Volume 26, No. 1: Steady Progress in CP Systems

CORD's Experience in the Dominican Republic: An Update

Agustin Navarra, VP International, Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD)

Today's global knowledge economy is challenging countries around the world to increase their productivity. Recent economic developments and free trade agreements, such as the Dominican Republic–Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR–CAFTA), are placing more pressure than ever on Central American and Caribbean nations to improve their workforces.

With these urgencies in mind, and the conviction that education is the key to boosting economic competitiveness, in mid-2006 a group of business pioneers from the Dominican Republic (DR) led by Pedro Esteva, CEO of Implementos y Maquinarias (IMCA), Caterpillar's distributor in the DR and Jamaica, contacted CORD (the parent organization of NCPN). Mr. Esteva and like-minded business leaders were having difficulty finding qualified technicians. They had been referred to CORD by the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), an independent nonprofit organization that creates public-private partnerships designed to assist disadvantaged people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

CORD found that students in the DR were learning traditional academic subjects but not employability skills such as decision making, problem solving, and critical thinking.

A change was needed. What resulted was a comprehensive plan designed to produce a pool of well-qualified technicians by using CORD's educational model to improve curriculum and teaching practices under the umbrella of school-business collaboration. The plan consisted of three main elements:

  1. Improving curriculum and programs of study,

  2. Providing professional development for teachers using the REACT teaching strategy, and

  3. Generating school-business partnerships by improving relationships between educators and employers.

The plan was designed to make changes incrementally, beginning with one school, one technical specialty, and one grade level at a time over a multi-year period. The Instituto Polytécnico Loyola (IPL), a public secondary/postsecondary school, was chosen to be the pilot school. The first stage of the plan placed emphasis on modernizing the high school curriculum and training mathematics and science teachers to teaching contextually using the REACT methodology. (Go here and here for more information on CORD's educational model.) The second stage (in progress) is preparing students in internal combustion technology. This process will expand over time to include more specialties and more schools.

Up-to-date results of the program at IPL include the following:

  • More than 1000 graduates have completed the four-year high school program.

  • Program graduates have performed well on national tests (around 90 percent passing rate for IPL students compared to a significantly lower national average).

  • Teachers have participated in 12,000 man-hours of professional development.

  • The average training period for graduates as new hires in industry has been reduced from 18 months to 3 months.

  • More than 50 percent of graduates were offered jobs when they left high school.

  • After first focusing on improvement in math and science courses, the project is now applying the CORD contextual teaching strategy to language and social sciences courses. (This began at the end of 2014).

Promising developments include the following:

  1. In 2015, under Pedro Esteva's IMCA sponsorship, CORD initiated development of a groundbreaking new type of curriculum and pedagogy that, while focusing primarily on the diesel specialty, will incorporate concepts from other disciplines such as math, science, and language arts. This interdisciplinary aspect is consistent with the REACT contextual teaching strategy, which is based on the premise that academic subjects do not exist in isolation but are interrelated. By the end of 2017, IPL will have a modern, industry-enriched curriculum and a cadre of teachers who are trained to use the REACT strategy. Because that cadre will represent a broad range of disciplines, all students at IPL will benefit, not just the students in the diesel specialty.

  2. The nine-year-old CORD-IPL-IMCA partnership is reaching a new plateau in educational improvement. IPL’s enhanced competitive edge is transforming the school into a national model of excellence via application of the "shared value" concept (Porter and Kramer, 2006). This is providing an example that other economic sectors can follow.

  3. The CORD-IPL-IMCA initiative is also opening doors to the academic world. Barna Business School, one of the best college-level institutions in the DR, adopted the business-education partnership process sponsored by Pedro Esteva and developed by CORD. Barna converted the process into a business case for its management course students. The Barna case was analyzed at the October 2015 NCPN conference in Dallas by more than 40 U.S. education and business representatives interested in learning the “nuts and bolts” of successful business-education partnerships. Along with Mr. Esteva, representatives of Boeing and Embraer served on a panel of experts.

Pedro Esteva's visionary work is giving IPL a new competitive edge and leading the way so that companies from other economic sectors in the DR and further afield can follow suit.

What does the future hold? Pedro Esteva's vision has positioned IPL to be a national model in improving education in the DR. CORD is planning to work with IPL on an array of new ideas about education, proposing a flexible, multidisciplinary model that is adaptable to 21st-century conditions. Awareness of developments in technology and attention to permanent changes in the workplace—along with careful consideration of how people learn—are built into the DNA of CORD's curriculum and pedagogical work.

For more information, contact the author at anavarra@cord.org.