added.
He said the goal is to have “a trilingual population – Spanish, English and Maleku.
“English, linked to… business, generates significant opportunities for people all over the country,” he added. Expanding the institute so it can provide those opportunities for more people is a continuing goal. INA opened branches in Heredia, north of San José, and Cartago, east of the capital, in 2005.
PLANS for 2006 include the creation of a Center for Productive and Competitive Micro, Small and Medium Businesses; the Ministries of Public Education, Economy, and Agriculture are collaborating in this effort.
The center seeks to assist businesses with everything from product design to marketing to access to credit, in order to prepare them for international markets, Carvajal said.
The fact that Carvajal, like all other officials appointed by President Pacheco, has only five months left in his term as INA head, puts a time limit on his plans. He said the priorities from now until May include consolidating the small business center, strengthening new offerings, and expanding English coverage – the institute has hired 50 new English teachers for this