The Business Year

Sonia Mora

COSTA RICA - Health & Education

Upholding a consistent education policy

Minister of Public Education, Costa Rica

Bio

Sonia Mora is Minister of Public Education of Costa Rica. Her current position is preceded by a life course in the service of education and learning. She studied literature at the University of Costa Rica and obtained a PhD in Semiology in France. She studied in Paris and Montpellier for five years, a key experience for her intellectual and personal training. She also received a Fulbright grant that allowed her to conduct research at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Over the past 10 years, she became fully involved in a program promoted by the Inter-American University Organization to promote the leadership of women in Higher Education. In 2006 she obtained the “Palmas Académicas” that the government of France grants to intellectuals who offer significant contributions to their countries. In 2016 she participated as a panelist invited to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as representative of the education sector to present the country’s progress in human rights education.

"At this moment we have implemented a program of Mandarin in ten schools. We have also discovered that there are a lot of companies searching for young people who speak Portuguese, and thus have already begun to teach this language in six public schools."

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. It is about the skills that teachers develop in their students. A clear example is our foreign language learning programs. We have incremented the number of English teachers with the aim of internationalizing education in the country, programs designed under a European framework. At this moment we have implemented a program of Mandarin in ten schools. We have also discovered that there are a lot of 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 presence of multinational companies as well as tourists from all over the world. Furthermore, some of our biggest concerns are the education curricula of primary education and kindergarten, 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 for 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 fields in the country’s technical educational institutions. The Dual Education Program works under the philosophy that knowledge has to be developed both in schools and companies. It constitutes a strong collaboration with the private sector and is being implemented in technical schools. Another primary change is the approval of a national framework of qualifications for technical education that establishes different levels and the competencies needed for each field in this type of education. It also allows employers to have more clarity about the type of technician they are looking for and helps the educational system become more efficient in technical training.

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

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 this exclusion with strategies that help detect students at risk of dropping out and how to combat its causes. This same program works in collaboration with the minister to provide babysitting 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. Moreover, we have increased the number of scholarships in primary and secondary levels to promote social inclusion. We have also expanded our food support to secure an inclusive education in Costa Rica. As opposed to last year, 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 in order to improve the quality of education in the country?

We have partnerships with many private companies, but also we have very important ones with foundations, for example 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 like UNICEF and UNESCO and with countries like Chile, Panama, and Germany, the latter of whom we are implementing the Dual Program with.

How does the ministry ensure the quality of education at higher levels?

We have a government program whose main objective is to strengthen the quality of private higher education. This project decreed that curriculums have to be renewed every five years to keep up with new demands in education and the workplace. It will also be mandatory for SINAES to certify the private universities, which will importantly give graduates an international equivalence. The other element of the project and is the hiring of international teachers to improve the quality of education.

What are some of the goals the ministry has set for the medium term?

One of our aims is to continue strengthening a state policy in education that does not change every four years with each change in government. We are committed to ensuring the effective standardization of early infancy education, effectively implementing the new curriculum in classrooms with the help of all the teachers.

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