Our nine graduating Colegio (high school) students are heavily involved in classes and are anticipating graduation in December. Eight of those graduates are taking two more university admission entrance exams in October in addition to final Colegio exams before graduation. The eight university applicants will face two to three months of uncertainty waiting for a January notification of scores and acceptance. In Costa Rica, each public university compiles a ranked list of eligible students by exam scores for available slots in each degree field. Some students will not rank high enough to get into their preferred career field and may decide to begin university in another field. Although it may be disappointing not to be accepted into a student’s preferred field, some students starting university in another field can switch career fields by earning excellent grades—but only if a slot opens in the preferred field.
During this period of university acceptance uncertainty, students and their families must still complete financial aid applications and be prepared in the event the student gets the opportunity for admission. Absent a government scholarship and housing/food support, none of these students are likely to be able to attend a public university.
For those who are not accepted into a public university with a financial scholarship, the road ahead is to find a job that will pay enough for tuition at a private university, or just give up and take a low paying job. Students may also try to attend the public technical/trade school (INA) while continuing to re-take entrance exams and hoping for admission to a public university.
How can these students overcome the academic losses of the past four years?
The other 20 non-graduating students face the daily challenge of trying to keep their grades up despite having lost so much in-person class time.
By official estimates, the teacher-strike-and-pandemic-affected students have lost as much as two years of subject mastery. We are told that the public schools have relaxed tests/grading in recognition of lower achievement expectations. However, this lower bar does not help with the university admission tests—those standardized tests are the same today as they were four years ago. It is clearly disappointing for our students to realize that being a “good student” in high school isn’t enough to enter a public university in their preferred field. Only the “best students” throughout the country get that opportunity.
These students desperately need after-class tutoring (primarily in math, Spanish, and English). We learned first-hand how deficient most of our graduating scholarship students are in math during the 16 sessions of prep/refresher courses that CAA sponsored from July through mid-September.
However, it appears that waiting until the year of graduation to participate in these university exam refresher courses is too late to significantly improve university admission prospects. Almost all of our students were below expected levels (by university standards) when they entered high school in the 7th grade and continued to lose ground until graduation.
Arranging tutoring is a big challenge! We continue to search for tutoring options for our students, but the logistics and costs present challenges. For example, it cost $1,000 for these special refresher courses for eight students this year. Furthermore, our scholarship students are attending five Colegios around San Ramón, and many of the students are bused in from outlying neighborhoods. The bus transport schedules, at an individual student level, dictate the student’s availability for after-class tutoring. Colegio campus officials are reluctant to allow non-certified teachers/tutors to use classrooms or be on campus.
Some of our scholarship students are lucky enough to live near a CAA member who agrees to assist as a tutor. My wife and I provide English tutoring each Saturday for two young women in our rural pueblo; sixth and eighth grades. A few other CAA members provide tutoring in their homes for a student in their area.
Despite the limitations and challenges, most of our scholarship students will be the first in their family to graduate high school, and some will master university studies. Achieving these important milestones would not be possible without the collective investment of our supportive donors through Education Equals Hope, Inc., GlobalGiving, and locally. None of this would be possible without CAA’s dedicated local volunteers. On behalf of these San Ramón students, we are forever grateful to those helping us alleviate poverty through education. Together we can continue to give hope and make a difference, one student at a time.