Officials Focused on Improving Education

December 22, 2006

The school year started off with a sex scandal, and ended with the prospect of significant funding increases, among other changes.

That’s right, a sex scandal. The worst part wasn’t that the Public Education Ministry (MEP) had apparently rehired convicted sex offenders to work in schools – a convicted rapist was discovered teaching industrial arts, among other examples – but rather that the country’s laws prevented the ministry from doing much to prevent such cases from happening again. Employers can’t discriminate against would-be employees based on past criminal convictions if they’ve served their time, even if their positions put them in direct contact with kids, according to legal experts and ministry officials.

Child advocates urged reforms and the ministry launched a comprehensive update of its criminal background checks on current and future employees.

Another call for change and better organization resulted from the distribution, or lack thereof, of the monthly and yearly scholarships the ministry offers low-income students. It took the ministry months to distribute payments designed to help families cope with the costs involved with the beginning of school in early February, and some families missed out on their monthly payments altogether.

The second half of the year saw more hopeful prospects for the public education system. New President Oscar Arias, who said education would be his top priority, and Education Minister Leonardo Garnier took over May 8 with some new ideas. First up: a new scholarship program, “Avancemos” (“Let’s Get Ahead”), designed to help low-income-high-school students stay in school and reward them with additional funds if they graduate. Second: a Constitutional amendment to increase funding for education from 6% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) to 8%, a proposal that at year-end was close to a vote in the Legislative Assembly.

Garnier also began drafting an institutional reform of the ministry to eliminate duplicate functions and restore decision-making power at the local level.

Though results on the standardized exámenes de bachillerato tests high-school students must pass in order to graduate were dismal once again at year-end, with just over 60% of students slated to earn a diploma, the government continued its efforts to turn the tide: the ministry implemented a new structure for the often-wasted weeks of school after the exams, including remediation for students who failed and training for teachers.

Last but not least, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias claimed the government will actually meet the existing 6% spending requirement – a feat never accomplished since the mandate was established in 1997 – for the first time in 2007.

 

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