TRANSFERABLE SKILLS FOR A TRANSNATIONAL WORLD

Costa Rica 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sonia Marta Mora Escalante, Minister of Public Education, on discovering new educational methods, enabling continuing adult education, and developing educational alliances.

Sonia Marta Mora Escalante
BIOGRAPHY
Sonia Marta Mora Escalante has been Minister of Public Education in Costa Rica since 2014. After studying literature at the University of Costa Rica, she then obtained a doctorate in semiology in Paris and Montpellier. She also received a Fulbright grant to conduct research at the University of Pittsburgh. In the past decade, Mora Escalante has been heavily involved in a program promoted by the Inter-American University Organization to promote leadership among women in higher education. She was appointed rector of the National University of Costa Rica in 2000; during her administration she promoted academic reform and introduced the college of humanities.

How is the ministry adjusting study programs to the requirements of the economy?

One of the goals of our strategic agenda is to have an integral curricular reform from programs designed by objectives to ones based on competencies and skills that students need to succeed in the 21st century. That has been a major change because this new curriculum is oriented toward students developing competencies and skills for their professional life, promoting self-learning and critical knowledge. This reform also spells a radical change in the way teachers work, since more dynamism allows students to discover new methodologies, solve problems, and develop new strategies, instead of memorizing content. A clear example is our foreign language learning programs. We have increased the number of English teachers with the aim of internationalizing education in the country with programs designed under a European framework. At the moment, we have also implemented a Mandarin program in 10 schools and discovered that there are many companies searching for young people who speak Portuguese, and thus have already begun to teach this language in six public schools. We have also focused on developing a globalized awareness that allows students to have a strong national identity while being open to the world, so they can take advantage of the opportunities in the global market, since we are a small country with a large international presence. Furthermore, some of our biggest concerns are the education curricula at the kindergarten and primary levels, because we strongly believe these first steps are essential for successfully advancing in the educational sector. We have some important innovations here, first, a new curriculum including the newest trends in teaching and required technology. We are going to see the results of all these efforts in 10 or 15 years. On the other hand, another relevant topic is the Dual Education Program. We have a pilot program with the automotive sector and have also been preparing two more for tourism and telecommunications. The main objective of this is to deepen technical knowledge in these areas of the country's technical educational institutions. The Dual Education Program works under the philosophy that knowledge has to be developed both in schools and in companies. It constitutes a strong collaboration with the private sector and is being implemented in technical schools.

How is the government working to improve the infrastructure of institutions in Costa Rica in order to standardize education?

In this aspect, we have different challenges. One of the main activities is a strategy called “Yo me apunto," which is meant to reinforce permanency, reincorporation, and educational success. This program works with the most marginalized schools in the country and intends to overcome exclusion with strategies that help detect students at risk of dropping out and combat its causes. Moreover, we have increased the number of scholarships at the primary and secondary levels to promote social inclusion. This same program works in collaboration with the minister to provide childcare so that parents can study at night. The ministry is also supplying night schools with food and transport services, which has improved students' long-term attendance rates. We have also expanded our food support to secure an inclusive education in Costa Rica. As opposed to 2016, when the previous government could not make its scholarship payments by the beginning of the year, this government paid them in January so that families could send their children to the schools from the get-go.

What alliances does the ministry have with other local and international entities?

We have important partnerships with public and private bodies, not to mention foundations, including the Gente Foundation and the Asociación de Empresarios para el Desarrollo. We have also signed alliances with the CRUSA and Monge foundations and are working together to grant scholarships to young entrepreneurs. We also have partnerships with entities such as UNICEF and UNESCO and with countries like Chile, Panama, and Germany.