By Marlene Ramirez Aleman - School of Education Student
Did you feel respected for being different when you were a student? Although Costa Rica is a multicultural country, many Costa Ricans still see migrants and other groups as “the others” leading to levels of discrimination and isolation. Children are the most vulnerable and, as a result, they will find it difficult to successfully adapt to the school system. Education is a key factor in promoting tolerance and respect for diversity through a deep understanding of the ethnic and cultural backgrounds as well as disabilities and specific learning needs in children.
Children from indigenous and other ethnic groups are, perhaps, the most affected by bullying, discrimination, and isolation. According to the National Population Census in 2010, the indigenous population represents approximately 2.4 percent of the country’s population. There have been some initiatives to promote indigenous children’s inclusion and respect for their culture and language. “In 2009 the Indigenous Education Program was created by the Costa Rican Education Ministry to ensure the country’s indigenous population access to education and to preserve the country’s native languages.” (Anders, 2016). As for migrants, most won’t require adapting the programs to fit their language needs, but we have to work with many social aspects because “immigrants in Costa Rica represent about 10.2% of the Costa Rican population. The main countries of origin are Nicaragua, Colombia, United States, and El Salvador.” (Diversity and Equity in Costa Rica, 2013). Despite the large number of immigrants in the country, they have the tendency to separate from the mainstream population and establish their own communities.
Another group that has been highly affected is children with disabilities and specific learning needs. Costa Rica has taken small steps in providing quality educational programs to all children since around the 1960s, as we can extract from the Ley Fundamental de Educación de Costa Rica from 1957. Laura Stough, from the Texas A&M University, writes:
Although this legislation affected the entire education system, statutes of the Fundamental Law also clearly established the constitutional right of children with disabilities to special education within the public school system. This law acknowledged instructional techniques, methods, and materials, and that parents should receive information to assist them in providing for the needs of their child. (Stough, 2003, p. 8)
In 1996, The Equal Opportunity Law for Persons with Disabilities revised the role of parents and students with disabilities so that now they can be participants in designing the education program. However, there’s some concern about how policy regulations require segregated instructions to meet the needs of certain groups like the deaf and the deaf-blind, although the final objective is to move students into special education classrooms within regular schools or into general education classrooms. We can also state that there is a chronic shortage of personnel trained to educate students with significant educational needs:
University-level training in the area of special education was nonexistent before the 1960s in Costa Rica. The University of Costa Rica finally initiated the first bachelor’s level program in special education in 1962 with an emphasis on mental retardation. It did not expand this specialization, until the 1970s, when it created teacher education programs in the areas of deafness, communication disorders, and learning disabilities. (Arias, 2000).
As a conclusion, Costa Rica has made great improvement in analyzing the needs of both children with disabilities and/or special learning needs, and the indigenous children and those of other ethnic descent, but we have to give them access to our regular schools. This will allow other children to really learn from the social interaction to tolerate and respect diversity. George Herbert Mead stated very clearly, “society is unity in diversity.”