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FIFA, foe, fum: resilience through enduring challenges

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 recently commenced in Australia and New Zealand. To the delight of Costa Ricans everywhere, their team (known as Las Ticas) made the cut.

Sadly, joy was short-lived because within just a few days, Costa Rica earned the unenviable distinction of becoming one of the first two teams to be eliminated. The other was Zambia. 

Costa Rica’s early exit came after three difficult losses: the first, 0-3 against Spain on July 21st; the second, 0-2 against Japan on July 26th; and the third, 1-3 against Zambia on July 31st. The initial two defeats shut down all hopes that Las Ticas might, for the first time ever, advance to the knockout stages of the World Cup. The final loss to Zambia just tightened screws in.  

Compared to other nations in women’s soccer, Las Ticas was a latecomer to global competition, having only played its first international game in 1990. The journey thereafter has not been a Cinderella story. Nothing has come easy over the last 33 years. Las Ticas did not qualify for the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament in 1991, did not enter in 1995, and then failed consecutively to earn a shot in 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011.  

Then came 2015, when Costa Rica shocked the world. Las Ticas looked formidable. They drew 1-1 in the first game against Spain, 2-2 against Korea, and lost to Brazil, but only 0-1 late in the waning minutes of the game. Goalkeeper, Dinnia Diaz, had bravely locked things down throughout the match. But in the 83rd minute, Brazilian midfielder, Raquel Fernandes, launched the missile that clinched it for Brazil.  

Las Ticas has since experienced lows, highs, and lows again. The team failed to qualify in 2019 but rallied impressively during the 2022 CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football) Women’s Championship. Convincing wins over Panama and Trinidad helped Las Ticas land fourth place in the championship and the right to play this year in their second FIFA World Cup. Then came this unceremonial exit from FIFA World Cup 2023.  

A disappointment, for sure, yet not one that can mask in any way the gritty potential of this can-do inspiration of a resilient team. Unrelenting in the face of enduring challenges, Las Ticas continues to generate excitement and hope, much like Costa Rica’s education system. Which explains why Rosa Angélica Acosta recently drew comparisons during her opening remarks at a recent professional development workshop for school principals.  

“Santa Cruz represents Costa Rica. We are the place where learning happens. Whenever we take to the field, we focus on the goal. We may even be better than the national soccer team. Our mission is clear, and we know the role we each must play to succeed.” 

Rosa is Santa Cruz’s Regional Director within the Ministry of Public Education. She guides strategy and program implementation.  

“Today we begin a new phase,” explains Rosa. “One of many that we have embarked upon in our continued mission to improve education in Costa Rica. We have faced many challenges, but we should remember what we teach our students. Challenge presents opportunity – a door to the future which we must open and walk through. Santa Cruz is a first mover. The road is not new to us. Our responsibility is to build upon what we have already achieved and follow through on our commitments.”  

Since 2018, Santa Cruz has been piloting digital learning solutions for English language learning and math mastery with support from implementing partners, Creciendo Juntos and the Age of Learning Foundation. As Regional Director, Rosa knows the precise positions she wants her team members to play in this work. Regional advisors and supervisors are defenders in Rosa’s lineup. Her midfielders are the school principals in every building. Classroom teachers are the forwards she places within striking distance of the goal. 

“Who is on the frontlines?” asks Rosa rhetorically. “Who is the first to go to battle? It is the teachers in the classroom. And who supports those teachers? You do, of course. You are the school principals, the highest authorities in your schools. It is you who motivates teachers to create the chain reaction needed to get our children to learn. Your advisors and supervisors at the regional administrative level are there to back you up. We create the conditions that enable you to play at the center of this important work, that of improving education in this country daily.” Rosa encourages her school principals to assume the commitment, own the responsibility, run the field, and move the ball where it needs to go. 

“Society is the product of our efforts,” she reminds her listeners. “We might judge an adult by their actions, but we must first examine how well we all prepared them for life when they were still a child.”  

Opportunity creation is the key for Rosa. “It is about abandoning our fear of new languages and forgetting our fear of math. We need to give our children the skills to discover opportunities for themselves. Opportunities to be innovative, creative, curious, and brave in a rapidly changing world. A competitive field, filled with challenges and social problems that learners must encounter and resolve, using their knowledge of language, math, social emotional competencies, and digital skills. This project gives us the chance to do just that.” 

Rosa is fiercely loyal to town and country. She desires the best for Santa Cruz and the utmost for Costa Rica. The challenges ahead may all be giant-sized. But Rosa will continue cheering on Los Ticos and Las Ticas everywhere; both those who strap on boots to compete with a ball on the field, and those who experiment with digital devices to unlock opportunities for children in their classrooms.

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