Is the Best Education Free?

Sabanilla Travel Blog

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Butterfly

If there is one thing I have learned in this country it is the extent to which I am grateful for my education. Living abroad this summer has truly opened my eyes to the opportunities and experiences that are often only attainable for those with higher education. I have been able to interact with a variety of people from all different educational backgrounds- clients who only finished primary school, employees who only finished high school, and business-owners who received a bachelors and/or masters degree. The differences between these people are evident in many regards. First and foremost, educational disparities are obvious in material goods. The people with higher education here tend to have the better jobs and positions at work.

Driftwood
Therefore, they are able to purchase nicer things- cars, clothes, laptops, etc. Secondly, the people with higher education tend to be better travelled and more culturally aware overall. For example, many of the people here with higher education can speak English or another language. As interesting as this observation is, it is not distinctly exclusive to Costa Rica. In fact, this is the way that a class system incorporates education all over the world.

 The place where Costa Rica separates itself from the broad category of ‘the rest of the world’ is in the great hidden expenses that exist within education. Costa Rica claims to have a ‘free, accessible, public education system.’ In this case, the word ‘free’ is used loosely.

Palm Tree
Yes, the teachers and the physical grounds for the education building are paid for by the government, but there are many other costs associated with attending school. In order for a student to attend school, parents need to pay for uniforms, books, and the school bus. If a student here wants to get involved in extra-curriculars, extra costs are associated. For example, sports equipment must be purchased in order to play on a team, an easel must be purchased in order to take a painting course, etc. In my opinion, this system creates a never-ending cycle- one where money leads to education and an education leads to money. If a person comes from a family with money, they can afford to have a good education; however, if a person comes from a very poor family, they often cannot afford to stay in school for many years because of financial constraints, work requirements, family commitments, etc. Therefore, one can conclude that money and education must be inextricably linked.

How can this link be positively altered? Whose responsibility is it to undertake this change? Generally, with a public service like education, the fingers point straight at the government. As someone who supports minimal government intervention in my personal life, I understand that the government cannot and will not pay for all of the aforementioned costs associated with an individual’s education. However, just because the government cannot take complete responsibility for this task does not mean that people should not work to develop a system that does account for and reduce these expenses. How can society criticize and discriminate against those who are less educated if we are not giving them the same, fair opportunity to receive an education in the first place? The critics, generally the higher educated people, should seek a solution instead of merely identifying a problem. I firmly believe that the creation of capital specifically for education will greatly help this problem. For example, in the United States and Europe, a plethora of scholarships and grants are available to students to help offset the high costs of education. In Costa Rica, these same resources are not available. Perhaps someone should work on the creation of a global scholarship network- one that distributes funds throughout the world’s nations as needed. I understand that this suggestion is fairly idealistic. Obviously in order to make this change, one would need a great deal of money, man power, and access to information about education worldwide. Although idealistic, I am an optimist and I firmly believe the world will see positive changes in people’s access to education in the future.

While living in my home-stay, I have learned about education on a very personal level. My home-stay mother worked at a private school for the past two years, but last year she was let go. Although she has been fortunate enough to find a great job at the microfinance institution where I am working now, there have been great repercussions to this change in employment. While she was employed at the school, her eleven year old son, a fourth grader, was able to attend the school with his tuition and personal expenses (uniform, books, etc) paid for by the institution. After his mother changed jobs, he no longer had this privilege. As a result, he must now change from his private school to a local public school. Although both will provide him with a good education, the differences are apparent. In his private school, he was required to take three classes in English while in his public school he will be enrolled in one English class. In his private school, he was one of four students in his grade while in his public school he will be one of forty students in his grade. Although this is merely a result of a spout of bad luck, it clearly exemplifies the link between education and money that I am discussing.

Throughout these thoughts and words, I have wondered where the roots of my opinions of education in Costa Rica can be pinpointed. Before arriving in Costa Rica, I read that the country has a 95.9% literacy rate according to the Human Development Index. This number indicates great success, but it does not seem applicable to many of the people who I have met here. To be honest, I would say that the majority of the aforementioned thoughts and ideas are a result of my interactions in the workplace. At times I neglect to remember that we are working with people who are poor or very close to it. Therefore, it is not uncommon that they are not well-educated. A great example of this is the two pilot surveys for client satisfaction that we have distributed thus far. As I mentioned in previous posts, much of the overall failure can be attributed to our poor English to Spanish translation and/or the overly lengthy questions; however, a great deal of the failure is a product of the respondents as well. Many of the respondents have not been educated past primary or secondary school and therefore struggle to understand scales provided for answers, the proper way to answer open-ended questions, and/or larger Spanish words that employees here advised us to use. These interactions have encouraged me to think about the reasons that these individuals are in the situation they are. Perhaps they wanted to attain higher levels of education, but could not afford to do so. Perhaps they were enrolled in higher education, but were met with academic failure. Although each individual has a different story, I am confident that several common strands can be identified and improved upon.

Putting my optimism to the side for a second, I would like to address an interesting conversation that I had with a co-worker, a guy who could definitely be classified as a realist. As I shared all my viewpoints on education in Costa Rica with him, he immediately chose to reference a well-known philosophical debate that takes place between Plato and Aristotle. To choose my words ironically, I had not yet been educated about this. As a result, I needed to do a bit of research online before I could form my own personal opinions. To provide a vague overview, the argument essentially focuses on the importance of households and institutions in a human’s education, pursuit of knowledge, and overall formation of self. I found an interesting quote from Aristotle in Politics, “That education should be regulated by law and should be an affair of state is not to be denied, but what should be the character of this public education, and how young persons should be educated, are questions which remain to be considered. As things are, there is disagreement about the subjects. For mankind are by no means agreed about the things to be taught, whether we look to virtue or the best life. Neither is it clear whether education is more concerned with intellectual or with moral virtue.” Before reading this quote, I was inclined to quite simply choose a side. In fact, I was undoubtedly going to argue that households provide values and morals, but institutions provide the knowledge necessary to understand how to wield these forces, values, and morals in your own personal life. After reading this quote, I began to reconsider what components I actually believe go into education.

Do I think that education is merely knowledge of subject matter- history, languages, mathematics, and sciences- or do I think that education is comprised of a larger range of knowledge and experiences such as emotions, values, morals, politics, and the understanding and application of subject matter within one’s life? As I delve further into my own opinions and thoughts, I recognize that I have not yet properly and definitively identified precisely what I mean by the term ‘educated.’ For me, education refers to the education provided within a legal framework, the information provided by institutions, schools, and professors. Therefore, education’s main purpose is to provide students with factual historical knowledge, logical scientific experimentation and experience, linguistic abilities, and numerical and graphical formulas and applications. Many would disagree with this, but I believe that the other concepts��" emotions, manners and etiquette, political viewpoints, religious stances, and moral foundations ��"are not components of education, but rather upbringing and societal influence. I think that an uneducated person can still develop a great deal of knowledge applicable within society, but not necessarily as pertinent and relevant when seeking employment. Therefore, in regard to the dilemma between institutions and households and which one truly provides an individual with an education, I would say that institutions provide the formal education while households provide the framework, mindset, and fundamentals necessary to shape you as a person. Clearly both households and institutions have a vested interest in making an individual a better person, but their motives are different. A household is motivated by familial pride, love, and parenting while and institution is motivated by reputation, intellect, and the encouragement of higher education in all forms.

I have been fortunate enough in my life thus far not only to have a great household, but also to have a fabulous education at brilliant institutions. The combination of the two- the education from the institutions and the personal growth encouraged and fostered by my household- is truly what has enabled me to write, think, develop, and share my opinions as passionately as I do right now. Overall this discussion has encouraged me to think a great deal about education as a force within one’s life. As a result, I feel inclined to take this moment to thank those who have influenced the person I am today- Brookwood School, Groton School, Babson College, my parents, my grandparents, and my siblings.

 

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Butterfly
Butterfly
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Driftwood
Palm Tree
Palm Tree
Sabanilla
photo by: lgarey