Costa Rica, the UN and the Transforming Education Summit: An opportunity to reaffirm education as a core global priority
Costa Rica has historically been a beacon for educational development in the Latin American and Caribbean region, thanks to the country's longstanding social, political and economic commitment to guaranteeing access to quality education and learning opportunities for all.
However, recent challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic recession and deepening social inequalities have set back Costa Rica’s progress towards achieving SDG 4 and improving educational outcomes across the country.
With these challenges in mind, the Transforming Education Summit convened by the UN General Assembly in New York provides an unprecedented opportunity to regain and mobilize trust in education systems around the world, as well as reaffirm the commitments of world leaders to elevate education to the heart of the global political agenda.
The context of the education field in Costa Rica at a glance
In Costa Rica education is recognized as central pillar of social mobility and inclusion, sustainability, and civic engagement. The Costa Rican model of educational success has been made possible by a strong social welfare system that promotes a human-rights-based and people-centered approach to public policy.
These achievements, however, are not secure today. Efforts to ensure high levels of school attendance, strong literacy rates and educational success for every child across the country have been hindered by a complex set challenge over the last few years.
Public investment in education in recent years has decreased from 8% of GDP – following constitutional regulations – down to 6.9% today. Public spending devoted to education has declined too – 21.54% in 2020 compared to 24.3% in 2019.
Another major challenge that we observed across the country was the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the suspension of face-to-face teaching which that entailed. Like other countries in Latin America and around the world, Costa Rica was not fully prepared for the rapid adoption of hybrid learning models. This transition to online learning platforms exposed the significant digital divide across the country. According to the last report of the Ministry of Public Education for the second quarter of 2021, only 35% of the total number of enrolled students had access to a virtual platform to continue their studies.
The lack of connectivity and access to digital devices has had a negative impact on digital literacy rates across Costa Rica, affecting not only current learning but also future employment opportunities for young people.
The stagnation of these learning journeys represents a significant challenge for communities and young people across Costa Rica; half of which are now leaving the education system without completing secondary school.
To narrow this growing digital divide and achieve greater levels of learning inclusion and equality, the education sector in Costa Rica needs to adapt urgently.
Scaling up UN cooperation and integrated action
To tackle these immense learning challenges, the UN system in Costa Rica has worked together to scale up its support across multiple sectors of the education system.
Interagency cooperation has been a fundamental part of these efforts, enabling our UN team in Costa Rica to avoid duplication of resources and programming, strengthen our shared learning curve and demonstrate to key partners on the ground the value of the UN’s joined-up, multidisciplinary approach.
Under the leadership of a strong Resident Coordinator, we were able to build a Cooperation Framework with the Government of Costa Rica for the next four years which set out our more integrated, ‘ONE UN” approach to early childhood education.
During this process, the whole UN system in Costa Rica worked closely with the Ministry of Public Education, the national network for Early Care and Early Childhood Development and other state entities to promote a more inclusive childhood education experience, guided by the principles of gender equality, human rights, and social justice.
As schools began to close during the outset of the pandemic in 2020, we adjusted our programming to align more closely with national priorities of scaling up social protection services, ensuring educational continuity away from the classroom and helping connect more children and adolescents to digital learning platforms. In addition to this, we provided a range of education-based socio-emotional and psychosocial care for communities and offered comprehensive sexual education courses.
Ensuring that students still had access to quality and relevant education in the areas of gender-based violence, discrimination, racism and xenophobia during the pandemic was also a key priority for our UN team. To do this, we provided a range of trainings for teachers and supported them with the development of emergency curricula and educational resources.
Restoring confidence in the education system
When the COVID-19 pandemic first unfolded over two years ago, the UN system and its education partners were already deeply engaged in discussions about how to improve educational pathways around the world and deliver a high-quality, sustainable learning experience for every child and young person.
The Transforming Education Summit is an opportunity to continue these debates at a global level, bringing back confidence and credibility in our education system and ensuring that education is at the heart of recovery and development strategies worldwide.
In Costa Rica, transforming the education system requires active engagement and commitment from all stakeholders, including the UN family as a whole, national authorities and other civil society actors on the ground. Together with this coalition of partners, we are determined to move towards a more equitable education system in Costa Rica, which provides relevant skills, opportunities and life-long learning for all.
 UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). UIS database, available at https://on.unesco.org/3vnhYT5, date of extraction: September, 2022.
To learn more, visit: CostaRica.UN.org.
Data about the work of the UN Country Team on education is available in Costa Rica Country Results Report (available in Spanish: Informe de Resultados de la Cooperación ONU 2021).
Op-ed co-written in Spanish by:
- Allegra Baiocchi
Resident Coordinator in Costa Rica
- Patricia Portela de Souza
UNICEF Representative in Costa Rica
- Alexander Leicht
Director of the UNESCO Cluster Office in San Jose, Costa Rica
UNESCO Representantive to Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panamá
Read more on the topic:
- Back to school after the COVID-19 pandemic: why not 'back to the future'? - a blog by the Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-General for the Transforming Education Summit Leonardo Garnier