Education in Costa Rica has come leaps and bounds from its past. The highly-rated education system in Costa Rica continues to lead Central and Latin America by example, striving to provide both highly accessible and high-quality education to all.
Costa Rica’s literacy rate is approximately 95 percent, one of the highest in Latin America. In 1869, the country was one of the first in the world to make primary education mandatory and free. Costa Rica is also one of the few countries in the world without a standing army, and part of the funds that would have been spent on the military is instead redirected to education.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), almost seven percent of the country’s GDP is spent on educational programs. The government has also issued a mandated goal for allocated funds to rise to eight percent by 2018. This percentage of GDP spending on education is exceeded only by Iceland, New Zealand and Denmark.
In the book, “The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica,” it is said that every Costa Rican pueblo is known to have five things: a local store, a football field, a church, a bar and a school. Some schools in the most rural parts of the country only have two students, but regardless of the number of children in the pueblo, they will always have access to education.
While accessible schooling for all children is a noble goal, the quality of education must also be upheld. The smaller the school, the fewer resources the school and its teachers have. Children in rural areas often miss days or weeks of school to work or ultimately drop out to help support their families.
According to the 2015 U.N. Development Programme’s Human Development Report, Costa Ricans spend an average of 8.4 years in school, and only 50.6 percent of the population receives at least some secondary school education.
While the necessary amount of money is being spent to ensure education in Costa Rica is a priority, according to the OECD the gap in educational outcomes based on family income has grown significantly larger in the past 20 years. It is critical that Costa Rica not only increases education funding but also focuses on how that money is spent, specifically by spreading resources more equitably across schools.
The Costa Rican Ministry of Education is working alongside UNICEF and other international organizations to confront the factors contributing to students permanently leaving school and to provide quality education to all.
“Yo me apunto” (“I’m in”) was launched in 2015 with the hope of encouraging students to stay in school and to reintegrate young adults back into school. The program reaches 155 schools and offers educational programs for students living in areas of poverty.
By continuing initiatives like “Yo me apunto” and increasing focus on establishing better educational outcomes, education in Costa Rica will continue to be an exemplary model for the rest of Latin and Central America and beyond.
– Erica Rawles
Photo: The Costa Rica News