The Dominican Republic has plenty to offer expats who come to live and work within its shores. It has some of the best natural scenery in the world, a pleasant tropical climate, and an affordable cost of living. Its expansive coastline is home to beautiful beaches, and there is great diversity in the interiors, in the form of mountains, deserts and lush rainforests. The Dominican Republic is especially popular among expat retirees, who find that real estate in the country is inexpensive and the healthcare system adheres to a high standard.Expats with families also have much to look forward to when moving to the Dominican Republic. There are several educational options and opportunities available for children, and although the local language is Spanish, there are a number of multinational schools that adopt other languages of instruction. However, before moving to the Dominican Republic with children, it is important to be more fully informed about the education system in the country, and take stock of its pros and cons.
The Dominican Republic’s public education system does not have a great reputation. In fact, it is known to be among the world’s most underperforming education systems. The good news is that there are measures being taken to improve the situation. The main challenges faced by the education system are overcrowding in classrooms, a lack of proper facilities and outdated curricula. National law makes it necessary to spend at least four percent of the country’s GDP on education. In reality, only two percent actually reaches the education system.
Teachers earn meager salaries and find it hard to make a living. This is why not many local people choose to become teachers in the Dominican Republic. This also leads to the problem of a skewed student-to-teacher ratio, meaning students don’t receive adequate individual attention. Many of the teachers who are working in the Dominican Republic have not sufficiently acquainted themselves with the material they are required to teach. Statistics have shown a 40 percent dropout rate among students, even before they reach the eighth grade.
Other societal issues that exist in the country, such as a high rate of teenage pregnancy, also contribute to this high drop-out rate. The Dominican Republic’s literacy rate stands at fairly impressive 92 percent, but studies have revealed that many high school students attain only a sixth-grade reading level, even upon entering university.
In recent years, teachers in the Dominican Republic have exerted pressure on the government to pay more attention to education, and there have in fact been some improvements, such as establishing more schools and lengthening teaching hours. However, teacher training and the scarcity of teachers still remain problems. This led to the World Bank’s 2015 announcement of the intention to invest $50 million to aid the national education reforms over the course of five years.
Education in the Dominican Republic is divided into three stages.
Preschool Or Pre-Primary Education
The initial level or the preschool stage enrolls students below the age of six. The first cycle of the pre-primary stage includes children up to the age of two; the second cycle is for children from age two to four; and the third cycle is for children between the ages of four and six. Legally, only the final year of preschool is compulsory. This year is funded by the government.
Primary schooling is mandatory and includes students between the ages of six and 14. This stage of education is divided into two cycles. The first cycle is for children aged six to ten, and consists of grades one to four. The second cycle enrolls children aged 10 to 14, and consists of grades five to eight. Each grade is made up of ten months of education.
Secondary school, which enrolls students from 14 to 18 years, is not mandatory. It consists of four years of education, divided into two cycles. In the first cycle, education is general. The second cycle permits students the flexibility to focus on an arts, technical or vocational education. With technical or vocational schooling, students may find it easier access certain professions in the fields of agriculture and industry. An arts education aims at honing creativity in students, and enables them to enter the fields of visual, performing and applied arts or music. National exams are held at the end of secondary education, in which students must obtain a passing grade in order to graduate. They must also have participated in a community service program. Students who successfully complete secondary schooling receive a high school diploma, after which they can enroll in university.
Expats who want their children to study at universities in the United States should have them educated at schools that have accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. For those looking at a university education in Europe, it is advisable to enroll your children in a school that teaches the International Baccalaureate, such as the Saint George School in Santo Domingo.
The public education system in the Dominican Republic may not have such a good reputation, but when it comes to higher education, the country has a number of respected universities that enroll both local and international students. In fact, the first university in the Americas, the Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino, was established in the Dominican Republic.
Upon completing secondary education, students receive a certificate from the Ministry of Education that enables them to apply to local or international universities. Most Dominican universities are private, except for the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, which is the only public university in the country. The fees at this university are more affordable than those at the private universities, although, in comparison to many other countries, higher education fees in the Dominican Republic as a whole are low.
However, only Dominican citizens are eligible for these subsidized fees. As a result, expats who have long-term plans to live here with their children sometimes arrange for citizenship before applying to local universities, in order to avoid paying the higher fees that are charged of international students. These fees are on par with those charged by universities in the US.
International students can also apply to the study abroad program offered by the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra, one of the country’s premier higher education private institutions. Proficiency in Spanish is not a prerequisite for this course, which lasts for a semester. However, students can opt for the classes taught in Spanish that usually cater to local students. For those who wish to learn Spanish during the program, the university has a language school on its campus.
Both public and private universities offer the standard bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees. University students in the Dominican Republic usually live at home while pursuing their higher education. However, student accommodation is available at some universities. Expat students arriving in the Dominican Republic for the purpose of higher education can choose to stay with a host family, which may help them settle into the local community, and will also aid their learning of Spanish. Expats should be aware that the job market for graduates in the country is not very vibrant or lucrative, and that students may have to look elsewhere for employment.
The Dominican Republic provides free public education to all children up to 14 years of age, including the children of expats. However, to continue receiving state-funded free education in secondary school beyond the age of 14, citizenship is mandatory. There is a high dropout rate after students complete their basic primary education, and the government, along with some NGOs, has been making efforts to reduce this number.
The academic year consists of two terms divided by a Christmas break. Summer holidays consist of eight weeks from mid-June to mid-August. In most public schools, the day begins at 7.30am or 8am and ends at about 2pm. Some schools are open from 12pm to 6pm. Attending half a day of school has been the custom in the Dominican Republic, but some full-day schools have opened recently, for example in the Puerto Plata province.
Students are required to wear uniforms in both public and private schools in the Dominican Republic, and this additional expense is one of the factors responsible for the number of dropouts. Primary schools generally instruct students in academic learning, with very little emphasis on practical learning. Secondary schools provide more options, such as vocational courses. Some public schools, especially those in the capital city of Santo Domingo, teach the curricula in Spanish as well as in foreign languages.
Private schools in the Dominican Republic teach in English and enroll students from different parts of the world. The fees at private schools vary, and there may be additional expenses such as uniforms, textbooks and lunches. Private education has been in existence for decades in the Dominican Republic, and an increasing number of students are enrolled in these schools. The majority of schools in Santo Domingo are private, and more than half of all primary education students are enrolled in them. The spurt of growth in private education is partly due to the poor standards of the public education system in the country. Students must show some proficiency in English before they can be admitted into most private schools.
The Dominican Republic also has some religious private schools, such as Catholic schools, which are partially state-funded.
The government offers scholarships to high achievers in order to enable them to enroll in a private school of their choice. Like public schools, private schools must adhere to the national curriculum and follow the academic schedule established by the government. National examinations are held at the end of primary and secondary education.
Public, private, and international schools in the Dominican Republic follow the US-based A-to-F grading system.
There are plenty of international schools in the Dominican Republic, and these schools have the freedom to either follow their own academic schedule or follow international curricula. International schools can expand their curriculum beyond the basic material, and they also have the flexibility to alter the academic year as long as the curriculum is completed. International schools are usually the preferred option for expats. These schools are located in various cities in the Dominican Republic.
The Colegio Adventista, is a Spanish-speaking institution located in Bonao, in the Monseñor Nouel province. Instruction in French and English is also provided here.
The Doulos Discovery School in Jarabacoa is a Christian school catering to students from kindergarten to grade 12. It provides instruction in English and Spanish, and prepares students to enroll in local universities, as well as those in the United States.
The city of La Romano is home to the Abraham Lincoln School, which was founded to educate the children of American employees of the Central Romana Corporation. Today, it is open to other children, and offers education in English and Spanish.
French expats who intend for their children to follow the French curriculum can send their children to the Ecole Francaise las Terrenas, a bilingual school in Las Terrenas. Another French school is the Ecole Francaise de la Costa Verde in Rio San Juan, which provides education from primary level to the baccalaureate level.
The Santiago Christian School in Santiago is a US-accredited school, enrolling students from pre-school to grade 12.
The capital city of Santo Domingo has a varied choice of international schools, such as the American School of Santo Domingo, which offers the US curriculum; the Saint George School, which offers the International Baccalaureate program; and St. Michael’s School, a college preparatory school based on the US system.
In the resort town of Sosúa in the Puerto Plata province, expats can choose between the International School of Sosúa, which is a co-educational day school that caters to students from pre-kindergarten to grade 12, and the Garden Kids International School, a bilingual institution catering to the local and international families living in the country.
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