Costa Rica has been ranked the happiest country on Earth and went 100 years of a stable succession of presidents, something many countries in Central America cannot claim. It has not been perfect though, as Costa Rica has had two civil wars in its History. So why did such a happy, stable country have civil war? Costa Rica, like the rest of Central America, was initially controlled by Spain. As far as Central America went, Guatemala had the capital, Nicaragua had the money and Costa Rica was left alone. On September 15, 1821 Costa Rica gained independence along with Guatemala and Nicaragua. After this they were faced with a choice to remain independent or “wait for the clouds to clear” and decide if they would like to rejoin Spain. The more conservative city, Cartago, held Costa Rica’s capital. Cartago and Heredia wished to wait it out. The more liberal city, San Jose, wanted independence. This conflict of independence is what led to the first civil war in this happy country. In the end the conservatives lost and the capital was moved to San Jose, where it stays today, and Costa Rica became independent of the Spanish empire.
In 1870 Tomás Guardia was elected president. Under his rein, he implemented mandatory education for all children to be payed for by the state. Police were sent around to check that the children were in school each day. Free education for all, sounds nice. Why would this reform not be not ideal for all of Costa Rica? What about the children in the mountains, how were the police supposed to monitor them? The schools for rural areas like this were often just one room school houses anyway. They did not prepare the students the way schools in the city did. Students spent hours getting to and from school then shared a class with multiple grades and could not receive the individual attention needed to get them beyond the basics of reading, writing, and simple math. So, while his plans had good intentions, they may not have been as ideal in action for the students in rural areas as they sounded.
I spoke with host family about their thoughts on education in Costa Rica. They live near Heredia so the rural education has not been a problem for them but I was curious to hear their thoughts on other issues that may occur in their lives. The daughter, Monte, is 16 years old and takes a bus to her high school each day because the better school is farther away, but she has worked hard for it. She is looking to attend a college in a few years and will be applying to the two local public schools as well as ULatina because it has a focus on science technologies and she is pursuing systems engineering. In Costa Rica public universities receive lots of funding. Public universities only cost about $100 per semester for Ticos and offers 11 levels of scholarships from 10 percent to full tuition, housing, and meals included. Monte told me the public universities have the best education but private schools have specialties such as ULatina. She has become quite fluent in English and is learning Portuguese and French as well to receive the higher scholarship tiers. She expressed that while she likes the classes, a flaw she has found in the school system in the school system here is the structure of the classroom. The schools want everyone to succeed, so they provide a strict way of doing everything that she feels has limited the student’s ability to be unique. I feel like similar issues occur within the United State’ education system, especially at the high school level. Monte is still very appreciative that Costa Rica offers many scholarships for their students and is looking forward to attending a University.
As well as education, Costa Rica has placed a large emphasis on health care despite any financial upsets. Many countries have taken cuts at health care but Costa Rica has kept their intact. Why would Costa Rica not sacrifice its health care in a time of crisis? The CCSS, Costa Rica’s universal healthcare plan has been around for 75 years and has not gone bankrupt yet. It is because health is a priority in Costa Rica. Those who are older than 75 still remember the days before CCSS when people would die on the street and no one cared. They do not want to return to those times so they are willing to invest in their people’s health. I agree with Costa Rica’s logic to put public health as priority because it is the people that make up the country. Since Ticos are proud of their country I am not surprised that that focus on public health. I believe it probably also contributes to their overall happiness.