How education can spur progress towards inclusive growth

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

Costa Rica is recognised across Latin America as a leader in education. The country was among the first in the region to enrol all children in primary school and combat adult illiteracy. Today, one in two young adults has completed secondary education, up from one in three among their parents’ generation. But, the demands placed on the skills of people have evolved as well. The overall context has become more challenging too: Economic growth has slowed, inequality is rising and productivity is weak in a labour market that shows a growing divide between a well-paid, high-skilled sector and a precarious informal economy. The OECD report, Education in Costa Rica, looks at how education can help Costa Rica turn these negative trends around.

The first step is to build strong foundations. Pre-primary education has become nearly universal in most OECD countries; but in Costa Rica, only 63% of children benefit from two years of preschool, and very few children under three have access to any form of early care and education. Strong, sustained support to promising initiatives, such as the new policy framework for early childhood and the preschool curriculum, will ensure that more children start school with the socio-emotional and cognitive skills that they need to learn. More flexible community-based services can accelerate the expansion of early education into rural areas.

The quality of education can never exceed the quality of teachers. Costa Rica is working towards ensuring minimum standards in the teaching profession by requiring private universities to accredit initial teaching degrees. The challenge  now is to advance from recruiting those candidates with the greatest potential for effective teaching towards promoting continuous professional development through regular feedback and more opportunities for peer learning within and across schools.

If all students are to complete at least secondary school, then the content, structure and certification of learning at this level need to respond to an increasingly diverse student population. Nearly one in three 15-year-olds is not in school, and among those who are, another one in three lacks core competencies in science, reading and mathematics. The programme Yo me Apunto, which allocates more resources to disadvantaged schools to prevent students from dropping out, should be supported and combined with an expansion of vocational courses and alternative forms of certification to help more students make a smooth transition from school to employment.

Costa Rica’s tertiary sector also has an important role to play  in fostering inclusive growth. Just one in ten students from a disadvantaged background makes it to university, and only 12% of tertiary programmes have been accredited. It is time for Costa Rica to embrace comprehensive reform of the governance, funding and quality-assurance systems of both private and public universities to respond to changing social and economic needs. This, in turn, requires much better data on tertiary performance so that students can make informed choices about their future, and institutions can be held accountable for meeting their own and their country’s objectives.

Costa Rica is rightly admired for making education the cornerstone of its development. It invests 7.6% of its GDP in education – a larger share than that of any OECD country. But those resources need to be invested strategically. If it does so, Costa Rica will be able to spur more inclusive growth and build on its remarkable achievements in human development and well-being.

Reviews of National Policies for Education: Education in Costa Rica
Brochure: Education in Costa Rica, Highlights 2017 (English) and (Spanish)
Press release: Costa Rica should ensure that all children have access to quality education (English) and (Spanish)
Slides: Avances y desafíos de la educación en Costa Rica: una perspectiva internacional (Spanish)

Photo credit: MEP (Ministerio de Educación Pública)

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