The briefest sojourn in San Jose makes clear that Costa Ricans are a highly literate people: the country boasts of 93% literacy in those 10 and over, the most literate populace in Central America. Many of the country's early father figures, including the first president, Jose Maria Castro, were former teachers and shared a great concern for education. In 1869, the country became one of the first in the world to make education obligatory and free, funded by the state's share of the great coffee wealth (as early as 1828, an unenforced law had made school attendance mandatory). Then, only one in 10 Costa Ricans could read and write. By 1920, 50% of the population were literate. By 1973, when the Ministry of Education published a landmark study, the figure was 89%.
Education in Costa Rica
The study also revealed some worrying factors. Over half of all Costa Ricans aged 15 or over 600,000 had dropped out of school by the sixth grade, for example. Almost 1,000 schools had only one teacher, often a partially trained aspirant (candidate teacher) lacking certification. And the literacy figures included many "functional illiterates" counted by their simple ability to sign their own name. The myth of "more teachers than soldiers" and the boast of the highest literacy rate in Central America had blinded Costa Ricans to their system's many defects.
The last 20 years have seen a significant boost to educational standards. Since the 1970s the country has invested more than 28% of the national budget on primary and secondary education. A nuclearization program has worked to amalgamate one teacher schools. And schooling through the ninth year (age 14) is now compulsory. Nonetheless, there remains a severe shortage of teachers with a sound knowledge of the full panoply of academic subjects, discredited rote-learning methods are still common, remote rural schools are often difficult to reach in the best of weather, and the Ministry of Education is riven with political appointees who change hats with each administration. As elsewhere in the world, well to do families usually send their children to private schools.
Village libraries are about the only means for adults in rural areas to continue education beyond sixth grade. The country, with approximately 100 libraries, has a desperate need for books and for funds to support the hundreds of additional libraries which the country needs. Books (Spanish preferred) can be donated to the National Library.