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Education and Schools

Panama - Education and Schools

Education in Panama is compulsory for the first seven years of primary education and the three years of middle school. As of the 2004/2005 school year there were around 430,000 students enrolled in grades one through six, with the attendance of 95%. The total enrollment in the six secondary grades for the same period was 253,900, with attendance of 60%. More than 90% of Panamanians are considered to be literate. in 2004, more than 92,500 Panamanian students attended the University of Panama, the Technological University of Panama, West Coast University – Panama, Polytechnic University of Central America and the University of Santa Maria La Antigua, a private Catholic institution. Including smaller colleges, there are 88 institutions of higher education in Panama.

Expat education

Compulsory education in Panama is composed of two sections, 6 years of primary schooling and 3 years of schooling at a middle school. High school is available for those who wish to continue their education, as is university or college. There's an increasing number of students who take advantage of these opportunities. The school day varies, depending largely on the school, but children usually begin at any time between 8 am and 9 am and finish any time between 2 pm and 3 pm.

Education in Panama has changed a lot since the USA took over the Panama Canal. The policy prior to this period was to offer the best education to those in the higher classes of society. Education became progressive under the US influence and the number of children enrolling in primary school by the mid 1930s doubled. The level 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.

Enrolment in schools continued to increase and high schools and universities saw a huge increase by the mid-1980s. Today, Panama has an education budget which is roughly 20% of the national expenditure. Government-run schools offer free education for the compulsory years of school, and pre-schooling for children aged between four and five is free as well. Enrolling is an easy process that includes just making an appointment to see the school and meeting with the head teacher to determine if there is enough space. Each school requests a certain amount of documentation, which may include transcripts and reports from former schools and some evidence of identification such as a birth certificate or a passport.

In secondary schools children are taught science, mathematics, various languages and social studies for their compulsory years. In recent years, technology subjects have been included in the programme as well. Extra-curricular subjects at most schools range from languages to sports, with crafts and dance included too. Rural schools may not offer many extra-curricular subjects.

The school year runs from April to December and government schools use Spanish as the language of instruction. Most schools divide the year into 4 terms, but this does vary from school to school. Government-run schools also follow a very similar syllabus for all subjects, so the standards of education across the country could be easily monitored. There are several bilingual schools in existence in areas where the expat presence is higher and there are schools where children can be taught in French, Italian and Chinese as well. Universities and colleges offer a wide range of diplomas, certificates and bachelor’s degrees, and some larger universities offer the opportunity to earn a doctorate.

Panama has also several schools for children with special needs.

There are international and private schools in the some larger cities. The cost of private education varies, depending upon the school and the location, but in general it goes up to around $6000 per year or even more. Appointments are required at private schools before enrolment can take place, but most schools have available places. In some cases the websites of the schools offer online enrolment forms which can be completed prior to being invited to see the school.

There are both American and British International Schools located in Panama City. The Balboa Academy, which is in the Clayton district, the Oxford International School in central Panama City and the Crossroads Christian Academy in the Curundu district are popuar options. All of these 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 programme as well. This gives children the chance to earn qualifications which are widely accepted in their home country. This is also good for the children who intend to go to university in their home countries after they finish school here.

Schools in rural areas are much more basic. In some cases, depending on the number of children, there may be only one free place. An increasing trend among expats who live outside the main cities is to home school their children.

International schools

The International School of Panama (ISP)
This is Panama's most expensive international school. The high school has the best academic level of the three American accredited schools. It also offers the International Baccalaureate. The location is far away from everything but well connected by the beltway. ISP also has the same school year as the States, but begins a bit earlier in mid August.

Balboa Academy (BA) in the former Canal Zone
Located in Clayton, Balboa is an accredited international school which provides a more laid back American style education. It also accommodates kids with learning problems. Kids adjust well to this school and are generally very happy. Balboa offers AP courses the same as any American school. Balboa is expensive, but a bit less pricey than ISP. It follows the same school year as the States.

Metropolitan School in Clayton
This school is one of the top three choices for international students. It offers an International Baccalaureate. It's in the process of getting its USA accreditation, which will most likely happen by 2018. It is in the same price range as ISP and Balboa. It's on the American school schedule starting in August.

King's College: the British School of Panama
The British School of Panama is a part of King´s Group, one of the largest international school groups that deliver the National Curriculum of England and Wales with over 40 years of experience. It follows the English National Curriculum and the teachers are qualified and experienced British teachers. It is located in Clayton, just 20 minutes from the center of Panama City.

Boston School International
Offering a quality international English language education, Boston School offers an integrated classroom technology including online curriculum and books, Smartboards and touch screen laptops. Classes are Pre-K3 through 9th grade, and eventually aims to run through 12th grade. Located in Balboa, it follows and American school calendar. It's currently going through an accreditation process by the North West Accreditation Commission and the International Baccalaureate.

Read more about this country

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