Education in Costa Rica

Dan, Lindie, and Eveline, Monteverde

We’ve spoken with several people about the education system in Costa Rica, especially our two Spanish teachers: Eveline at the Monte Verde Institute and Ronny at Finca Soley. Unlike Nicaragua where teachers are poorly trained and students attend school only half day, Costa Rica has a very comprehensive education system which is, in many ways, quite the opposite of that in the United States.

According to WIKI, Costa Rica education system is ranked 20th in the “Global Competitiveness Report 2013–14″, and is described as of “high quality”. The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 94.9%. It is 2 points over the average for Latin-America and Caribbean countries.

I’m not positive at what age children start to school however I know they are in school by age 7 if not before. School is mandatory through age 17. The older grades are called “colegio” or college and there are two general tracks: technical and academic. Students in seventh through ninth grade technical schools study, among other things sustainable agriculture and tourism; tenth-twelfth grades study food and beverage, accounting, ecological tourism and rural tourism. (Not sure about all of the distinctions between the areas of study.)

Interestingly, students on the academic track only go through the eleventh grade, not the twelfth.

Public school students of all ages wear uniforms to lessen the perceived differences that economic status may make. Private school students do not wear uniforms.

Somewhere around 10-13% of the money the government receives each year from taxes goes towards education, grades 1-12. An additional approximately 8% is spent on higher education. This is possible because they don’t spend anything on a military.

When a student wants to get higher education, they must take a very difficult exam. Those that score well on the exam can go to the public university for free, including tuition, room/board, books. The person’s (family’s?) income is considered in this calculation so families with money do pay for their higher education.

For undergraduates, the university is a full time “job” and if the student goes to one of the 3 main universities (there are local campuses in the major towns for each university), they can’t work while they are undergraduates because they are taking 7-8 classes per semester! University is generally 4 years with a Bachillerato degree received once they graduate. This is similar to our Bachelor’s degree.

They have an additional degree for one more year of university which gives them a Licenciatura degree. We don’t have any equivalent to that degree and it doesn’t give the student much additional income when they work.

A Maestria (Masters) requires a total of 7 years at the university and a Doctorado 8 years. The pay increases significantly with both of those degrees.

Each year approximately 40,000 students take the exam for the university and about 13,000 score high enough to go to the public universities. The remaining students can go to the private universities where they have to pay and generally (although not always), the education is considered inferior to the public universities’.

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