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Expat parents have a multitude of decisions to make during the relocation process, not least of which is the crucial decision regarding schools. There is no ‘one size fits all’ school that can meet all the needs of every child and family so it is worth exploring various options.
Public schools in Chile
There are several levels of schooling in Chile:
- Preschool: 85 days old to age five
- Primary school (enseñanza básica): from age six to 14
- Secondary school (enseñanza media): from age 15 to 18
Children entering secondary school in Chile choose from two main options. One possibility is technical/professional-based education that prepares students directly for the working world with practical studies. The alternative is scientific/humanities-based studies where students select either subjects of physical science (such as physics, chemistry and biology) or humanities (such as language and history). These schools prepare students for further tertiary education. This split only occurs in the last two years of secondary school, however. The first two years are the same across the board.
Preschool is optional, but all children must start primary school at the age of six. Public primary schools are free though secondary schools may charge a small fee for the admission process and monthly tuition. Some parents may voluntarily contribute to their child’s tuition and school as part of a specific programme. There are movements to reduce fees and recent years have also seen public universities with free tuition.
Unfortunately, public schools cannot guarantee quality, which means many expats, especially those who are staying short-term or do not speak Spanish, go a different route. Expats face a language barrier as public schooling is in Spanish and often teachers will have a poor grasp of English. Young students who speak second-language Spanish may still find integrating into public schools a challenge, which means parents are often drawn to private and international schools.
Private schools in Chile
A large disparity exists between the quality of public and private education in Chile. As a country that prides itself on growth and development, the low standard of state-sponsored education remains a sore point. Many private schools receive a state subsidy as well as private funding and they normally offer better quality resources and teaching facilities.
Many Chilean locals and foreign families lean toward private schools which are a good option for expat families who anticipate a long-term stay in the country or can't afford the hefty price tag attached to international schools.
Private institutions tend to have some form of a religious foundation, so expats will need to keep this in mind. Some of these schools also require that students and their families practise the delegated faith to be granted admission.
While there are some bilingual private schools, the teaching language in secondary schools is Spanish. If students are planning to attend university outside of Chile, it may be worth considering one of the country's reputable international schools.
International schools in Chile
International schools in Chile offer an assortment of home-country curricula and teaching languages. Many of these schools boast bilingual programmes and expats from all over the world can take their pick. These schools tend to have a multicultural student body, a broader selection of extra-curricular activities and better facilities than public schools. Most international schools are located in Santiago, but expats can find a few options scattered outside of this commercial centre such as in Coquimbo, Antofagasta and Puerto Montt.
International schools tend to be expensive, so expats should try their best to negotiate some sort of education allowance into their contract before agreeing to relocate. Fees vary depending on the school and the age of the child, with the most expensive bodies costing more than some university tuitions.
Space can be scarce in the more prestigious international schools in Chile (such as Nido de Aguilas, Santiago College and The Grange School), so the further in advance parents start the admission process, the better. The enrolment process can be intense, even for younger students who may have admittance tests and interviews. Often, parents need proof of their child's academic results notarised and legalised at the Chilean consulate. Schools should be contacted directly to find out their specific criteria.
Special-needs education in Chile
Inclusivity in special-needs education is being pushed in both public and private education sectors. Many schools can support learning disabilities as well as psychological and behavioural problems. Headteachers hire specialists to provide the necessary assistance with the help of government subsidies when needed. That said, finding certain services in English is not always possible and expat families may have to turn to more expensive international school options.
International schools in Chile present varying levels of learning support to children with disabilities. Some support minor learning disabilities, helping with reading, maths and language, but parents should contact and meet with the school body to find out what kind of support is available.
Homeschooling in Chile
Homeschooling is legal in Chile and a fair number of parents prefer this route. Parents may find that their children don’t work well at school, facing long days, few extra-curricular activities and little specialised attention. Many parents cannot afford international school fees or do not have employment packages that allow for tuition, and so there is much pressure on them to provide an education for their children. Homeschooling is a great alternative to mainstream instruction and many middle- and upper-class families choose this option for their children, guided by Chile’s national curriculum and textbooks, online resources or international curricula.
There are no specific laws that guide homeschooling, although parents may need to take a validation test to prove they are capable of educating their children. They can find more information on this process from homeschooling families that network on social media platforms like Facebook and through Chile’s Ministry of Education.
Nurseries in Chile
In Chile, children can attend preschool from as young as just a few months old. Enrolment and attendance in Chilean nurseries are high as many parents seek help with care during the day and wish to stimulate their child’s early development, allowing them to socialise and prepare for preschool school. There are many options for bilingual nurseries, especially in large cities, and several international schools also cater to daycare and preschool opportunities.
Tutors in Chile
Expats who want their children to have some extra classes to help with schoolwork or learn some Spanish to better integrate into their new homes can easily find tutors to help them. Networking is one way to do this. Talking with other parents, families and schools is an easy way to make connections. Online portals can also be useful.
Tutors are a great benefit alongside traditional schooling, for extra guidance when homeschooling, or as extra help during exam time.
►For a list of international schools in Santiago, see Education and Schools in Santiago
"The school admission process is crazy – even four-year-olds must take an exam. Some school admission processes take place over three days!" Read Nina's interview for more on schools in Santiago.
"School by far has been our biggest battle; we put our kids in a liberal arts school and they fell behind because the education was redundant." Read our interview with Sarai to find out personal opinions on education in Chile.
Are you an expat living in Chile?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Chile. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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