Health & Education
Learning For The Future
By TBY | Dominican Republic | Feb 04, 2015
Theses educational reforms are not simply directed towards improving the sector, but are part of an integrated national vision of enhancing the prosperity of the entire society and building the framework of the future. As McDonald P. Benjamin, Country Manager of the World Bank, tells TBY, “Today there is a social safety net in place that reaches over 800,000 Dominican households, and at a reasonably low cost as a share of GDP. Moreover, an increasing share of this program is being carefully targeted, and more importantly being conditional on actions that increase the human capital of the poor and strengthen their health and the education of their children, so that it isn’t just a handout but rather an investment in human capital.”
A STRONG FOUNDATION
The starting point for educational success begins in the earliest years. Between 2008 and 2012, the gross enrollment rate for pre-primary school was 37.3% for males, and 38.4% for females, according to the most recent UNICEF data. Moving on to primary school participation rates, gross enrollment rose to 112.1% for males, and 101.5% for females for the same time period. However, since this statistic factors in late enrollment, early enrollment, and repetition, the overall enrollment rates for males, and even more so for females in this demographic, were low. For males, the net rate was 93.3%, while females were only 91%. Put another way, during the sample time period, around 10% or more of primary school aged girls in the Dominican Republic did not receive formal education during a critical time period for personal development. Boys fared only slightly better.
To understand why the Dominican Republic has the second lowest rate of early childhood education in Latin America—30 points behind the regional average according to the Programa de Promoción de la Reforma Educativa en América Latina y el Caribe (PREAL)—the World Bank cites the lack of full-day programs, low levels of spending, and limited access to programs. This trend was especially pronounced amongst poorer and often rural communities, and had future implications when marginalized children entered the primary and secondary grades lacking the requisite skills. This in turn caused increasing dropout rates as incomes fell and grade levels increased. Two factors suggest that early childhood education is set to improve across the demographic spectrum. When early childhood education rates increased from 35% to 40% between 2004 and 2007, the World Bank credited the rise of private sector services. While private enrollment grew by 21,000 during this time period, the public sector only rose by 8,000 students according to PREAL. The fortunes of such private sector providers have improved along with national economic growth. One 2005 UNESCO survey found that the Dominican Republic had significant differences in attendance based on income; essentially only those who could afford it received quality education. This means that the shortage lies in the public sector, and given the current administration’s efforts, access is predicted to improve for poorer students in the near future. A major part of the government educational reforms is the construction of new schools and classrooms in underserved rural areas—where private institutions are less common.
According to official statistics, between 2008 and 2012, only 74.8% of primary school participants successfully completed their programs and moved on to the secondary level, although UNICEF data places this number at a slightly higher 78%. For secondary school, the rate of attrition is even higher, with the net attendance ratio for makes at 51% and for females, 64.9%. Moreover, a 2012 UNESCO study found that 70% of children with disabilities were not in school. A 2007 study found that mathematics teachers on average only understood 42% of the material they were required to teach. These statistics both indicate major shortcomings; however, given that the government has identified a lack of facilities and teachers as the main culprit, the situation can be corrected with the right policies. One such policy, which educators favor strongly, is making the didactic professions appealing to college graduates—which it currently is not.
As of 2014, the base salary of teachers was estimated to be $344 per month, whereas the average university educated worker could expect to make around $565 per month. That means that entering the teaching profession could cost graduates 60% of their potential earnings, thus deterring numerous qualified graduates. Further straining teaching resources, classrooms in schools with over 500 pupils have an average of 78 students to every teacher, which accounts for 60% of total enrollment in public schools. This means that in addition to building 28,000 more classrooms by 2016, as the government has promised, the government must attract more teachers to the profession. The National Pact for Education Reform, signed in April 2014, provides the platform from which to launch these pressing reforms. The pact establishes a common commitment on the part of the government, the main political parties, and private and civil society actors, to prioritize educational reform regardless of political outcomes. A major priority for the Dominican government in regard to secondary and postsecondary reform is to improve and build the capacity for effective and standardized vocational education and training. In addition, the government has set a target of increasing participation in higher education to 50% of the college age population by 2018, which will entail the enrollment of approximately 660,000 students.
UPWARDS AND OUTWARDS
Enrollment in university studies in the Dominican Republic is predominantly built at the undergraduate level. In 2009, 94% of the 372,433 students in the tertiary system were studying at the undergraduate level, with just 2.5 and 1.7% in graduate and higher technical education respectively. Women accounted for 64% of the total higher education enrollment between 2006 and 2009. Beyond simple numbers, the government is currently focused on improving the quality of university education. Undergraduate studies predominantly train graduates for what the OECD describes as “administrative functions.” According to the OECD, deficiencies in the Dominican system begin with poor quality and significant drop out rates at the secondary level. Nonetheless, the participation rate of 29% among college-age citizens represents significant enrollment growth over the past 30 years. In this sense, the country is on par with the global average. Unfortunately, the relatively high university enrollment rate is modified significantly by an average dropout rate of almost 50%. Problematic questions of educational effectiveness across the country mean that too many students are entering university without the proper preparation; yet the renewed focus on education as a critical aspect of national development is foregrounding this concern, and seeking to address existing deficiencies head on. To take one example, institutions of higher education looking to improve their levels of quality are expanding their international student bodies in both directions. Such institutions might look at opportunities at the graduate level among Dominican students, and branding the Dominican Republic for its internationalization potential. As the university system both takes in and sends out more students regionally and globally, the country can expect to develop itself as both an educational and eventually economic hub; a virtuous cycle with a clear and well-established record of success.
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