What are the other challenges faced by these 2018-2022 students? According to UNICEF, 37% of children in Costa Rica now live below the poverty line (Swissinfo.ch/UNICEF, May 4, 2022). The Education Ministry reported in local news that public school students over the past 4 years have lost almost 2 years of instruction due to the two teacher’s strikes of 2018-2019, followed by the Covid pandemic disruptions of 2020-2021. Although the system has tried to add a few months of additional classes, it remains to be seen how much ground these 2018-2022 students have recovered, especially the most disadvantaged.
In fact, the President of Costa Rica just decreed that the standardized “FARO” tests should not be required for students in 2022, and the Education Ministry announced June 9th that the tests, scheduled for next week, have been suspended. A student’s score on this standardized test in selected subjects was to represent 40% of the weighted test scores used to determine a student’s final grade; and a low score would jeopardize university eligibility, which caused protests by students and their parents. Will another standardized national test be substituted to measure learning across campuses and years? The public university faculty association insists that Costa Rica continue annual standardized testing of achievement in the last years of elementary and of high school. Time will tell how this local testing issue will be resolved, and how Costa Rica will measure academic proficiency going forward.
Fortunately, Costa Rica as a member of the 38 OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), participated among 600,000 other students from OCED and non-OECD countries (79 participating countries-economies) in the OECD’s PISA standardized tests in 2018 (Programme for International Student Assessment). These tests focused on age 15 students in reading, math, and science proficiency. The most recent OECD PISA was focused on reading proficiency and the results were reported December 2019. The next math-focused PISA test, originally scheduled for 2021, was rescheduled for 2022 due to Covid and results should be available next year. (Source-https://gpseducation.oecd.org)
Costa Rica’s 2018 PISA reading proficiency results demonstrated that only half, 50%, of Costa Rica’s students scored at or above the minimum level for reading proficiency, behind Chile’s 60% among PISA's participating Latin America countries. Mexico, Brazil, Columbia scored close behind Costa Rica, and Argentina ranked the lowest at about 38%. Costa Rica’s average score was 426 compared to the 487 average of all PISA participating countries. In the math portion, Costa Rica’s proportion of students scoring at or above the minimum level of proficiency was only about 40%. China led in overall scores.
PISA 2018 reflected the need for improvement in reading comprehension, math, and science even before the impact of Costa Rica’s 2018-2022 educational disruptions. This PISA report indicated:
- “A large share, over 10%, of advantaged CR students had to repeat a grade”; (emphasis added on “advantaged”);
- “Socio-economic status explains 16% of the variance in reading performance in Costa Rica (OECD average: 12%)”;
- “27% of children in Costa Rica live below OECD's defined relative income poverty line”;
- “However, 10% of disadvantaged students (in Costa Rica) are academically resilient (OECD average:11%)”.
We are optimistic that CAA’s socio-economically disadvantaged scholarship students will demonstrate that very important trait of “academic resilience.” Two other PISA 2018 findings could also be very significant:
- Costa Rica students’ “average level of life satisfaction is one of the highest of all the countries and economies participating...”, and
- Costa Rica students “strongly believe in their own ability to perform, especially facing adversity, compared with other PISA participating countries…”
These PISA 2018 captured beliefs may very well account for individual academic success despite poverty. We are hopeful that the disruptions of 2018-2022 have not shaken these incredibly important drivers of life satisfaction and academic success.
CAA’s eight 2022 graduating students that endured the 2018-2022 disruptions may be able to avoid the FARO final tests, but all of these students are facing the challenge of standardized university entrance exams – these tests are at the same level of difficulty as pre-pandemic. CAA funded the cost of those exams, and we hope to locate pre-exam prep/tutoring resources to get these students ready for the tests. Our scholarship students must do their very, very best work if they hope to qualify for public university admission given the limited number of openings available, fierce competition from private school students, and our students' absolute dependence on government scholarships. That PISA 2018 reported “strong belief in their own ability to perform…” is now of critical importance if our students are to achieve the dream of university education.
This photo from five years ago says it all – this dedicated dreamer is taking her university entrance exams this year!
(All photos used with written permission of the subject[s]).