Schools in Costa Rica – The Lowdown On Education
If you have school-aged children in Costa Rica, this article is for you. Whether you're doing some reconnaissance before moving or looking for alternative options for your children, let's study up on the education system
If you have school-aged children in Costa Rica, this article is for you. Whether you’re doing some reconnaissance before moving or looking for alternative options for your children, let’s study up on the education system in Costa Rica.
Options, Options, and more Options
First of all, what is MEP? The Ministerio de Educación Pública (Ministry of Public Education) is the government institution that regulates educational establishments in the country. No matter which one you decide on, make sure your child’s school is accredited by MEP. While most schools are already accredited, some newer schools have yet to receive their accreditation. Be wary of schools that do not have this important qualification. MEP provides structure to curriculum, ensures attendance policies, and provides each student with a portfolio of their achievements.
Now, let’s discuss the major differences between private and public schools in Costa Rica.
Public schools offer a few unique advantages that private schools do not. They are free of tuition and offer a fully immersive Spanish language learning experience. Some of them have cafeterias that offer free lunch or snack to their students as well; a rare occurrence in private institutions.
One crucial detail about public schools is their schedules. Classes are held 5 days per week, with different hours for each grade/age. There are two schedules: one in the morning that goes from 7:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and one in the afternoon from 12:30 p.m. to 4:50 p.m. Kids go 3 times a week in one schedule and the other 2 in the other one. From 1-3 grade: 3 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. From 4-6 grade: 3 in the afternoon and 2 in the morning. This is only a sample schedule and schools may vary in their hours of operation. Children are required to wear a uniform that consists of a button up white shirt and navy blue shorts/pants or skirts, available for purchase at multiple stores (Ekono, Aliss, and Universal are great places to find school uniforms).
Private schools often teach in English, but there are a few that teach other languages such as German and Mandarin. Many private schools widely range in monthly tuition costs – anywhere from ₡250.000 colones per month (roughly $400 USD) to upwards of ₡1.200.000 colones per month (roughly $2.000 USD). Of course, other fees like school-issued uniforms, books and materials, as well as lunches aren’t included.
Most of the top-rated schools are located in the Central Valley, but several others are popping up in coastal towns. You will find a wide range of academic offerings, different religious affiliations, and even a multitude of sports team preferences – of course, the most popular being soccer. Private schools are typically open Monday-Friday 7:00am-3:00pm (grades 1-6), but you will find all sorts of variation in hours.
It is important to note that both public and private schools have a few lengthy breaks throughout the year, ranging from 1-2 weeks to 1-2 months. Don’t be afraid to ask for an academic calendar while searching for the right school – as such breaks can greatly impact the parent’s ability to travel or work without predetermined child care. Some schools follow the North American school calendar (August – June), while others follow the Costa Rican school calendar (February – December).
Country Day School – San Rafael de Alajuela
American International School – Cariari
Costa Rica International Academy – Brasilito
Pan-American School – Belén
Blue Valley School – Escazú
Humboldt – Rohrmoser
Tree of Life – Santa Ana
Jaco Learning Center – Jacó
SEK School – Curridabat
Lincoln School – Santo Domingo
Homeschooling is not currently an option in Costa Rica. While there are a few loopholes, MEP does not recognize foreign curriculum as a suitable education for children living in Costa Rica, regardless of their nationality. Some parents opt to use homeschooling from their home country as supplemental education while their children are simultaneously enrolled in a local public school.
With a little research, you’ll be able to find a school that fits your family’s unique schedule and priorities, your children’s skills , and language/religious preferences, if any. Below are some top rated private schools in the Central Valley and beyond to help get your search started.
Still have questions about children in Costa Rica? Click here to read about Parental Consent to Leave Costa Rica With a Child: How Does It Work? or here to watch the webinar about Geoarbitrage: Costa Rica with the Kids.