San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

If teacher training is the exception, what does that mean for students?

During my time in Costa Rica, I have met numerous students blazing trails to achieve their personal goals. Refusing to allow their current situations to be “the master of their fates” and driven by their vision for a brighter future, they break through life’s barriers with determination and purpose, enduring the wounds of progress.

Last month, I was fortunate to interview one such student. As I sat across the table from Luis Carmona, a senior finishing his vocational diploma in informatics, his story reminded me of several of my interns at Urban Alliance in Washington, D.C., in the United States. He possessed the same determination to be “the master of his own fate.”

In 2005, Luis graduated from Liceo Santa Cruz, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, with a regular high school diploma. Planning to attend university next, Luis discovered that his financial situation would prevent him from attending. This is a reality for many students across the country, as tuition, housing and transportation costs present overwhelming barriers to continuing education, even with scholarships.

Instead, Luis transitioned to the working world. At that time, he was fighting an unemployment rate among youths aged 15-24 of 15 percent, more than double the country rate of 6.6 percent. To compound the unemployment rate, without a specialized skill set his earning potential also suffered.

In 2010, Luis decided to return to high school to attain a vocational diploma from the Colegio Técnico Regional (CTR) de Santa Cruz, as he recognized the need to provide for his growing family. Since then, he has taken specialized classes in informatics that will provide him with marketable skills to compete for higher-paying jobs after he graduates at the end of this year.

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During the interview, Luis cited his 2010 experience with Acción Joven at CTR de Santa Cruz as life changing. Having worked for five years and being one of the oldest students, he was uncertain if he could complete a second diploma. During the weekly workshops, Acción Joven equipped him with transferable skills. The project coordinator’s ability to listen, engage and empower him and his classmates fostered a high level of confidence and motivation to succeed.

After speaking with other students who shared similar experiences about Acción Joven, I began to question, “Why is not EVERY class engaging and empowering students?”

The answer to that question possibly can be found in teacher training. On several occasions, students have mentioned attending lecture-style classes, sometimes with limited student participation. A recent study published in the “Educare Journal” for the National University found that students mentioned similar issues. Through further research, I discovered many other issues, but I believe the root cause of most of these issues stems from teachers not being provided consistent and relevant professional development to improve their craft.

In 2011, the Operating and Evaluative Auditing Division (DFOE) of the Comptroller General’s Office evaluated efforts by Costa Rica’s Education Ministry (MEP) to reduce high exclusion (dropout) rates in secondary education. In the 200-day plan, one area of MEP’s focus was improving teacher training. Here is what the DFOE discovered from surveys:

–72.7 percent of teachers said they never received training from the Gámez Uladislao Solano Professional Development Institute, which is responsible for facilitating teacher training.

–Of that percentage, only 54.7 percent believed the trainings were relevant to their pedagogy and professional development.

–More than 45 percent of teachers had trainings during the busiest time of the year in December, which is also the end of the academic year.

–91.2 percent of teachers believed that better training could help motivate students, increase engagement and decrease exclusion in the classroom.

–82.6 percent of students interviewed believed that teachers’ improvement in the delivery of their lessons would also have similar outcomes.

–MEP makes clear the need for increasing the organizational capacity within each school to meet the training needs of teachers.

This information sheds light on a complex problem: how to provide teachers with relevant professional development to improve instruction, while recognizing budgetary and organizational constraints of MEP.

Since 2006, Acción Joven has worked to supplement the training opportunities of MEP by providing professional development for teachers on classroom engagement and empowerment. The unfortunate reality is Acción Joven only works in 10 secondary schools, which account for 1.4 percent of all public secondary schools in Costa Rica.

One begins to wonder how many of the other 664 schools do not have the organizational capacity to support teachers’ professional development, and what other organizations are providing supplemental training in these schools. But the most important question to consider is the following: How many students are affected daily by the lack of resources available to help promote effective and engaging classroom instruction?

Question of the Week

What are other creative strategies that can be developed through MEP and other organizations to ensure that more teachers are continually equipped with the best practices to engage and empower students in the classroom?

Fundación Acción Joven aims to prevent student dropout for teenagers who attend public high schools located in communities of high social risk. This is done through the implementation of projects designed by the educational community, and executed with the help of


different stakeholders such as private enterprise, government entities, other nonprofits and volunteers. FAJ currently has offices in San José, Guanacaste, Limón and Puntarenas, and works with 10 different high schools in those regions. Get involved by visiting, emailing, or calling our San José office at: 2271-4407.

As a current graduate student in Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States, Timothy Evans has worked to combine a decade of youth development experience with data analytics to positively impact communities in the U.S. This international experience provides him invaluable tools and best practices that allow for organizations such as Fundación Acción Joven to change communities globally

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