Focus: Education

Encourage the Muse

Encourage the Muse

May. 1, 2013

The Dominican Republic has made progressive steps in educational reform as the Ministry of Education seeks to overcome the remaining inefficiencies.

Since the government passed a law stipulating that the Ministry of Education should receive at least 4% of the country's GDP each year, the country has embarked on a journey to offer its students more opportunities and wider access in education. Although the Dominican government has yet to meet the targets outlined in 1997, the authorities spend approximately 2.3% of GDP and 12.4% of all government expenditure on education annually.

The government's commitment to improving the education system has led to a high literacy rate among the country's young population. UN reports show that 97% of Dominicans aged 15-24 are literate. The age group represents 18.6% of the Dominican Republic population, while 29% of its citizens are aged between 0 and 14.

The Dominican education system offers its students many opportunities not found in neighboring countries, including the chance for students enrolled in Dominican high schools to choose to complete their studies under the US SAT program or European International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculums. However, a number of challenges remain for high school graduates, who often seek to study abroad to achieve higher education degrees. Many of these inefficiencies stem from the lack of public expenditure and the under-qualified teaching staff.

GETTING THERE

According to current UNESCO reports, approximately 80% of children are enrolled in primary education, and 86% percent are enrolled in secondary, making the gross enrollment rate in the Dominican Republic one of the highest in Latin America. The average amount of time a child can expect to study in the Dominican Republic is 12 years, including the time it takes for 7% of students to repeat grade levels.

In 2013, the Ministry of Education will continue to implement a 10-year plan that was enacted in 2008. The Ministry explained that the medium-term strategy would address issues in the national education systems including public expenditure, the quality of education, and student progress. The medium-term strategy also looks to assure that quality education is provided all year round for every student across primary and secondary education levels. The total cost of the project was initially estimated at $60 million, and it has since been revised to $65 million.

Despite the strong literacy performance among Dominican youth, rural education is generally characterized by poor attendance, high desertion, and below-standard academic performances. To remedy the situation, the government has carried out extensive research on the subject to determine that the low quality of rural education is often attributed to the attitudes of parents, alternative employment options, the distances between schools, family obligations, and illness. Therefore, targeted campaigns initiated by the government are aimed at developing educational facilities that suit the needs of local children and offer training to teachers. In collaboration with domestic efforts, the USDA has spearheaded a chapter of the Global Food for Education Initiative (GFEI) in the Dominican Republic, a program emphasizing community participation and parental involvement in schooling.

HIGHER UP

Currently, about 40% of 20-year-olds in the Dominican Republic attend tertiary education, and 22.9% of the population in total enrol at higher education institutions. Several higher education institutions in the Dominican Republic are linked to US and European programs.

Private and public universities and other higher education facilities in the Dominican Republic have shown significant signs of growth in recent years. The Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD) is the primary state-owned tertiary education institution in the Dominican Republic. Founded in 1538, it is the oldest university in North America. Other top universities in the Dominican Republic are Pontifica Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra, APEC University, and the Iberoamerica University.

The Technological Institute of the Americas (ITLA) is an important example of development in the national education sector. ITLA is a government-funded higher education institution specializing in ICT, located in the Dominican Republic's first technology park. ITLA's Rector, José Armando Tavarez, told TBY that the institute was one of the country's top suppliers of ICT experts for companies in the Dominican Republic. Higher education institutions are also pushing to improve the quality of education in the country. According to Rector Tavarez, most of ITLA's professors hold Master's degrees. However, the national standard requires only a Bachelor's degree in order to teach at a tertiary institution.

Nonetheless, institutions are also looking to implement programs that boost the qualifications of their faculty. Many universities in the Dominican Republic rely on career professionals as part-time lecturers. Although these professionals have extensive career experience, they do not hold academic qualifications. Universities have acknowledged the need to develop the skills and knowledge of not only faculty, but also of those who wish to follow an academic career.

Since 1980, the National Technical Vocational Training Institute (INFOTEP) has been working to improve vocational preparation for students. INFOTEP has 10 mobile classrooms that are used to provide rural and urban communities with vocational training. INFOTEP offers vocational education to anyone aged 16 and older who works in an occupation requiring certain knowledge and skills to fill a specific job. It also provides training to qualified workers seeking to acquire or develop new occupational skills.

Currently, there are no PhD programs on offer at any of the government or private tertiary institutions. Instead, students are forced to travel abroad if they wish to continue their studies. The implementation of a PhD program would not only offer students a local alternative, but also generate a new market to attract international students.

Over the next five years, the Dominican government will look to continue the implementation of the strategy and vision of its medium-term education plan that is due to end in 2018. The vision on education from the government means to improve the quality of education across primary and secondary schools. The strategy will also look to boost the levels of student progression and encourage students to finish their high school education. In turn, this program will lift the number of prospect tertiary applicants and generate demand for better higher education facilities.