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Colombia has a high literacy rate. This is due to mandatory education until middle school and a strong emphasis on vocational education. The public education system is governed by the Ministerio de Educación Nacional (Ministry of National Education). However, the standard of public schooling varies widely, tending to lag behind in the more rural areas of the country.
Private schools form an important part of the education system. There are also numerous international schools in cities across the country. Though there is no specific regulation for or against homeschooling in Colombia, it isn't a common practice.
The school year generally starts in January and ends in November for public schools. Private schools tend to use a different calendar, starting in August or September and finishing in June.
Public schools in Colombia
All mandatory stages of education in Colombia are subsidised by the state, allowing lower-income families access to free schooling. Children can attend state-sponsored community nursery schools or daycare centres from the age of one. Children enrol in elementary school at age six.
Secondary education is divided into four years of compulsory basic secondary schooling (ages 12 to 15) and two to three years of optional vocational education (ages 15 to 18). Students are offered different technical and academic specialisations.
Although expats will be able to enrol their children in public schools, many choose not to due to the varying standards of public education. Children who don’t speak Spanish will find public schools extremely challenging. However, this could also provide a great opportunity for cultural immersion.
Private schools in Colombia
There is a large variety of private schools in Colombia, and the standards, entry requirements and fees at these schools may vary considerably. Generally, private schools offer higher standards of learning, smaller classes and a wider range of extra-curricular activities. Private schools are attended not only by expats but also by the children of wealthier Colombian families.
Most private educational institutions are either bilingual, teaching classes in both English and Spanish, or international, where a foreign curriculum is used and teaching language varies. Several private schools offer the globally recognised International Baccalaureate.
Parents should carefully research schools they are considering. Although some schools call themselves ‘bilingual’, teachers may have only an intermediate knowledge of English and most classes may be taught in Spanish.
International schools in Colombia
There are numerous international schools in Colombia. The majority are located in Bogotá. There are also international schools in major cities like Medellín and Cali.
Expats will find English, French, German and Italian schools in Colombia. Like many of the private schools, these are attended by a large number of local students.
International schools adhere to the educational model of their affiliated country. Schools will generally follow the national curriculum of this country, but many offer internationally recognised qualifications like the International Baccalaureate (IB). The teaching language is usually that of the school's country of origin but many international schools offer bilingual programmes as well.
International schools offer a high standard of education, similar to international schools across the globe. Tuition tends to be on par with private education in Europe or the United States, which is very expensive by local Colombian standards. Admission and enrolment procedures vary from school to school.
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