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Costa Rica Education: History, Schools & Universities

In contrast to many developing countries, the Costa Rica educationsystem is a good one. According to the 2007/2008 United NationsDevelopment Program Human Development Report, Costa Rica's literacyrate is 94.9 % - evidence that education is a primary concern ofthe Costa Rica government.

The greatest number of educational options can be found in theCentral Valley area. In fact the San Jose phone book has over 300listings for private elementary and secondary schools.

History of the Costa Rica Education System

The importance of education in Costa Rica can be attributed toearly leaders of the country, many of which were schoolteachers. (For more on Costa Rica History) Infact, Costa Rica's first president, Jose Maria Castro, was himselfa former teacher. Furthermore, the abolishment of the country'smilitary in 1949 allowed for the allocation of more funding toschooling and education.

Cognizant of the advantages of a quality education, these earlyteacher-leaders reformed education, and in 1869 made Costa Rica oneof the first countries in the world to have free and obligatoryeducation, funding the push with profits from the nation'slucrative coffee industry. Since that time, the country's educationsystem has grown to include approximately four thousandschools.

There are several articles in the Constitution of Costa Ricathat ensure Costa Rica education. Article 79 guarantees freedom ofeducation. Article 80 states that the government should stimulateprivate education. Article 82 orders the government to provide foodand clothing to poor students.

As of the 1990s, English and Computer Science are mandatorysubjects in public schools. Former Costa Rican President Jose MariaFigueres brought about this change while he was in office. Thegovernment bore the expense of training five hundred teachers forthis purpose.

Costa Rica Schools & Public Education

The Costa Rica education system has both public and privateschools. Public schools consist of six years of primary educationfollowed by five to six years of high school. Each year is dividedinto two cycles with students being tested on all subjects learnedat the end of each cycle.

Nationalized student testing is required at the third, sixth,ninth and eleventh grades and are used to determine whether astudent moves to the next grade level. The most difficult tests arethe Bachillerato Tests, which must be passed in order to receive ahigh school diploma and be admitted to university.

The two cycles or terms of a school year are from Februarythrough July and then August through November or December. Thisbreak used to be for children helping during the coffee harvest,but it's now viewed as an extended break for Christmas. There isalso a two to three week break in July.

High school is divided into two segments. The first three yearsare educational while the remaining two or three give studentsspecialized training. Upon graduation from high school, studentsreceive a title in "Letras" (arts) or "Ciencias" (sciences).

In rural areas education beyond the sixth grade may not bereadily available. The approximately one hundred village librariesin the country provide a means for those in rural areas to continuetheir education. A nuclearization program was put into effect tocombine one-teacher schools. The current Costa Rica educationsystem makes attendance compulsory through the ninth year, or ageof fourteen.

In public schools, students are required to wear uniforms. Theschool day generally begins at seven in the morning and endsbetween one and four in the afternoon. On average, thestudent-teacher ratio is twenty-eight students to one teacher.

In recent years the public Costa Rica education system hassuffered from budget cuts and is experiencing a lack of funding.Underpaid teachers and fewer programs have lead to an increase inprivate schools looking to offer parents an alternative.

Private Education in Costa Rica

Families who can afford to do so, Costa Rican or expatriate,typically send their children to private schools. North Americanprivate schools include the Marian Baker School, the InternationalChristian School and the Country Day School, as well as others.European private schools include the French school FrancoCostarricense and the German school Humboldt. There is also EscuelaJaponesa, a Japanese school for Asian students.

While most private schools follow the schedule they would intheir home country, some choose to follow the Costa Rican schedule.This runs from the middle of February to the end of November.

According to the book Living in Costa Rica, the following are(subjectively) some of the best private schools:

Top Tier

Second Tier
  • St. Paul's
  • Panamerican School (Colegio Panamericano)
  • Marion Baker School
  • European School (Colegio Europeo) -- Best known for primaryschool
  • Saint Francis
  • Methodist College (Colegio Methodista)
Third Tier
  • Weizman Institute (Instituto Dr. Jaim Weizman)
  • Japanese School (Escuela Japonesa)
  • French School (Liceo Franco-Costarricense or LyceeFranco-Costaricien)
  • West College (Colegio del Oeste)
  • Blue Valley School

Higher Education in Costa Rica & University of CostaRica

There are four state-funded universities. Most students attendingstate-funded universities do so on scholarship. However, at amaximum price per semester of $200, education at one of theseuniversities is affordable.

The oldest and largest state-funded university is theUniversity of Costa Rica; it's also one of the mostprestigious. The university enrolls approximately 35,000 studentsper year. The main campus is located in San Pedro, but there arealso regional centers in Cartago, Alajuela, Puntarenas andTurrialba.

Around 13,000 students study liberal arts, sciences andprofessional studies at the National University in Heredia.Students working towards a degree in science or technologygenerally attend the Technical Institute of Costa Rica in Cartago.The State Correspondence University has thirty-two regional centerswhere students can work towards fifteen degrees, including health,business administration, education and liberal arts.

For those who are simply interested in learning something newand not necessarily enrolling, numerous public universities in the Costa Ricaeducation system offercourses, seminars and talks that are free and open to the public.These opportunities are listed in local newspapers like La Nacion.Many other programs available through these universities are reasonably priced and are a great way to continue your education while in Costa Rica.

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