94 percent fail college admissions test

The results of inadequate spending on public education were again lay bare this week when a jaw-dropping 94% of recent Nicaraguan high school graduates failed the basic entrance exam for the National University of Engineering (UNI).

Head of his class: Diedrich Garcia, of Rio Blanco, was one of two students who scored a perfect 100 on UNI’s math test (photo/ UNI)

According to the UNI’s test results, only 136 of 2,770 high school graduates were able to pass the basic math test.

Two students among the herd scored perfect 100s, but most of the others who passed squeaked by with minimal scores close to 60, according to El Nuevo Diario.

On the part of the UNI’s test measuring aptitude for studies in architecture, 29% received passing grades, the university reports.

Despite the dire condition of Nicaragua’s education system, the government continues to reduce spending in relation to gross domestic product. According to the recently approved 2013 Budget, Nicaragua this year will further reduce education spending to 2.8% of the GDP—less than half of what other countries in Central America are allocating to education.

  • http://www.DawnAnnCurtis.com Dawn Curtis

    As someone working in education in Nicaragua myself, these figures come as no surprise. Jobs in education are awarded according to political affiliations, not merit. Teachers are aware that students cheat on exams, but most turn a blind eye, as they are under pressure not to allow any students to fail a year. Over the past year I have seen students awarded points which count towards their grade in academic subjects, for such things as litter picking, playing unrelated games in the classroom, participating in patriotic ceremonies and joining in singing competitions. I could go on but I fear I’m ranting!

  • Tom Delgado

    A frightening prospect. If they are admitted to a university anyway, and generally ‘passed through’ to the next level, imagine how ill-equipped they will be to practice dentistry, accounting, medicine, engineering, etc. These are professions with a direct impact on the well being and safety of the public. There are many other areas in which cost-cutting could occur. Please, not in education.

  • Ken

    Well, we really only have two measures in this article–the 94% who fail the math portion of the engineering exam and the 71% who fail the “aptitude” test for architecture (whatever that test is measuring–maybe some math too?). And, while the article calls this “basic math,” my guess is that the exam includes some reasonably sophisticated algebra and probably even some calculus. I doubt the students are failing truly basic math, like multiplication and division.

    If my hunch is right, the problem lies in the difficulty in hiring competent teachers of advanced math, mainly because teachers’ salaries are so low and most people with math competency can earn a lot more money working elsewhere. (The US has this same problem.) Now, is the solution to say triple education spending so that teachers can be paid twice as much and advanced math teachers can be paid perhaps five times as much (probably the rough amount that would be required to attract them)?

    Well, this would be nice, but let’s remember that Nicaragua’s first challenge is to get most kids through primary school. Actually, this may be the second challenge, with the first one being ensuring that most kids have adequate nutrition for normal brain development.

    The students who are failing the math portion of the university entrance exam are already among the educated elite. It isn’t good that these kids are shortchanged, and I agree that more money needs to be spent on education, but there is the question of priorities.

    I’m not sure that I would spend more money on advanced math teachers if I were running the show either, even though it would be good if that money could be found.

    • Maria

      Government Priorities…

      Entertainment over education.

      Parque de la Niñez Feliz AKA ‘Chayolandia’ – A member of the JS19 said it, not me. How many millions go there?

      HUGE parties every time there is a spanish league football game, that does not have ANYTHING to do with our country’s culture. How many millions go there?

      Just to mention a couple of examples.

      Priorities… this government? PLEAAAASE!

      Give us no circus and some quality education, THAT is what this country needs.

  • http://www.buildingnewhope.org donna tabor

    Several years ago, I was supporting a high school student in Granada’s Colegio Italiano. His mid year report card showed a failing grade average. i didn’t need my calculator to see that the teacher had merely posted a grade without actually bothering to add and divide. The true average was remarkably high! I showed the school director the serious error, but he wasn’t disturbed in the least. Nor was the teacher who posted the grade in the first place who happened to be the high school math teacher!

    • robert skydell

      Donna, I am actually more surprised that the teacher and the school director weren’t angry at you for what would likely be interpreted as an attack on their dignity. In a country where the cap and gown holds more significance than the syllabus and academic excellence and where pride is the basic currency it is no wonder that the level of performance hasn’t achieved more significant returns. In simple terms, the educational system is heavily biased towards form over content and poor performance is all but guaranteed for all but the very few.

      • http://www.buildingnewhope.org donna tabor

        Robert, Oh they were indeed angry— as they were for complaining when they refused another student that I was supporting to board a bus taking students to visit the Presidential office in Managua. Why? Because he was wearing sneakers (his only shoes) instead of black shoes. Go figure!

        • robert skydell

          Now it makes perfect sense. Somehow I am not surprised by this Donna.

          Education in Nicaragua is plagued with systemic problems that are based in mostly in maintaining and perpetuating a rigid status quo. I doubt many people within the system are concerned with the extremely meager competency levels that result and the degree to which this affects the country as a whole.

  • Megan Burke

    Not to argue with the basic point of the article, but I wonder how many Americans would pass if MIT or Caltech had a basic entrance exam? Perhaps 6%? Like Ken, I would like to assume that the exam is not meant to actually measure basic math skills but rather the skills needed to go to the country’s most competitive engineering University.

  • Brian

    Wait a minute … Did someone just compare a Nicaraguan university with MIT and Caltech???
    WOW … That’s a hot one!!!!

  • Joseph

    I would wager that if the test was only marching and drumming for hours all the students would have passed. That seems to be the only activity done at the schools in Jinotega.

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  • FP

    Last year, I took the UNAN exmas in hopes to study medicine. I was given a score of 48 in math and spanish a 68. Something I found ridiculous considering I was 3.8GPA HS High Honors graduate. Math is by far my best subject and Spanish is my second language.

    The math exam is some basic algebra, geometry, and some probability. But these exams are as rigged as the matches/games in sporting events.

    Sadly I didn’t have “una pata” to help me get in. Most of the students who get into these public univs. are children with political affiliation. I know the education in Nicaragua is not even close to being okay, but it is sad that the few good students that take the exam are turned down for not having someone to help them get in.

    My mother wanted me to do the exam again but it was insulting enough to be told the first time that I have no math skills. I chose to stay and study medicine in a private univ. in Nicaragua.

    And to the MIT comment, you are aware that in order to apply you must have a SAT score right? SAT contains some really complex algebra and calculus problems. So ya, a lot of people in the states dont get into MIT cause of their SAT scores.