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  • La educación en Costa Rica de la época colonial al presente by Iván Molina Jiménez
  • Carmen Kordick
La educación en Costa Rica de la época colonial al presente. By Iván Molina Jiménez. San José: Editoriales Universitarias Públicas Costarricenses; San José: Consejo Nacional de Rectores y Programa Estado de la Nación, 2016. Pp. 711.

Iván Molina Jiménez’s exhaustively researched historical interrogation of Costa Rican education reflects an unquestionable mastery of both the existent secondary and [End Page 581] primary sources on this topic. Molina takes a broad chronological approach, narrating how rudimentary, colonial-era classrooms gave way to municipal schools in the early national period and how twentieth-century educators, policymakers, students, and parents forged a vibrant system that today provides free pre-kindergarten through postgraduate education opportunities. Molina’s research project is ambitious, and this book must be recognized as nothing less than the definitive historical work on Costa Rican education.

Painstakingly analyzing hundreds of primary and secondary sources, Molina statistically tracks federal spending, educators’ salaries, literacy rates, rural and urban school access, graduation levels, investments in educational infrastructure, and teacher training trends. Charts and graphs throughout help readers make sense of Molina’s quantifiable data. Additionally, numerous block quotes reveal how varied historical actors, including educators, students, policymakers, and parents, have understood the historical changes that Molina quantifies. Although these quotes succeed in breaking apart the statistical analysis, which can get dense at points (the quotes themselves frequently contain unneeded details), it is not always clear what Molina wished to demonstrate with them.

This book brings to light Molina’s impressive archival researching skills and historical knowledge. Nevertheless, the book’s organization, unfortunately makes it a difficult read. Dividing the book into ten chronological chapters of varying lengths, Molina investigates numerous issues (not always the same ones across chapters) that relate to education. Three themes considered in all ten chapters are literacy rates, gendered access to education, and struggles to train and retain qualified teachers. The final chapters are deeply concerned with university education, detailing recent antagonisms between the nation’s public universities and policymakers, as well as internal political divisions between pedagogy-centered and content-centered educational proponents. Additionally, Molina makes a scathing critique of the nation’s for-profit private universities, which have rejected efforts to create accreditation standards. In stark contrast, the earlier chapters explain consistently improving literacy rates, differences between rural and urban school access, and shifting government policies to support public education.

Certainly, the inconsistent analytical focus across chapters can be partially explained by the changing educational policies that Molina’s work traces. Indeed, eighteenth-century Costa Rica had no secondary schools, let alone universities; however, after 1970, this republic’s population was nearly universally literate: nearly all adults had completed at least six years of primary school education.

The inconsistency in data types and sources, as well as Molina’s shifting gaze over time, might have been a commendable strength of this work. The issue is that while each chapter begins with a tightly constructed summary of political, economic, and social transitions that affected education in the period examined, Molina does not couple this chronological framing with a concise argument on how and why these shifts influenced education. A chapter-level thesis might have guided readers through his [End Page 582] praiseworthy data collection and analysis to make a broad conclusion about the period under study.

Deepening reader’s struggles to separate the proverbial trees from the forest is the lack of an overarching thesis to pull together the statistical findings and critical insights that Molina’s masterful research uncovers in this lengthy work. Indeed, while readers will undoubtedly be impressed by Molina’s archival and statistical labors, alongside his broad knowledge of Costa Rican historical development, they will likely remain unsure of what precisely Molina wished for them to take away from this book.

Despite these issues, Molina has succeeded with this formidable work in establishing himself as the leading historian in the field of Costa Rican educational history. This book will unquestionably become required reading for Latin Americanists interested in the region’s educational development and Costa Ricanists...


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