School Days - Tico Style
Children start el kinder around age five or six - same as American kids, right? After kindergarten, kids move on to la escuela for six years of study otherwise known as la primaria. Starting around age twelve, students move on from la primaria to la secundaria, also called el colegio. This is where they take a wide range of classes including Spanish, English, Math, Social Studies (History & Geography), and Science (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics). I've found that a lot of teenagers here speak English but the older students are much more confident because they've been studying it longer. Kids here love sports too, the most popular being soccer for boys and volleyball for girls.
After the first three years, students have to pass a major exam in order to make it to the fourth year. They must eventually pass this test to be allowed to go to the next grade. At the end of the five years there is an even bigger final exam called el Bachillerato, and if they pass that, then they receive their diploma. It's crucial that they complete their studies because many students I've spoken with fear that without having passed the Bachillerato, it is extremely difficult to find work.
At this point, about 50% of students take a break from studying instead of going right to college. Some Ticos prefer to travel, mostly to the US and maybe Mexico or Europe. For those that go to El Universidad, there are a handful of selective public schools and hundreds of private schools from which to choose. The largest University by far is the University of Costa Rica with 30,000 students studying at regional campuses. The private universities generally have greater focus in a particular area and are more expensive. Exceptional students, those from poor families, and especially students studying medicine or engineering are aided by becas (grants), or student loans.
Costa Rica's excellent educational system has produced a literacy rate of about 93% throughout the country. Compared to other nations in Central America, primary and secondary education is good, and the post-secondary education is considered even better. Many students come from around the world to study at the University of Costa Rica. We just hope that the Education Ministry listens to the students and supports their dream of great education.