San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Poverty and poor teaching weigh down Costa Rica's education system

Poverty, inequality and poor teaching are some of the greatest challenges to educating young Ticos, according to the Fourth State of Education Report released Tuesday morning.

Despite relatively high levels of investment in education, reaching 8 percent of gross domestic product in 2012, high rates of school desertion, violence in the classroom and little accountability from educators contribute to Costa Rica’s “vulnerable” public education system, according to the report from the National Council of University Rectors’ State of the Nation Program.

According to the annual assessment of public education, 41.2 percent of children up to 6 years old live in homes with parents who have less than six years of schooling. Over 60 percent of the same group lives in poverty or on the edge of the middle class.

Only 15.6 percent of Tico children live in homes with parents who have a high level of education, more than 12 years of schooling or some kind of post-secondary education or training. 

Poverty and years of schooling correlate, according to the report: Households with fewer years of schooling tend to have lower income and their children are less likely to attend or graduate high school.

In 2000, the portion of the population with some secondary education reached 76 percent, up from 55 percent in 1984. High school graduation remains elusive, however. In 2011, only 46.3 percent of students between 17 and 21 completed secondary education.

Isabel Román Vega, coordinator of the State of Education Report, observed that the reasons behind desertion are multifaceted. Poverty, the distance students have to walk to reach school, “dissatisfaction,” and gender all have varying levels of impact on students’ decisions to drop out.

One of the most effective ways of keeping students in school — more than government support or the family owning their own home — was satisfaction with their instructors.

Román stressed that the role teachers play educating and keeping students in school longer meant that there should be a greater emphasis on ensuring the quality and accountability of teachers.

“We need teachers who are well educated and do not fear the questions their students ask, who stimulate their creativity, push them to be proactive. Sometimes what we find is that teachers are not promoting this, but rather asking students to memorize things, boring [lesson plans]. These are the teachers who do not help us move toward to kind of Costa Rican citizen we want for the 21st century,” Román told The Tico Times.

Román and Jorge Vargas Cullell, director of the State of the Nation program, noted that few teachers pursue additional training or continuing education, and that the current system has no mechanism to respond to evaluate or identify ways to improve teaching quality.

The study also suggested that teacher accountability and school management should be a factor in addressing violence in the classroom. According to the report, 40 percent of students reported experiencing some kind of violence in the classroom, either between students or between an instructor and a student.

Violence led to fewer students completing their schoolwork, becoming more introverted and skipping class.

The report highlighted that the progress made in the country’s pubic education, like securing more funds and increasing coverage, did little to allay concerns about desertion, violence and teaching quality.

“We’re not going to get more resources,” Román said, “so we need focus more on the effective use of those resources.”  

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