San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Technical school fights for prestigious IB program

View a video of students talking about the program here.

Last May, three Education Ministry (MEP) officials traveled to the Caribbean slope town Siquirres to deliver bad news to the local technical high school’s 40 young students. The message to the 10th graders, parents and teachers was that despite their efforts to join the prestigious International Baccalaureate Program (IB), MEP was rescinding its authorization for the program.

In March 2010, former MEP Academic Vice Minister Alejandrina Mata authorized the Siquirres Colegio Técnico Profesional, or CTP, in order to initiate the IB diploma program. The IB program is a rigorous, two-year curriculum affiliated with the Geneva-based International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) in Switzerland. It targets students aged 16-19 in their final years of high school. At the time, MEP agreed that the Siquirres’ technical school fulfilled all the requirements to align its curriculum with the international program’s educational model.

But a political change at MEP seems to have also been accompanied by a change of heart. Mata left her post and was replaced by Dyalah Calderón, who revoked the school’s authorization one year after it was issued.

When news of Mata’s approval reached the Siquirres school, teachers and school officials began preparing the necessary paperwork and other bureaucratic requirements to change the school’s curriculum. They obtained support and sponsorship from the Association of IB Schools of Costa Rica, or Asobitico. They held workshops for teachers to ensure they met IB requirements.

In September 2010, an IB consultant visited the school. He interviewed students, teachers and parents and made a list of recommendations. Last April, the IBO sent two more consultants to evaluate the school’s readiness to adopt the program. 

MEP’s recent move to block the school’s IB membership has hit students hard. “The announcement was a moment of frustration and many of us even burst into tears during the meeting,” said 16-year-old student Gabriela Ramírez, who was chosen to speak on behalf of the 40 affected students. “We are a group of students who are willing to get a tougher, stricter and more demanding education. This is something we need.”

MEP officials see things differently. “We went over the request and we realized that the technical education that students get in any CTP in the country is not compatible with the IB academic program,” Calderón said.

Yet students had already voluntarily agreed to give up their technical training, which is the core of CTPs across the country. Nevertheless, Calderón blocked those efforts, saying “students’ parents and the government have made a big investment in order to provide students with a technical education.”

Students say the IB program is the only option in Siquirres for a curriculum that would help prepare them for college. “In this region, it is common to see students who graduate high school with technical degrees in things like accounting, computer programming and tourism, go on and work in the banana plantations,” Ramírez said.

Ramírez said students are planning to file a lawsuit requesting an injunction against MEP before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.

 “We believe that our right to a better education is being violated,” Ramírez said.

Calderón said the Siquirres CTP is not ready to be a part of the IB program. “[IB] is a demanding curriculum with a high academic profile,” she said. “It operates at a higher level than a technical high school like Siquirres. We believe teachers at the school are not ready to teach at this level. It is [MEP’s] challenge now to give [Siquirres] a high school with a better academic profile that could eventually incorporate into the IB program.”

Meanwhile, students say they are prepared to fight MEP’s decision. They put together a video of student testimonials supporting IB incorporation. They drafted a response to MEP’s official position.

“Our school is prepared for this change and we don’t see why it would be illegal for us to become IB students, since none of [MEP’s] documents about IB say that it excludes technical schools,” said Ramírez.

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