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Colombia has a high literacy rate thanks 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), but the standard of public schooling does vary rather 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. That said, it could also provide a great opportunity for cultural immersion, especially for the little ones who'd pick up the language easier than older kids might.
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 before enrolling as 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 such as 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 such as 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.
Special-needs education in Colombia
Expat parents of children with disabilities should consider an international school in Colombia, as these institutions provide the best special-needs care and education. Policies and regulations for children with special education needs in Colombia are implemented by the Ministry of Education, and while the system aims to include children with disabilities within mainstream schools, there is still much room for improvement.
International schools will cater for most disabilities including hearing, vision and other physical impairments as well as mental disabilities. We recommend parents do thorough research of each school to ensure that their child will be accommodated, as not all international schools cater for special-needs kids, or perhaps not all disabilities. Spaces at these schools also tend to fill up quickly so parents should apply well in advance.
Tutoring in Colombia
Tutoring can be a valuable tool for expat children in Colombia, whether they need help learning Spanish, or other speciality subjects, or for assistance in preparation for entrance exams or SATs. A good tutor can also serve to boost the confidence of expat kids in their new environment or with a new curriculum.
We recommend expat parents enquire at their children's school about reputable tutors, or alternatively browse for a recommended tutor on online resources such as Apprentus or Upwork.
►Find out about Accommodation in Colombia
"Here are some suggestions for kid-friendly activities in Medellín: Take the cable car up to Parque Arvi and go hiking. Hike to the top of Cerro Volador for amazing city views and lots of butterflies. Go up to the top of Cerro Nutibara for city views and also Pueblito Paisa, a replica of a small Colombian town. Take a day trip to the colourful lakeside town of Guatapé. Visit the Museo de Agua (Water Museum). Tour the street art of Comuna 13."
Americans John and Susan tell of their Colombian expat experience in their interview with Expat Arrivals.
Are you an expat living in Colombia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Colombia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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