18 de Enero de 2019
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La Educación
Número: (123-125) I,III
Año: 1996


In an isthmus overridden with violence and repression, Costa Rica stands out as a country that has no army, and is politically stable and law-oriented. In such circumstances, to unravel the roots of differentiation between Costa Rica and the remaining Central American countries represents both an intellectual challenge and an interesting lesson in political and ideological achievement.

The choice of education as an important issue for analysis is intimately linked to this aspiration. The study and interpretation of the role played by education in Costa Rica provides a prism through which light can be shed on the social development of the country.

Periodic reform movements have marked Costa Rica’s history, restraining the dangerous condensation of social unrest, spark of many revolutionary uprisings in other lands. Gradual change has allowed slow structural transformation, thus promoting a high degree of political and social stability. This political option has not been the result of chance; rather it is closely linked with peculiar social relationships and a particular power structure in which the education system has played a most important role.

Costa Rica’s tendency toward consensus was clearly demonstrated by the interest shown by successive governments in the ideological apparatus, by the proportion of public expenditure devoted to education, and by the results of the increasing numbers of students enrolled and teachers employed. The educational system—a key vehicle for the generation and reproduction of that consensus—became a major, and indeed, very satisfactory ideological pillar of the political system.

An undisputable link between politics and education has been widely recognized by many academicians from numerous countries. However, the fact that Costa Rica presents a particular power scheme, in which ideology plays the protagonic role, has made such link much more relevant.

Historical analyses reveal that the only movements of profound change in education were born at the heat of an integral transformation of the state. The Liberal-oriented reform initiated in the 1880s, and the pedagogic changes launched after the 1948 Civil War, were inscribed within a new political project. In both processes, education was given a privileged place in order to become a fundamental training and ideological tool.

Costa Rica relies heavily upon ideological persuasion rather than violence or direct repression, so it is natural that the education arena has become an important center of ideological debate and political struggle. This may have been inevitable because of the “consensual vocation” favored since the nineteenth century, particularly after the demise of the army in 1949, not only as an instrument for the maintenance of order but also as a symbol of national cohesion; this happening provided a natural opportunity for education to strengthen its role in society.

However, attempts to carry out a profound reorganization of the national education system have been repeatedly frustrated during the last two decades. The close relationship between change in education and the configuration of the state has underlined such incapability. Hence, it is of urgent need to inscribe any new attempt to transform the education system within a general logic of state reform, and safeguard, in that sense, the “consensual” vocation inherited since the nineteenth century.