BY THE BOOK

Costa Rica 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sonia Marta Mora, Minister of Public Education, on making education more accessible and equitable, its work with UNESCO, and her goal for education in Costa Rica.

 Sonia Marta Mora
BIOGRAPHY
Sonia Marta Mora has been Minister of Public Education in Costa Rica since 2014. Her new duties are preceded by a life course in the service of education and learning. She studied literature at the University of Costa Rica, studied in Paris and Montpellier for five years, and obtained a Fullbright scholarship that allowed her to carry out research at the University of Pittsburgh. She was fully involved in a program promoted by the Inter-American University Organization to promote women’s leadership in higher education.

What measures is the Ministry of Public Education taking to ensure that higher education in Costa Rica is more accessible and equitable?

Before taking office as minister, one fundamental aspect considered a priority was the Republic of Costa Rica continuing to increase its allocation to the education budget. It is constitutionally established that Costa Rica shall allocate 8% of GDP to education. Therefore, a goal before joining the Ministry was to place this under the leadership of the president as a working priority. We have continually achieved spending 8% of GDP on education despite the fiscal situation that Costa Rica is currently experiencing. Our progress toward that 8% includes spending on preschool, primary, and secondary education, as well as education for youth and adults such as state university education; all of this is part of the country's education budget. A second important priority has been the quality of education, for which different projects have been promoted. One of these has been continuing to transform and update the curriculum of new programs in English and French, as the push toward quality goes hand-in-hand with a growing internationalization of the Ministry's offering. In 2016, the pioneering project "Let's Speak Mandarin" was launched for the first time in the history of Costa Rica. All of this occurs within a context referred to as "Educating for a New Citizenship," which is the Ministry of Public Education's motto. An important part of the new citizenship is what we call digital citizenship. A more intense use of mobile technology in the classroom is being promoted, as is the case with encouraging the use of mobile phones as part of the learning process and creating innovative educational experiences. A third component is a sustainable development. The environmental component is being strengthened so that our students become aware of social responsibility, their role in the world, and their ecological footprint, while encouraging greater commitment to future generations.

How would you evaluate Costa Rica's cooperation with international institutions like UNESCO and ONU to promote youth rights and opportunities?

Our relationship with UNESCO is crucial and decisive. This entire educational policy around the idea of new citizenship is based on UNESCO's great principles. For us, as a government, the path determined by UNESCO in education is a course of action to be followed closely. I have actively participated in UNESCO's call for men and women ministers or in specific conferences, and for me it is a priority link. We are working with UNESCO on policies for sustainable development and respect for sexual diversity, and we are committed to the organization's guidelines for the different areas of educational development. UNESCO is an absolutely indispensable ally.

What is your vision for education in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has a fundamental asset, which is that families continue to believe in education. My vision is optimistic, because we are achieving a state policy in education. In the past, there were drastic changes in education policy with each change of government, but that is no longer happening. As a government, we joined the Ministry of Education with a sense of high responsibility. No country without a state education policy can achieve high standards, at least not in a four-year period, which is the term of governments in Costa Rica. Instead, a medium and long-term policy with goals that are continually met overtime is needed. For this, a government must carry out a sustained effort. The prime example is that with the last administrations we have continued to advance toward investing 8% of GDP in education; therefore, a national will has been embedded in the constitution. This shows that the country has a will and that there is a country plan for the educational system, which is good news that will continue strengthening Costa Rica. In addition, the growing internationalization being applied to the education system is causing our boys and girls to look at other global examples.