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Costa Rica’s Core Problem – The Education System

I attended a class  of 1st graders and wanted to know what they wanted to be when they grew up. I expected to hear dreams like when our class was asked the same question, we would say doctor, lawyer, fireman, and so on.  I was surprised and disappointed to hear jobs like taxi driver, corner store owner, and call center employee.  To me this showed the results of a poor school system in showing the kids with hard work they can be anything want.

When you look at the Costa Rican government (the president showing a gang sign on the left, kidding but not really), they always seem to be focusing on the eco tourism, how to bring more tourist to the country, keeping the green Costa Rican image, as well as mixing in a bunch of things that in the long run really never get accomplished because of the kickbacks and corruption at all levels of government.  Costa Rica portrays a happy go lucky, “pura vida” outside, but there are core problems that are based around one thing, the education system. But what can you really expect from the kids when 1/3 of the teachers called in sick for at least 3 weeks last year and when they are sick the kids go home.

When I was growing up I was taught at a very young age to be respectful of others, to tell the truth (not saying that I kept to this, but knew it was wrong to lie), to follow my dreams, to work hard and if I did not I had no one to blame on failures but myself, to be ethical in all facets of life, not to steal or hurt others, to know the difference between wrong and right (Again did not always do the right thing, but knew if I did something wrong it as wrong), and that working together with trust and honesty as a team usually led to great results.  Most of these things I learned by the time I was 10 years old while growing up.

I went to school everyday from 7:45 AM until 3:30 pm.  After school I was involved in after school sports, theater, and clubs.  All of these things were provided for free by the school.  There were teachers that volunteered to help with these activities as they knew how important they were for the growth and learning of the students.  I learned more of life’s lesson outside the classroom that the knowledge I picked up from the textbooks.  All of this is close to non-existent in Costa Rica in their school system.

Students in the public school system in most cases in Costa Rica because of the overcrowded schools, both in San Jose and Rural areas, go to school in either the morning or afternoon.  This consist of a morning session form about 8 am to around 10:30 am.  For me that was about two and a half classes while I was growing up.  If you walk by a school you will see what the kids are doing every class, most are making out in the bushes around the school.  Most Costa Rican boys from age 14 to 18 are like the male dog with the pink thing hanging out.   Actually most are pretty much like that until after they turn 40 if we need to be honest.  The funny thing is Costa Ricans wonder why teen pregnancy is so common.

After school growing up I participated in team sports and theater.  I learned in these activities to make friends, to practice  to get better at something, competition and its importance, to have grace in losing and winning, to gain self confidence,  to take responsibility for my actions, to work together as a team to reach a common goal, and to trust others and always be true to the team.  To me these activities are crucial in the development of a child and are necessary lessons to learn on the road to becoming an adult.

If you look at how most Costa Rican adults act it can be tied directly back to never learning these lessons growing up, and you will hear it when you see how they react and what they say to advice.  Most of the time when you say something to a Costa Rican about something that they are doing wrong or need to improve on they will shrug their shoulders and say  “I know.” What this means is yes you are right but I am not going to change, I will hope to just not get caught next time.  Most Costan Ricans do not know how to lose or say they are wrong.  I learned during sports to admit when I screwed up and if we lost the game take the lessons learned and move on.  If you catch most Costa Ricans in a lie they will try to pin it on someone else instead of admitting that they were at fault.

The final thing that is not taught in Costa Rican schools is trust, ethics, and consideration for others.  In most cases Costa Ricans think that it is not a lie and it is not stealing unless you get caught.  The goal is to get away with as much as possible and it is only wrong if you are caught doing it.  When it comes to ethics this is also the case, most Costa Ricans are in this life for themselves and no one else, if they need to screw someone over to get what they need then they will do it and in most cases the legal system is so backwards it costs more time and effort than it is worth to fight it. Finally is consideration, because of the fear of conflict a Costa Rican would rather waste another’s time than to admit they are not doing something because either they do not want to  or it does not benefit them.  For example, miss a meeting without calling or notifying the other party they were not coming, while the other person took time out of their day to meet with them.  When confronted about it, they will make up an excuse and then ask when is a good time the next day without an apology.

Many people are leaving Costa Rica and taking their families to other Central American countries, retiring in Panama, moving to Nicaragua, and all together giving up on the “Pura Vida ” lifestyle . The result of the poor education of the youth is  an environment where it is next to impossible to do business with all the back stabbing and in order to just do your daily activities you get frustrated with the incompetency of the employees and it is almost unbearable.  The response of the Costa Ricans, you do not like it then leave. I love the natural beauty of Costa Rica but when you see the result of a school system where the teachers are under trained and underpaid it promotes a large drop out rate and uninterested students.  I did not understand the true importance of education both in the classroom and in after school activities until I saw the results of it not being implemented with any kind of standards.



  1. Hanna Woodside said:

    To whom it may concern (since you didn’t leave your name), while I agree that there are areas for improvement in the Costa Rican education system, I found this article to be offensive on multiple levels. You began by stating that the aspirations of the average first grader in Costa Rica are sub-par compared to those of you and your peers when you were young. Where exactly did you grow up? From the list of careers you expected to hear I am assuming the United States, and a middle-class to wealthy area at that. I too grew up (in a Northwest suburb of Chicago) being told by my parents and having reinforcement from my teachers that I could be anything I wanted to be. This kind of support is a beautiful gift to be given in life…consider yourself lucky! Because upon entering college and interacting with people who did not grow up in the same supportive bubble as I did, I realized how money affects education which affects one’s perception of life which creates a cyclical process of creating and re-creating a poorly education low socioeconomic class whose dreams for the future are “disappointing” (a personal/societal perception in and of itself).

    I am not arguing that the Costa Rican education system shouldn’t strive to give its youth the same kind of encouragement that you and I grew up with, but these same issues are present within our own country (once again assuming you are from the United States). How can you then criticize the government for using tourism to stimulate economic growth which could in turn create more money for a better education system if so applied? You also addressed the core values you were taught at a young age. Once again, this is related to the support system you had which was a result of education which is typically a result of money. I do not believe you should feel bad for your upbringing, but it is ignorant to ignore how certain privileges or lack thereof affect one’s behavior (and FYI there are no universal standards on “right” and “wrong” so your references to good morals are only culturally relative).

    While I agree that the amount of time many Costa Rican students spend inside of the classroom is lacking compared to time outside of the classroom, your analogy of Costa Rican teen boys (you go on to say men as well which is likely a reference to the cultural norm of machismo, another term that cannot be understood by comparison to what you personally find socially acceptable) to male dogs with boners is distasteful and ill-informed. First of all, Costa Rica is a country where the church and state are integrated. Since the official religion of the country is Catholicism, which preaches abstinence, the students receive no formal sexual education, let alone a discussion with their parents about how to practice safe sex. Also because of the connection between church and state, abortions are illegal. Therefore it is unfortunately true that many young couples experience teen pregnancy. However, such pregnancies are not the result of Costa Rican males walking around with their boners hanging out like wild animals. And for your information, the United States pathetically has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world!

    You conclude your article with more ethnocentric accusations of the Costa Rican people which are completely absurd and not worth arguing as they have no real basis whatsoever. It seems you attempted to expose the notion (which I do not disagree with) that Costa Rica may be settling for a poor socioeconomic model and for better or worse, exhausting efforts into American tourism. However, I believe you have failed to sufficiently analyze the causes of these problems. It is only when we tackle these issues at their roots, that we will see true progress in Costa Rica.

  2. admin said:


    Everyone is welcomes to have their opinion on the education system in CR. How long have you been living here and what is your personal experience with the public education system here in CR?

    I am assuming you are basing your information on things you have read. However, my response from teachers down here is this is dead on. Also regarding the men walking around with their thingies hanging out, I will be publishing an article today talking about how 1 our of every 5 teenagers in CR has a child.

    Progress in CR needs to start with the education system as by they are 19 20% of the women in CR have a baby.

  3. Hanna Woodside said:

    I lived in Costa Rica for four months and will be moving there in August. As I said I DO NOT disagree that there are issues with the education system and I think it’s great that you are seeking to improve them. My critiques were on your methods of analyzing these issues. I believe that in order to make way for change in Costa Rica or anywhere for that matter it is important to be culturally sensitive rather than make comparisons (for example implementing sexual education to help with the epidemic of teen pregnancy would need to be handled with care given the religious beliefs of the people).

    I too believe that progress starts with the education system. I even wrote a paper about the recycling system in Costa Rica and how it needs to start with the education of the youth because although the country is “green” I saw many people throwing trash in the streets or recyclable products in the trash. However if a Costa Rican doesn’t recycle that doesn’t make him or her a bad person. I simply found some of your comments to be unnecessary, hurtful, and irrelevant to the true issues at hand. Also, still not sure who I’m talking to…can you leave a name?

    • Mauricio said:

      Hanna in regard to your recycling ideas although noble . dont you find it a bit unusual that Costa Rica is preaching environmental doctrine around the globe and yet for the most part there is no sewage treatment , hospitals and other dump all the biowaste in the rivers or hidded canyons . The next time your at the beach on the pacific side look for syringes on the beach from the Puntarenas hospital or all the raw effluent pumped into the river near Sarchi from a large chicken processing plant every day at 5pm , or the thousands of tons of chemicals dumped into the storm sewers each day in San Jose ……I dare you to wash your hands in any of the waterways in the central valley! tak a trip to the San joses sewer the Tarcoles river near Parrita and see the crap in that river as it dumps into the ocean ….. Costa Rica will only deal with easy environmental issues because the country would shut down if they followed the rules. recycling blue boxes is the least of your worries if you persue this avenue and infact I am sure even that for the most part will end up in the landfill , rivers , or the ocean ……. lets talk in 10 years and see if your 4 month exposure was accurate….

  4. Chad said:

    Well, it’s really the fault of the USA for importing our horrible culture around the world. People look up to Lil Wayne and 50 Cent, and these are our cultural heroes, and then that is packaged and sent around the world as the way to get ahead in life. The USA is the real demon, Costa Rica is just a baby feeding on the tit of the real monster.

  5. admin said:


    That is a typical Costa Rican response, trying to pass the blame onto someone else. It is never your fault. That is one of the biggest problems in CR that no one can set their pride aside for 10 minutes to admit when they are actually at fault and take responsibility for their own actions.

    You are the same person that says it is the video game that caused the Colombine shootings instead of the environment they were being raised.

  6. Mauricio said:

    Well it is good to see a lively discussion and I admit I see good and bad points. But is seems painfully obvious that Hannas brief may be a little sheltered and I am sure she does not live in CR and if so it has been a short time. And please dont get me wrong because I love costa rica and only want to see it improve . But the education system here is very sad in the schools and in the university you have students teaching students . I see this in my profession . I have worked with many tico engineers on different projects and the fact is they have the basic book skills but have actually no practical experience and are continually going in circles . Its like they draw the outside of the building and then try to make everything fit after the fact…….. and there is one thing that makes me nuts !!! not one can do math on site with out a calculator or read a measuring tape or chain …….makes me crazy Try to construct a large civil works with 25 people with that skill set……. you can be an electrician without training , a plumber, welder, and it goes on and on . So the average tico engineer wouldnt know his ass from a hole in the ground because he simply dosent know the right from wrong in regard to the correct way to preform various civil works.. IN most cases bad habits are passed on from generation to generation . Costa Ricas definition of literacy coming into the 21 century may be limited to day to day functions like MSN and texting , and finding new ways to tax for various services to compensate for low productivity

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