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New School Year Gets Under Way Amid Chaos

February 11, 2005

LOGISTICAL problems created achaotic first day of school for some of thecountry’s approximately 970,000 studentson Monday, especially in Caribbean slopecommunities affected by severe floods lastmonth.President Abel Pacheco expressedpride about the record-breaking number ofstudents, the new schools that opened andstudents’ and teachers’ persistence in theface of adversity.While delayed payments and schoolpersonnel assignments by the Ministry ofPublic Education were part of the problem,the main cause of distress was water damageand mud-filled classrooms on theCaribbean slope. Torrential rains in earlyJanuary caused disastrous floodingPresident Pacheco called “the worst in 100years” (TT, Jan. 21).While groups ranging from ministryofficials, teachers’ unions and tourism businessesmobilized during the weeks followingthe Jan. 8-9 disaster to help raise fundsfor school supplies and repairs in the region,last weekend saw eager students working toremove mud from their classrooms so theirschools could start on time Monday.BESIDES the obvious problems posedby mud-filled schools, many educationalcenters in the areas surrounding the townof Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, in the northeasternplains, and the Atlantic port city ofLimón were struggling with lack of electricityand potable water over the weekend,according to the daily La Nación.On Feb. 4, the National Association ofEducators (ANDE) urged the ministry topostpone the start of school in theCaribbean.“The (necessary) conditions for startingthe school year do not exist,” associationpresident José Antonio Barquero saidin a statement. “The schools are coveredwith mud, there are no desks or chairs ingood shape, teaching materials were lostand access is difficult in some areas.”Association leaders also feared studentswould not be able to reach theirschools because of poor road conditions,according to the statement.ANDE spokeswoman Karina Murillosaid there were plenty of glitches this week.“Many children were relocated to otherclassrooms because the schools were fullof mud,” she told The Tico Times.Pacheco, however, speaking at theColegio Técnico Profesional in PuertoViejo de Sarapiquí on Monday, praisedarea schools’ students and staff for theirattendance, despite the situation.“The teachers, students and parents ofall the schools of the Atlantic region thatwere gravely affected by the flooding andof (Central Pacific towns) affected by the(Nov. 20, 2004) earthquake… have put theirsoul, life and heart into starting classestoday. This has been heroic,” Pacheco said.He also promised that “we are not goingto leave you alone… the educational centersof the Atlantic slope, Quepos and Parritawill receive attention as our first priority.”Public Education Minister ManuelAntonio Bolaños could not be reached forcomment this week.

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