QCOSTARICA – For most people reading a sign or leaflet is simple and routine, but for some 86.000 illiterate (analfabetos in Spanish) in the country, reading a simple sign as a “doctor’s office”, is an impossible task.
In Costa Rica, 2.4% of the population over the age of 15, cannot read or write.
Most live in poverty, since they cannot obtain decent work, live their daily lives not being able to run errands or shopping, exposed to deception and fraud.
Maria Calderon, a 46 year old and a mother of seven children, living in Alajuela, told La Nacion, “For work, they always ask if I can read and write. Once I went to an interview at a company and they took it for granted that I could read. I was asked to fill out a form, told them I could not and they tore the form in my face.”
Maria’s story is one of poverty that does not allow her to go to school. Due to the inability to find employment, Maria has dedicated herself to look after her seven children, while her husband, maintains the family financially that lives in a house of tin and pieces of wood that he built himself.
Maria said “the world is not prepared to deal with illiterate people”. One of her sons accompanies her to run errands for fear of being overcharged or taken advantage of.
“I cannot go alone. I go to buy a blouse and they tell me the price and I wonder if it is too much or too little. Once at the doctor she told me to go to the laboratory, I went through different door. She became angry and said, ‘What, don’t know how to read?’. Very sorry I had to say, no,” recalled Maria.
The illiterate population in the country was reduced by half in the last 15 years, according to the State of the Region (Estado de la Región) report of 2013. In 2000, the rate was 4.8%.
The Ministry of Public Education (Ministerio de Educación Pública – MEP) has three open learning programs that have helped to lower it, with some 5.000 people in the process of becoming literate. In 2013, the MEP handed out 3.000 certificates, according to the MEP’s Adult Education director, Marielos Alfaro.
Maria says she is “too ashamed” to attend school.
The La Nacion story includes that of Agustin Hernández, a resident of Santa Barabra de Heredia, who believes that at 58 he is “too old” to learn to read.
Agustin drives a gypsy cab (porteador in Spanish) to feed his five children.
“I can not read anything; once I was going to pay an electricity bill, but took the water bill instead. In my work, I am guided by the road signs and the route taken by other cars. I just know how to place my signature, I also know how to count money and have a driving license,” said Augustin.
In fact, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes – MOPT) offers theoretical courses for the illiterate to get their driver’s licence. The course lasts a month, two classes a week, to get ready for the test. To enroll, the person has to provide a certificate issued by the regional office of education that he or she has no primary education.
Maria and Agustin do not want their children to face the same obstacles, ensuring they attend school.
“My 12-year-old helps me to read. I tell him to study so as not to be like me,” said Agustin.
Maria says she gets depressed because she does not feel productive. Her children have helped to learn to write her name. And though they livethrough tough times economically, she makes sure her children don’t abandon school.
“I cried so much when one of them graduated high school. I have another this year graduating business administration at the ‘U’ (university). They are my pride,” expressed Maria.