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Steady But Slow Progress on EFA Goal in Costa Rica
By Nefer Munoz
Inter Press Service

     SAN JOSE, Apr 11 (IPS) - Costa Rica's educational system has made steady but slow progress in the past decade, and more must be done, according to an official report prepared for the World Education Forum due later this month in Dakar.
   The report is based on a study carried out last year to assess the progress made towards Education For All or EFA, the target adopted at a 1990 global conference in Jomtien, Thailand, aiming at a reduction of dropout and repetition rates and an increase in enrollment and the number of obligatory years of schooling.
   Costa Rica invests the equivalent of six percent of its annual Gross Domestic Production (GDP) in education, and its low illiteracy rate stands out among its Central American neighbours. But education authorities say much more needs to be done.
   The high rate of repetition in primary school, a high dropout rate in secondary school and a lack of refresher courses and ongoing training opportunities for teachers are the weak points of the system.
   ''In 10 years we have made strides, but we have also accumulated enormous challenges,'' said Zaida Sanchez, deputy minister of education.
   Sanchez, a high school teacher, coordinated the first local Education For All plan in 1990 and headed the group evaluating the results last year.
   The deputy minister told IPS that one of the reasons progress was slow in the 1990s was that most of the efforts had to simply focus on reversing the impact on the educational system of the economic crisis that swept the country -- and the entire region -- in the 1980s.
   ''One of the big achievements of the 1990s was the modification of Article 78 of the constitution, which obligated the State to invest the equivalent of six percent of GDP in education,'' said Sanchez.
   She maintained, however, that at least 6.7 percent of GDP would actually be needed to cover all of today's needs.
   According to the report, 92.7 percent of Costa Rica's population of 3.5 million is literate, and the aim is to push that proportion up to 96 percent by 2002. Schooling in Costa Rica is mandatory from ages six to 15.
   One major stride was the implementation of universal pre-school since 1997. Furthermore, primary school enrollment stands at 100 percent.
   But enrollment in secondary school is just 62 percent. In fact, one of the most disturbing aspects of the report is the high number of youngsters who for one reason or another drop out of school.
   Another worrisome statistic is that 20 percent of children repeat first grade, which specialists attribute to shortcomings in the methods used for teaching the rudiments of reading and writing.
   The report also points to the failure to ''consolidate a national teacher training system'' in the 1990s -- a pressing problem, given that 41 percent of the country's primary schools have just one teacher for all grade levels.
   The issue also crops up in high school, where 19 percent of teachers have no degree.
   ''One of my dreams is for all high school teachers to have degrees, and that enough resources be available to provide all educators with ongoing training,'' said Sanchez.
   Some experts say Costa Rica's big problem in the field of education is that it has failed to invest its resources in the best manner.
   ''A lot of funds are invested, but always in more of the same,'' said Clotilde Fonseca, director of the non-governmental Omar Dengo Foundation, an institution dedicated to developing innovative educational techniques.
   According to Fonseca, countries like Costa Rica should invest more in new teaching methods and technological programmes.
  This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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