EDUCATION FIRST

Costa Rica 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: HIGH STANDARDS IN EDUCATION

One of the first countries in the world to provide free public education, Costa Rica has the highest literacy rate in Central America and now competes with the world's most industrialized nations. Since 1970, it has invested 28% of its national budget in education, a percentage unthinkable were the military still in existence.

No matter which party is in power, the government is constantly seeking to boost the education sector. Yet education suffered tremendously as a result of the 1979-1983 crisis. Secondary enrollment, which rose from 20% to 60% between the 1950s and 1970s, fell to 50% in 1983. It took almost two decades to once again reach 1979 levels. This is why half of today's workforce has not gone to school. Enrollment has been steadily growing for the last 15 years and now exceeds 90%, but the effort must continue until all young people complete high school.

In 2014, the government pledged to increase spending on primary and secondary education to at least 8% of GDP. One of its long-term commitments has been to ensure that all schools are equipped with computers and other tools.

Its commitment is showing great results. The percentage of students abandoning their studies dropped from 13.2% in 2006 to 8.7% in 2014. For those aged 13 to 17, the gap in school attendance between urban and rural areas decreased from 30% in 2003 to 7% in 2013.

Increased investments also made it possible to finance the expansion of pre-school enrollment, which increased from 44% of the population in 2000 to 76% in 2014. Meanwhile, secondary school enrollment increased from 44% in 2000 to 81% in 2014. It also allowed for a significant increase in infrastructural improvements. The Ministry of Public Education's annual budget in this area never reached USD6 billion prior to 2006, but has exceeded USD30 billion in the last five years.

Costa Rica has a literacy rate of almost 95%, making it one of the most literate in Latin America. This is because education became free and compulsory in 1869. What's more, many of Costa Rica's presidents have been teachers—even the current president, Luis Guillermo Solís, was a long-time university professor.
According to the OECD, Chile and Costa Rica led the educational rankings in Latin America at 48th and 53rd places, respectively. Mexico and Uruguay are close behind at 54th and 55th place, respectively.
If trends continue, Costa Rica has a bright future in the education field.