Chris Terrill

Costa Rica expedition education

The very first stop on Expedition Education takes us to Costa Rica! We will visit a small school in rural Guanacaste and examine how the school is helping students become original thinkers in an uncertain world and become generous collaborators with each other and the local community. Next, we will travel to San Jose and examine a larger school that is bringing about social change through entrepreneurship. This school partners with Babson College, one of the top entrepreneurial programs in the world.  I can’t wait to tell you their story!

Prior to visiting each new country, I do some research to better understand the context in which schools exist in a location. Here are my notes on Costa Rica:


Costa Rica is located in Central America between Nicaragua to the North and Panama to the South. Costa Rica is bordered on the West by the Pacific Ocean and to the East by the Caribbean Sea.  From the calm waters of the Caribbean to the legendary surf of the Atlantic and the lush mountainous jungle that makes up a significant portion of the country’s interior, Costa Rica is often referred to as paradise. The country’s slogan is Pura Vida which translates to Enjoy Life! Costa Rica is considered one of the happiest countries in the world, and Costa Ricans report a high quality of life and a strong sense of well-being. The average life expectancy of a Costa Rican exceeds all other Latin American countries. The five million inhabitants (referred to as Ticos and Ticas) share diverse cultures from eight Indigenous tribes, African descendants on the Caribbean coast, and Spanish descendants dating back to Spanish colonies established in the 1650s.

Costa Rica is a global model for sustainability, boasting a 98% renewable energy rate.   The country has worked diligently to reverse decades of deforestation, shifting from large-scale exportation of coffee and bananas in favor of sustainable tourism and microchip manufacturing.  Fifty percent of Costa Rica is covered in dense tropical rainforests. Costa Rica contains 6% of the world’s biodiversity on a land mass of .03%.  The unique ecosystems that make up Costa Rica are unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Ironically, Costa Rica’s lack of fossil fuels led to less development during the 20th century and is now resulting in a prosperous economy based on eco-tourism. The country has used the extensive river system and abundant rainfall to produce significant hydroelectric power. It has built significant solar farms to take advantage of the bright, powerful sun near the equator. What does the future look like in Costa Rica? What impact does civil unrest in neighboring countries play in the every day life of Tico’s? What major challenges do the community solve?


The educational landscape of Costa Rica is full of contrasts.   The literacy rate in Costa Rica is among the highest in Latin America at 97.9%.  Pre-K through Elementary is compulsory and free.  In 1949, Costa Rica adopted a new constitution after a brief Civil War, establishing voting

rights for women, the abolishment of the military, and redirecting the entire military budget to education.  The constitution requires that a full 8% of the Gross National Product be directed to public education funding. The US spends approximately 4.96% of the GDP on education.

Despite quality elementary programs, citizens have been resistant to early education (early preschool) opportunities.  Even though programming is funded by the state, very few families take advantage of 2 and 3-year-old preschool programs. At the high school level, Costa Rica experiences a high drop-out rate.  Almost 50% of students do not finish 4 years of high school. Costa Rica also lags in vocational training at the secondary level. 

Approximately 1 out of 3 Costa Ricans between the ages of 18-24 are currently enrolled in a post secondary program. The tourism industry has provided consistent income to Costa Rica but also serves as a double-edged sword.  There is a strong push to learn to read, write, and learn English but there is also a push once these skills are attained to enter into the service industry instead of pursuing higher education. What can be done to increase Post-Secondary opportunities, or is that even a goal? How are students being prepared as problem solvers and collaborators?  Are students receiving the foundational knowledge to compete in a global economy.  

Tune in next week to find out.