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Dominican Republic

Overview

The Dominican Republic is located in the Caribbean, eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola. The capital is Santo Domingo, and the official language is Spanish.

In 1492 the indigenous Taino people witnessed the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Caribbean island the Spanish called Hispaniola. The Spanish made the island a principal base for exploration, conquest, subjugation of natives, and settlement of the New World. For more than 300 years the island was an often turbulent crossroads for various European empires. By the 19th century Hispaniola was shared by Spanish and French settlers. In 1807 the western French possession became the independent Haiti, and in 1844 the eastern portion of the island gained independence from Spain as the Dominican Republic (DR).

At the turn of the 20th century, US investors began buying sugar plantations in the DR. From 1916-24 the US military occupied the Dominican Republic, ostensibly to protect it from Axis powers during WWI, but also effectively securing US investments, while improving Dominican infrastructure and education. For most of the rest of the 20th century, the DR was ruled by two dictators, Rafael Trujillo and Joaquin Balaguer. But in the past two decades regular and more transparent elections have brought opposition candidates to leadership, and at the beginning of the 21st century the DR enjoys one of the strongest economic growth rates in the western hemisphere, thanks to tourism and free trade zones. Literacy among the 8,715,000 citizens is nearly 85% (up from 70% in 1980s). But the country suffers from great income inequality.

Education

While the Spanish empire appeared most interested in gathering the natural wealth of the New World and spreading the Christian faith among native people, a concern for education was also present from the beginning. The Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD) traces its origins to 1538, and claims to be the oldest university in Latin America. But in the centuries since, education in the Dominican Republic has experienced ups and downs with the political scene.

In the modern era, the government of the Dominican Republic made major curriculum reforms at primary and secondary levels in the 1970s in an effort to render schooling more relevant to students' lives and national needs. Vocational training was expanded in rural schools.

Enrollment as a proportion of the school-aged population grew by more than 20% from the 1960s into the 1980s, and that of the secondary school-aged population nearly quadrupled. But roughly half of all teachers lacked the required academic background, and low pay and low status accounted for a chronic shortage of teachers.

Higher education has enjoyed the most dramatic growth. At Trujillo's death in 1961, there was one university, with roughly 3,500 students. By the late 1980s, there were more than 26 institutions of higher education with a total enrollment of over 120,000 students. Legislation created the National Council of Higher Education (Consejo Nacional de Educación Superior--CONES) in 1983 to deal with accreditation, the awarding of degrees, and the coordination of programs on a national level.

Currently, the country's education system is overseen by both the Ministerio de Educación and the Ministerio de Educación Superior, Ciencia y Tecnología.

Primary and Secondary Education

Primary school lasts for six years and is compulsory. In secondary education, two systems are in operation. The traditional system comprises a six-year cycle divided into a two-year intermediate cycle and a four-year second cycle. On completion of the first two years, students obtain the Certificado de Suficiencia en los Estudios Intermedios. During the second cycle, students follow an academic, technical-vocational or teacher-training track. During the last year, students can choose to specialize. On completion of this cycle, students are awarded the Bachillerato in their specialization. In the reform system, studies last for six years, divided into two cycles. TheCiclo Básico (first cycle) is a four-year cycle with an emphasis on science. The Ciclo Superior (second cycle) lasts for two years and offers a greater choice of specializations than the traditional system. On completion, students are awarded the Bachillerato en Ciencias y Letras. Technical secondary is available in both systems via a Bachillerato in a technical area. Students are awarded the title of Perito on completion of their studies.

Post-Secondary Education

The present university system owes much of its standards and administrative policy to the influence of the UASD. All institutions must be authorized by the President of the Republic, on advice from CONES. Each institution of higher education sets its own admissions criteria, but most require the secondary school diploma, the bachillerato; some may require admissions exams. In 1998 CONES recognized 29 universities (17 in Santo Domingo) and 7 institutes with a combined total enrollment of 213,200. UASD is by far the largest, with more than 80,000. The largest private university, Universidad Tecnológica de Santiago (UTESA), had more than 21,000 students. Not all meet international standards for full university status. The Dominican Republic school year runs August to June. Language of instruction is Spanish; some professional programs serving foreign students (e.g. medicine) may be taught in English.

First Cycle, Academic

University level studies first stage is the Licenciatura. Courses usually last for four years and lead to the Licenciatura. Courses in fields such as Engineering and Architecture take five to six years and lead to a professional title.

First Cycle, Vocational/Technical

Higher technical education is provided by technological institutes and some universities which offer intermediate programs which are shorter than normal first degrees, and which are designed to prepare students for specific careers in the vocational/technical areas. Courses usually last for two to three years and lead to the title of Técnico Superior.

Second and Third Cycles

University level second stage is the Especialista, Maestría, Doctor. Studies last between one and three years following upon the Licenciatura and lead to the title and/or degree of Especialista or Maestría. The only Doctorados conferred are professional qualifications in Law, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Dentistry. Studies last for approximately six years and lead to the title of Doctor.

Teacher Training

Primary school teachers are trained at secondary level as one of the options in the secondary education sector. Schools offer a two-year programs following completion of grade 10 and accept students from both the traditional and the reform systems. Courses lead to the title of Maestro Normal.

For secondary school teachers, two types of training are offered: a two- to three-year programme leading to the intermediate degree of Técnico, Profesor or a Certificado de Estudios Superiores, preparing teachers for lower secondary level, and a four-year Licenciado in Education for upper secondary education.


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