Designing Professional Development/Costa Rica
Professional Development for Educators in Costa Rica
Costa Rica understands the relationship between education, productivity, and income growth. Costa Rica transformed itself from an agricultural economy to a diversified services, financial, and commerce based economy. They did this by making social investments in education, health, and assistance. Percentage of households living in poverty dropped from 54% in the early 1980’s to less than 18% in 2008. Education is mainly public. This article summarizes efforts taking place in Costa Rica to provide a quality education to all learners. It focuses on programs being led by the Ministry of Public Education (MEP) and other organizations committed to improve professional development for educators.
The President of Costa Rica requested CONARE (National Provost Council) to help with design of Education as a matter of a Costa Rica’s government policy. Costa Ricans recognized that education was essential to their democracy. The Country agreed that education was the main contributor of social mobility, poverty reduction, increase in productivity, and better incomes. Since that time, the government has been measuring the opportunities being offered to citizens for a quality and equitable education.
Studies by the Ministry of Public Education (MEP) identified a strong relationship between student drop-out rates and schools in disrepair. A large number of students were repeating grades in secondary, and interest in formal education was dropping. Due to the lack of job security and poor working conditions, less than half of practicing educators were employed full-time. Salaries for teachers were lower compared to other college-educated professionals. There were no opportunities offered to increase their knowledge and capabilities. Teachers were not evaluated or their performance reviewed. There was a ratio of 32 students per classroom in public schools, compared to 21 students per teacher in private schools. It was agreed that teacher incentives and working conditions had to improve. The MEP started pilot studies to identify, evaluate and provide incentives for educator’s best practices. In higher education, only 11% of degrees in public universities were credited. The National Accreditation System of Higher Education (SINAES) established performance measurements, monitoring, and quality control in the accreditation granting process. The MEP started by defining quality education and became determined to learn more about pedagogy, learning sciences, and teaching best practices. It was decided that more human and financial resources were going to be committed to education. A new evaluation system for teachers was established. Affirmative action, diversity, and equal opportunities were going to become available for all educators. Education in new technologies began to be offered to all teachers. Curricula was reformed. A connection was established between the attainment of knowledge and social advancement.
Evaluations were conducted in the educational system to establish accountability, track progress, and bring in needed change. Results revealed dysfunctional departments without jurisdictions. A system of informal and dispersed vertical hierarchy without procedures or control mechanisms. It was a highly bureaucratic culture where responsibilities and accountability were missing. Restructuring took place and Regional Directives were established to give their communities more autonomy, and a new accountability model was adopted.
Teacher education in Costa Rica is provided by the University of Costa Rica, the National University, the Distance State University, and the Technology Institute of Costa Rica. Teachers pursuing the Educational Technology degrees will do that at the Technology Institute. The National University is the preferred choice for careers in K-12 education. Private universities offer pre-school, special education, administration, and other specialties. .
The Institute of Professional Development
In 2008, The Institute of Professional Development (IDP) became the new entity in the Ministry of Public Education (MEP) responsible for executing the plans, programs, and fulfill the legal requirements to deliver professional development in the educational system. The IDP follows an implementation model based on best practices. IDP enables research, analysis and interactions among educators driven to improve the quality of professional educators. IDP keeps professional certifications up to date, determines the national requirements for professional development, and designs the long term plan for national policy. The IDP focus areas include developing plans and execute the programs that will deliver professional development to all educators in Costa Rica. It is also in charge of the evaluation of strategies responsible for the performance improvement of educators. In 2009, IDP developed and adopted the National Requirements for Professional Development. Published work with the University of Costa Rica from research in collaborative environments. Published “Promoting School Success” from work with CR-USA Foundation and other MEP officials. 3282 publications were reproduced and distributed for the development of training processes during 2008. 742 educators were trained in the theme of a “Healthy Financial Culture”. 574 education administrators received training in competitive management practices. Implemented about 451 courses in different regions throughout the whole Country, which provided training to 7430 workers. The National English Plan included 1120 educators by providing them with classes in linguistic skills.
The National Learning Technologies Program
The National Learning Technologies Program was initiated by the MEP and the Omar Dengo Foundation to create learning environments by teaching how to develop logical thinking, use problem resolution, design a deeper curriculum, develop creativity, increase self-esteem, explore technology, and foster collaboration. This program benefited 492 schools, about 405,558 students, and 29,381 educators. The strategy for educational technology is based on using the tools to transform learning, improve cognitive development, and increase productivity in the delivery of academic content. Educational technology will foster learning environments for logical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and the exploration of diverse subjects. At the end of 2008, about 55% of primary and 68% of secondary schools had internet access. This benefited 317,000 primary and 129,000 secondary students.
Digital Technology for Teachers
Digital Technology for Teachers was an effort formed in 2009 between the MEP, the Omar Dengo Foundation, and Strategy XXI Century started defining the teachers’ standards for access, use of digital technologies, and the impact on MEP’s public policy. Training standards and strategies are being sought from UNESCO, and other countries like Chile, Colombia, and Finland.
Intel Corporation has been in Costa Rica since 1997. As a Corporate citizen, promoting education in Costa Rica is a large priority for them. Programs are focused in elementary, high school, higher education, and the community. The Intel Teach Program helps teachers integrate technology in their classrooms and gives them tools to enhance student learning. Intel works with MEP and the Omar Dengo Foundation to offer training in all regions, including the remote one-room schoolhouses. More than 18,500 teachers in Costa Rica have participated in the program since it started in 2000. It plans to educate 12,000 more in the next five years. In 2006 the Costa Rican Ministry of Public Education (MEP) incorporated the Intel Teach Program training curriculum as part of its mandatory professional development for all schoolteachers. Working with MEP, Intel has helped strengthen the country’s technology knowledge base. Intel works with the technical education system to further promote the values and skills that are required in the workforce.
The initial courses are introductory. They offer essentials for a dynamic learning environment, using the Internet, online research, creating web pages, and student projects. There is a course of learning by research, created specifically for educators in Costa Rica, offered in all regions of the Country. The Learning Critical Thinking Skills with Technology Course focuses on critical thought processes and logical analysis. The technology tools used in this class require fast broadband internet connections, and only those schools which have the infrastructure available receive this course. Every year seminars are offered to keep educators up-to-date on the latest technological developments. Educators can also use the resources and tools provided on the Intel’s Education Latin America webpages. The University of Costa Rica and the National University have technology classrooms equipped by Intel and are also teaching these courses. Intel has a University Education Program which includes technology curriculum development, research projects, enterprise initiative, student contests and grants.
High Performance Information System
The High Performance Information System (PIAD) is a program with software responsible for the automation and conversion to digital tools in Costa Rican schools thru a partnership between government, private industry, and some non-profit organizations. The PIAD projects gets funding and support from the National Bank’s Social Responsibility Program. This program operates with the understanding that access to information promotes equality and efficiency. Activities, registers, grades, household information, students’ files, teachers’ files, registration information, files, and Annual Operation Plans will be converted and maintained in digital format online. This information will be used for decision making and strategic decisions to continue improvements in efficiency and quality. The automation of the registration process will result in less time and resources needed from the educational community. In 2009, 114 schools were given each computers, printers, and a projector. 52 institutions were designated as regional technology centers. More than 4,700 educators and 100,000 students have benefited from online registration or the new information systems at the schools. Time savings average between thirty and fifty hours per month in each school.
Multilingual Costa Rica
A government decree in 2008 declared Multilingual Costa Rica an organization of public interest with the main goal of having a bilingual population in Costa Rica by 2017. It started with teacher and instructors getting trained. Projects, grants, and consulting is offered to all public schools. Teachers from English speaking countries come in and share their knowledge with Costa Rican educators and schools. Testing of teachers receiving training is done to quantify the progress of the instruction provided. This organization studies and shares best practices from international sources. Texas A&M University and Sam Houston State University are providing support in Costa Rica. The organization also showcases national examples throughout Costa Rica. Over 5,000 teachers and students have received classes from the public universities in Costa Rica under this program. The deployment of technology to schools has occurred in conjunction with the training activities. Language corners are being established in the Public Libraries throughout communities and municipalities. Businesses and non-profit organizations have donated books in this effort. Friends in English is an exchange taking place between students from different schools, where they practice together on a weekly basis. There is a tourism program with volunteers from other countries staying for a semester to help communities learn English. Organizations like the Peace Corps have offered over 27,000 hours of instructions for students in Costa Rica since they started in 2010.
- MEP prepared an infrastructure plan approved by the government in 2011 where over 300 schools, offices, and facilities will be upgraded in the next four years.
- Salaries for teachers, school administrators, and directors were increased by 35 to 50% in 2008, and an additional 20 to 38% in 2009.
- In 2008 Costa Rica participated in the SERCE (Second Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study) international testing. Results in reading and math for third and sixth grade students placed them in the top of all Latin America.
- In 2008, rural schools began to be established in a pilot effort of 18 communities. These rural schools focus their learning on the realities faced by their communities. These are small schools were a few teachers promote learning in different subjects and at the same time address psychological and social growth in their class plans.
- New education programs in all public schools for civic studies and music were deployed in 2009, with health and the arts in 2010. MEP will offer the environmental and sustainability banner, which can be integrated in schools’ curriculums. The MEP wants to initiate science education with research based learning at all elementary schools. Methodology goes beyond observation, hypothesis formatting, and experiments. It focuses on scientific reasoning and critical thinking to develop comprehension. Evidence will be used to evaluate, communicate and justify conclusions.
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