Panama Education System: Does it prepare you for College or University? A spotlight on Boquete

By: Eliecer Andres Lay

nobes en escuelaI have studied in Panama and in the US and in my personal experience both are similar in education. Panama is continually improving its education system, and a person graduating from Panama schools will have the same knowledge as a person graduating from another country. Of course you and your child’s efforts are a key piece in the future of your child and his or her development. I am writing this article so that anyone interested in moving to Boquete area with their children has an idea about what choices are available to them for their child’s education.

The Panamanian education system is divided in two levels which are universal, free and mandatory. The Panamanian government funds the public schools and continues to invest in research related to improving delivery of public education as well as building and maintenance of school buildings. There are plenty of public schools around Panama, places where it is hard to get access to, all the indigenous regions, cities and more. For example if you are traveling to Panama and decide that you want to visit the indigenous regions, you will see a lot of indigenous kids are really into their classes wanting to have good education. Schools in rural areas are much more basic. Depending upon the number of children they may be just one room where often the numbers of children in each class can be high. It is hard to get teachers to work in remote areas as the facilities are not the greatest. There are many volunteer opportunities for teachers in this area. An increasing trend among expats who are living outside the main cities is to home school their children. On the other hand, private schools might be a better option for your kids if you come from another country. Private schools are all starting to provide bilingual education (Spanish & English) with a well prepared curriculum. There are four private schools in Boquete and a few public schools.

This is the brand new high school being completed in Boquete with over 400 registered students.

 escuelaThere are two levels of education in Panama:

Primary education includes:

  • Pre-school with two levels: pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. This is the only level where attendance is not compulsory.
  • Primary or Elementary School: This level lasts for six years.
  • Secondary School: Ends after three years with a school-leaving certificate.
  • High school: Lasts three years. At the end of high school students receive a diploma (Diploma de Bachiller) with a specialty (sciences, literature, business, technology, or agriculture and livestock).

Secondary or university education

The academic year of public Panamanian schools and universities begin during the last days of February and finishes at the end of December. Most private schools also follow this calendar, however, it is possible to find international schools that follow the Northern calendar (September-June school year).

From an article in Panama Education and Schools

Education in Panama was elitist until the USA took over the Panama Canal and began to influence matters. The policy prior to this was to offer the best education to those in the higher classes of society. Education became progressive under the US influence and numbers of children enrolling in primary school by the mid-1930s doubled. Levels of illiteracy among adults had been very high but dropped to below 50% in less than 10 years, dropping to less than 28% by the mid-1950s and levels are now less than 8%.

In secondary schools children are taught science, math, different languages and social studies for their compulsory years. In recent years, technology subjects have begun to be taught. Extra-curricular subjects at most schools range from languages to sports, with crafts and dance very popular too.

Government-run schools also follow a very similar syllabus for all subjects, so that the standards of education across the country can be monitored. A number of bilingual schools are now in existence in areas where the expat presence is high and there are schools where children can be taught through the mediums of French, English, Italian and Chinese, as well as Spanish.

Panama has several ‘Special Education’ schools for those children who have special needs. The cost of private education varies, depending upon the school and the location, but it can be around $6000 per year or more.

There are both American and British International Schools located in Panama City. The Balboa Academy (in the Clayton district), the Oxford International School (central Panama City) and the Crossroads Christian Academy (the Curundu district) all follow a standard US syllabus. The Oxford School, which can be found in the Edison Park area offers a British syllabus and an international examinations program. This gives children of expats the chance to earn qualifications which are widely accepted in their home country if they intend to go to university there.

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