Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 13:35:10 -0500 (CDT)
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Education Needs a Revolution, UNICEF Says
By Néfer Muñoz, IPS, 6 May 1999
SAN JOSE, May 6 (IPS) - Lack of opportunities, high dropout rates, as well as social and economic inequities lead to poor quality education in Costa Rica, according to a recent report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
In the document 'The Right to an Education, Costa Rica, 1999' presented at the University of Costa Rica this week, UNICEF asks local authorities to change their policy direction.
The report warns about the lack of early education programmes, the few real opportunities for children with disabilities, the low quality of rural education, and the nearly 50 percent dropout rate among high school students.
"In order to go beyond the normal discussions and formulas, education needs a revolution," indicated Heimo Laakonen, UNICEF representative in Costa Rica.
The document shows that in 1994, 58.9 percent of students dropped out of high school, and only 20.9 percent finished high school without failing a grade.
"Dropout is greater among the socio-economically disadvantaged sectors of the population," stated Lidia Torrico, who participated in preparing the report.
Authorities from the National Educators Association (ANDE), the University of Costa Rica and the Ministry of Education have already expressed their intention to call for a national debate to discuss the educational system's current problems.
"Blame does not fall exclusively on the educational system," former Education minister Maria Eugenia Dengo told IPS. She stressed that the problem is also influenced by unstable homes, as well as the country's economic problems, which push many young people into the labour market before completing their studies.
Dengo pointed out that one of Costa Rica's educational strong points is the high rate of primary school attendance, one of the highest in Latin America. She recognised, however, that there is a visible deterioration.
One area of deterioration is infrastructure. The UNICEF study shows that Costa Rica's 872,167 students face a deficit this year of 4,623 classrooms and 20,000 desks.
"An appropriate and sustainable solution to these challenges is to clearly define the path education must pursue, and to reach a national consensus about that path," indicated Laakonen.
Many students feel overwhelmed, which is revealed in the graffiti mural created by a high school in San Jose: "Damned educational system that depresses me and represses me, leaving behind my most profound desires," or "High school is a prison disguised as education."
The UNICEF report indicates that in Costa Rica, 40 percent of the nearly 3,500 primary schools have just one teacher, affecting more than 32,000 students in rural, isolated areas.
"These girls and boys receive half the classroom hours of other primary school students in Costa Rica" said Rodolfo Osorio, educational consultant. Though he also indicated that the Government is implementing a special programme under which this same system has its advantages.
In single-teacher schools, the plan consists of harmonising individual and group studies, in which the older students help the younger ones, those who know more support those who have fallen behind. This dynamic frees the teacher from his or her role of mere transmitter of memorised knowledge, stated Osorio.
"The most surprising result is that the boys and girls who have taken part in this innovative pedagogical project are happier, stay in school, and have overcome the relationships of domination and competition," he added.
Over the next decade, Latin America and the Caribbean will need an additional 1,100 million US dollars to achieve universal primary school education. (END/IPS/tra-so/nms/ag/ld/ak/99)
Origin: Manila/RIGHTS-COSTA RICA/
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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