THE Public Education Ministry (MEP) announced its plans for the 2006 school year this week under the usual circumstances: optimism from the ministry, and doubts from teachers, parents and the daily press regarding whether schools will be adequately funded and supported when approximately 1.05 million students head to class Feb. 7.
A top priority for both the ministry and its naysayers: expanding and improving the ministry’s Social Equity Program, which offers services including grants, free breakfast and transport funding for students who lack resources.
Education Minister Manuel Antonio Bolaños also said a lack of school infrastructure and qualified candidates for teaching positions are continuing challenges for the ministry.
The 2006 school year will run until Dec. 20, in accordance with the ministry’s stated requirement that 200 days of school be offered each year.
MORE than three-fourths of the record-setting national student body will receive some form of aid this year, Bolaños said Monday at a press conference held at the National Teaching Center in Guadalupe, north of San José. The Social Equity Program’s budget includes ¢889.9 million ($1.8 million) for initial student grants to cover costs associated with the beginning of school, ¢300.9 million ($608,000) for the free school breakfast program and ¢8.77 billion ($17.71 million) for student transportation.
Bolaños said that unlike last year, there will be no delay in these payments this year. Funds for the payments have been approved and waiting in state coffers since December, he added.
To deal with the increase in the total number of students – up from 1.03 million last year, thanks to increases in preschool and high school – and reduce some of the problems in years past, the ministry is armed with a budget 13.81% larger than the year before – approximately ¢536 billion ($1.08 billion) – which will fund projects including the opening of new schools and the hiring of 1,548 additional teachers.
HOWEVER, insufficient teacher preparation is likely to continue making it difficult for the ministry to find qualified candidates for those spots, Bolaños said.
According to William Cordero, the ministry’s personnel director, many teachers are retiring, heightening the pressure.
“What worries us is the lack of the teachers we need, and in some cases the quality of teachers who graduate (from universities) is worrisome,” Bolaños told The Tico Times after the press conference.
According to the minister, the areas of greatest need in terms of qualified teachers are math, new technologies, English and French. The lack of teachers in the latter two subjects makes it difficult to ensure students learn a second language, he added.
Lack of qualified math teachers has been among the factors blamed for the consistently disappointing results of the math section of the examenes de bachillerato, mandatory exams all students must take to graduate from high school (TT, Dec. 16, 2005).
BOLAÑOS expressed confidence that the process of assigning teachers to schools, under way now, will go smoothly this year, although the High-School Teachers’ Association (APSE) disagrees.
A statement from the association this week denounced “inhumane treatment” of new and returning teachers, who have been waiting in long lines at the ministry’s San José and regional offices to complete the necessary paperwork, according to ASPE.
Last year, many teachers were informed late, or not at all, of their assignments. As a result, many schools found themselves without teachers, principals or other staff members, and some teachers were assigned to two different schools (TT, March 11, 2005).
Personnel Director William Cordero said Monday that careful monitoring is under way to ensure the process goes smoothly and no teachers are assigned to two posts this year.