Nov 20, 2018

PUBLIC TEACHERS CONTINUE STRIKE IN COSTA RICA - GRIDLOCK FOR GRADUATING STUDENTS

Graduation Joy Turns Into Uncertainty
Graduation Joy Turns Into Uncertainty

In our August 2018 report, we highlighted the three CAA Educational Scholarship Program students that are scheduled to graduate high school in a few days, and our attempts to get these students focused on follow-on vocational or university training.  However, those exciting possibilities are now up in the air.  A broad-based Costa Rica labor union strike, instituted the first week of September, shut down most of the public schools in Costa Rica 3- 4 weeks after the Second Term began.  The public school teacher’s strike continues as of this report, although almost all of the other public union employees returned to work 4-5 weeks ago. So, although health care services have resumed, public education students are still being held as hostages. 

The public labor walk-out was called because of a necessary, but unpopular, fiscal bail-out proposal to increase taxes and reduce government public spending to address a long-standing fiscal imbalance that is no longer sustainable. This fiscal law was about to be approved by the national assembly when public workers, including about 63,000 public school teachers and administrative staff, began the strike. Unfortunately, the students are caught in the middle of this economic dogfight and will receive only 3-4 weeks of instruction during this 4 month school term.   

What does this mean for our three potential high school graduates?  At a minimum, this strike has ruined what typically is a very joyous time for most graduating high school students and graduation parties will have a cloud over them. But, the impact of the ongoing strike is much more serious for these individual students and undermines the country's educational framework. These students lost out on most of their final term in high school, but for graduates, the impact may be longer lasting.

In order to properly graduate, the students must pass the “bachillerato” high school exit exams. The closure of schools and absence of teachers caused the cancellation of exam preparatory classes for students, the actual exams had to be delayed until sufficient “volunteers” could be assembled to help conduct/monitor them, and some test content also had to be deleted given that the students didn’t get relevant instruction in this final term.  Additionally, newspapers just reported that the absence of school administrators at work means the exam grades have not been certified and reported to the national database.  These students are in limbo regarding having successfully completing the tests. 

However, students in private schools have not been affected and these students will be way ahead of public school students in applying for and being accepted into the public universities next year.  And, they will be first in line (if not first in “need”) for available financial scholarship assistance, because public school students will be delayed in making application for university admission and confirming that they can get financial assistance. 

Absent financial assistance, CAA’s scholarship students will not be able to afford university or continuing vocational training courses.  We talked to one of our graduating students about the impact of the strike: he had minimal preparation for the bachillerato exams, has no idea how he scored given the delay in reporting the results, is very uneasy about his ability to enroll into university and get financial assistance next year, but he is quite ready for the drama to be over and get to the graduation party!

Although most informed observers understand the need for fiscal reform, there is legitimate debate regarding the appropriate balance of reduction provisions and which groups should take cuts – police, teachers, health care, roads, education and poverty assistance, and the list goes on and on.  Whatever is ultimately included in a fiscal reduction/tax package, many observers agree that the country’s investment in education is critical to Costa Rica’s progress towards a more technically capable labor force to meet the skill requirements necessary to support the growth of the new economy that is replacing agriculture.  

To sustain growth, additional preparation for jobs in the new econony is critial. Young adult unemployment (15-24 age group) is estimated at 22%;  over half of the Costa Rican population has not completed high school and is deemed insufficiently trained for the new economy; and the country’s finances are at a crisis point and not sustainable (October, 18, 2017 report by the 34 member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).  To reduce this youth unemployment situation and meet the needs of expanding business, a proposal is being advanced to formalize Dual Education programs combining on-the-job training with traditional education in partnership with businesses and public education. And, earlier this year, Costa Rica initiated a 4 year comprehensive review of public academic/technical training programs, combined with an expanded English Second Language requirement, to better prepare graduates for higher technology and tourism sector jobs that are increasingly important to earning higher wages in a changing Costa Rican economy. But, absent funding and cooperation from the public education system to solve the fiscal crisis, these worthy initiatives will be frustrated.  

The “legality” of the public teacher’s continuing strike is pending a final resolution in the Costa Rican courts and that will determine if this teacher’s strike will be treated as a “paid vacation”, or if teachers will suffer financially while refusing to work.  However, for many citizens including the private business sector, the court of public opinion has already ruled---holding public education hostage is an injustice to vulnerable students and a disservice to the country.  And, exceptionally generous (relative to the private sectors) public salaries and benefits/pensions must be reduced if Costa Rica is to avoid sovereign default for domestic internal or external financial obligations.   

As a small group of volunteers working diligently to foster education in San Ramon, Costa Rica, we have found these last 3 months to be very difficult to watch, but in some cases a cause for inspiration as some parents have undoubtedly encouraged their children to continue to study at home despite the school being closed. The Community Action Alliance's volunteers remain committed to help our scholarship students graduate high school and to support them as best we can.  Although our graduating students may have been cut short on Trigonometry or Calculus by the strikes, they certainly got a lesson in Civics by watching the national gridlock that is directly impacting their plans for the future.   

Your continued support through GlobalGiving is a good way to keep the dreams of these students alive in Costa Rica despite these politically and educationally challenging times. With the reality that the government will need to reduce educational financial support for poorer families, our group of CAA scholarship students will need even more assistance going forward.  Please help us make a difference!

Aug 29, 2018

Three High School Graduations on the Horizon -- Opportunities for Good Careers?

Looking forward to Graduation, 2018, 1 of 3
Looking forward to Graduation, 2018, 1 of 3
On July 21st, 2018, CAA’s Education Committee presented twenty-four escuela and colegio scholarship students their second term scholarship vouchers, and encouraged them to finish the school year with strong grades. Having graduated our first high school scholarship student in December, 2016, we are pleased that three students are on track to graduate in December,  2018.  This CAA scholarship program supports students in poverty to earn a high school education; and for most families, a graduation represents the first in the family!
However, the chance to get into a good career path will require more than just a high school education, given that most of the good paying job growth in Costa Rica will be in technical fields and tourism. How prepared are our graduating high school students to get the additional training required to access these jobs?  That is the focus of this report. 

Few Costa Rican public schools appear to have counseling resources to provide career orientation, university or vocational skill planning for students. We have learned that high school counselors spend most of their energy on the socio-economic issues presented by a large student population leaving little time for career and higher education counseling.  And, no U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics or Employment Commission equivalent agencies exist in Costa Rica to help students identify the demand for jobs, required skills, and applicant to job matching, required to get workers into the available jobs.  Essentially, a graduating high school or university student is pretty much limited to identifying job fairs and doing their own research to locate employers that are hiring, and available positions----only to recognize that additional specialized training, apprentice experience, or language proficiency is required. Of course, students that are able to tackle this maze themselves, are already demonstrating their resourcefulness, but many others require some coaching and counseling
 
Recognizing this counseling-information gap, and the importance of additional higher education to get into a valued career, four CAA Education Committee members with knowledge of university admission requirements, financial aid programs, and technical training opportunities, teamed up to offer our three graduating students a career planning, higher education orientation session in a Saturday workshop.  The Workshop covered four important topics:
  • University application deadlines and admission requirements, 
  • Preparation and training available to help students get ready to take the required university entrance exams, 
  • Funding through public university scholarships based on financial need. and 
  • Other non-university technical and language training opportunities (and relevance to the better-paying job market).
This initial orientation session confirmed that our three graduating students, from San Ramon's best public high schools, had received no higher education or career counseling information.  Two of the graduating students received Academic Excellence Awards for their 95 or over GPA's last year, and will likely have the grades to get into a public university, but the third student will need extensive preparation to pass the university entrance exams. And, they were unaware of the time deadlines, financial and admission requirements, and financial aid opportunities to help them plan for further education. At three or four months before graduation, none of the graduating students really had a sense of what to do next.  

As one Education Committee member observed "Costa Rica will always have some agricultural jobs requiring heavy labor for young men that cannot attend or do not do well in university, and many women also do manual labor, but the good-paying career options for un-trained women are much more limited than for men.  It is extremely important, especially for young women, to get early counseling to focus on careers in demand such as accounting, business managment, info technology, engineering, veterinarians, or the law.  Encouraging young women to venture into less traditional roles and supporting them during the process, is of critical importance for Latinas, especially those that were raised in single parent, financially poor households where few opportunities exist other than finding a man and raising babies". 
To fill this information gap for our CAA Scholarship Students, the Education Committee agreed to extend this higher education orientation  session to all our scholarship students, beginning just after completion of the 9th grade.  The last 2-3 years of high school are of critical importance in gaining the grade averages and focusing students on a path that includes higher education or technical skills training. This orientation session will be a follow-on session to our regular December year-end socio-economic/academic interviews that we hold with the student and parents.
By focusing students earlier on the challenges of life-after-high school, these students and their parents should be better positioned to move into the higher or technical education tracts that will prepare them for in-demand jobs.  The CAA Education Committee is committed to provide the additional counseling support necessary to prepare these graduating students for the next big step towards a life without poverty.  
With the support of GlobalGiving donors and our volunteers in Costa Rica, the Community Action Alliance will provide almost $8,000 in educational assistance in 2018 for families in poverty in the San Ramon area, and career and higher educational counseling.  W are all contributing what we can, financially or through information sharing, to build a  better tomorrow for these scholarship students--one student at a time!      
Another Focused High School Graduate 2018, 2 of 3
Another Focused High School Graduate 2018, 2 of 3
Colegio Graduating 2018, Volley-baller! 3 of 3
Colegio Graduating 2018, Volley-baller! 3 of 3
Jun 5, 2018

Commitment to Education - A Memorial

Supporting education, one student at a time
Supporting education, one student at a time

As the 25 CAA Educational Scholarship Students finish their last week of the first term of the 2018 school year in San Ramon, Costa Rica, it is appropriate to recognize that many of these students are able to stay in school only because of the support from donors from all over the world. This 2018 class, with multiple students making very good grades under adverse family financial situations, is presented as a fitting memorial to one very committed supporter.

A good friend, Bobby, of Austin, Texas, had donated to the scholarship program yearly since 2013 when CAA created the program and gave scholarships to 8 students. Most of the second, third, and fourth grade students he supported with donations in 2013 are now in high school and have graduation in sight. Bobby was always interested in the progress of the scholarship students in San Ramon and what help we needed each year to meet their funding requirements. Unfortunately, our friend learned in January that he had an aggressive form of lung cancer and passed away in May.   

The educational success of these 2018 CAA scholarship students is dedicated to Bobby, a very generous, kind, public-spirited man who knew that investing in education could enlighten minds, spark curiosity, promote equality, and open opportunities for a better life. We thank Bobby for his friendship and investment in these Costa Rican children, students that he didn't have the opportunity to meet personally but was committed to helping. He cared.

We appreciate all of our Global Giving supporters, and know that you are also committed to opening doors through education for these deserving students in San Ramon, Costa Rica.  Thank you for caring. 

  

 
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