Costa Rica recently celebrated 200 years of independent life. As a country we are proud of the values we have promoted. We have a strong and world-renowned tradition of peace and political stability. We have a strong democracy that has existed for over 132 years.
Costa Rica is also proud to celebrate 73 years without a military and 80 years of social benefits that guarantee basic human rights, including a well-recognized public healthcare system that offers universal coverage to all our citizens and residents. According to the World Health Organization and the first System of Health Accounts (SHA) report of 2019, the average national healthcare spending was around 8% in the last 5 years, whereas healthcare spending in Costa Rica constitutes 7.8% of the national budget.
The current population of Costa Rica is around 5 million and 32% of this population are individuals between 15-34 years old. By 2021 the labor pool is predicted to represent 45% of the Costa Rican population. Labor force also increased by 1.5% between 2010 and 2017, according to the National Statistics Institute (INEC), 40% of the labor force are women. There remains ample opportunity for education to significantly improve these statistics.
Costa Rica is at the top of the list in human capital in Latin America and 29th in the world (considering that the workforce poses an average level of experience, a general set of skills, and a standard population health) according to the 2018 Global Competitiveness Report and the Human Development Report 2018 with a 97.4% adult literacy rate.
Since 1870, basic education in Costa Rica has been free and mandatory for all children, boys and girls, with a traditional 5-year academic program and vocational education for 6 years. The public spending on education in 2018 represented 7.36% of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Costa Rica is number one in English proficiency across Latin America and the Costa Rican workforce can provide services abroad in 13 languages. In 2018 the Costa Rican government made a commitment to turn Costa Rica a truly bilingual country, making teaching English as a second language a national priority. The initiative will be assumed by the Ministry of Education, the National Training Institute and private sector schools.
Additionally, Costa Rica has maintained a strong National Environmental State Policy for over 80 years. We have been investing in policies that promote sustainable development. In that regard, the country has tried for decades to foster investment policies that are environmentally friendly and socially inclusive. Thus, we have promoted eco-tourism and an electricity grid that is fed by almost 100% renewable sources. The country has 26% of its territory under some type of environmental protection including multiple national parks and reserves. We instituted a moratorium on the exploration of oil, and we are now investing in transforming our transportation system towards one that is more in-tune with the environment.
We are also working to create better synergies among the private sector and academia, to develop the brightest talent. Human knowledge and inventiveness is the key to developing a country.
We endorse the National Plan of Decarbonization of Costa Rica (2019-2050), which offers a roadmap to boost the modernization of our economy by generating jobs and revitalizing their growth from a model based on the three ‘Ds’: decarbonization, digitalization and decentralization of electricity production.
Global society will only deliver on the commitments of the Paris Agreement if a new level of political ambition among governments is matched by an equal level of commitment and determination from the world’s financial community.
To improve the environmental policies that we have promoted in the long term, we know that environmental education is very important in achieving sustainable development. Costa Rica has been implementing specific strategies for this in formal education, conservation programs and ecotourism as one of it’s main economic activities. Since the 1980’s, the national state school curriculum has required environmental learning as part of both primary and secondary education, while state-run national conservation areas provide informal learning opportunities for both domestic and international visitors with a permanent national park program.
In the state-funded formal education sector, environmental education topics were first introduced into the Costa Rican national curriculum in 1977. The first national ‘Environmental Education Master Plan’ was published in 1987 and an Office of Environmental Education was formally established as a separate division of the Ministry of Education in 1993. The Office is responsible for coordinating programs across the nation on issues such as solid waste management, population growth, sustainable watershed management, and energy conservation. It also organized environmental clubs in schools nationwide and coordinated with the Government and NGOs.
Other innovative projects included, for example, a ‘sister school’ experiment, established in 2002, which pairs-up primary school students in the US and Costa Rica for shared environmental learning experiences over the internet.
Teaching about environmental issues also was introduced to University programs. In 1975, the National University funded a School of Environmental Sciences which included an environmental education program, and in 1994, the National Council of Vice Chancellors created an Inter-University Commission for Environmental Education which works to ‘environmentalize’ all of the public universities.
In addition, secondary schools’ programs were modified. In 2003, four of the nation’s state secondary schools offered specializations in ‘ecotourism,’ as well as two others that offered a new ‘environmental studies’ program. The new schools’ explicit mission was to create “nature lovers” who will “actively share their love of nature with others” after graduation.
The first national park of Costa Rica was created in 1955; the Poás Volcano National Park inspired by the national parks created in the US. There are currently 30 national parks, managed by the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) which was formed in 1995. Thus, national parks are actively used to train teachers and to teach students with specific program visits as part of the primary, secondary, and technical schools’ academy programs.
In Costa Rica, national media (including newspapers, television and radio broadcasts) routinely deal with issues of current environmental concern or promote participation in conservation projects. Radio and television broadcasts have proven an especially useful tool for reaching isolated rural populations where access to environmental learning and resources are limited.
Ecotourism and the concept of ‘green economy’ is another way of making people understand that we must take care of our environmental resources. Costa Rica has already successfully developed an international business based on ecotourism.
After suffering some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world in the 1970s and 80s, Costa Rica has regrown large areas of its tropical rainforest. Between 1940 and 1983, Costa Rica, lost approximately 50% of its original forests. It’s now the only tropical country to actively stop, and reverse, deforestation.
Costa Rica successfully reversed deforestation by restoring forest cover from 24.4% in 1985 to almost 60% by 2021 through the implementation of national environmental protection policies in the 1990s that included a portfolio of Protected Areas (PAS), Payments for Ecosystems Services Programs (PES), and ecotourism.
Although small, the country contains more than 6% of the world’s biodiversity, despite covering only about 0.03% of the surface of the globe. Using the four pillars of sustainable tourism (sustainable management, socioeconomic impacts, cultural impacts and environmental impacts), the government ensures that Costa Rica’s tourist attractions are centered on respecting the environment, and that the population actively keeps it that way.
In 2019, Costa Rica was awarded Champion of the Earth by the United Nations for its direct role in protecting nature and fighting climate change. The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) developed a country-wide Certification for Sustainable Tourism back in 1997, which provides tourism companies with guidelines to manage their business sustainably; a great tool to help businessmen and women learn how to take care of nature and environment affairs.
In the years since the tourism model’s development, surveys have shown that 63% of United States travelers are more likely to consider destinations trying to conserve and protect natural resources, while 75% are more likely to consider sustainable destinations. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that, by the year 2000, protected natural areas in Costa Rica reduced poverty in neighboring communities by 16% by encouraging ecotourism.
In conclusion, Costa Rica’s network of diverse approaches to environmental learning in official and informal settings, and addressing a wide range of topics, offers significant opportunities for both young people and adults to learn about and engage with environmental issues in their communities and within a wider national context.