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The Mexican education system has had its share of struggles. The dropout rate in public schools is high, and rural schools are underfunded and have a shortage of buildings, teachers and textbooks. Urban public schools are better, but the quality of education is still relatively low, while private schools grant a high quality of bilingual education that is usually well suited to expat children, but can be expensive.
The education system in Mexico is often segregated by social class and stark differences are seen between more developed northern and central states compared to southern regions. Wealthy families normally send their children to private schools where there is no shortage of good teachers and textbooks, while poorer families send their children to public schools.
Many expats homeschool their children or send them to a Mexican school for half the day and homeschool them in the afternoons. Immersion in a Mexican school for half the day can help expat children learn Spanish and assimilate better into the local culture.
Public schools in Mexico
Although public schools in Mexico charge no tuition and textbooks are freely available in primary schools, they are unlikely to be an expat’s first choice for their children due to poor and differing standards.
The Mexican education system is regulated by the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) and is administered by individual states. Public schools in Mexico are secular as religious instruction is banned in public education, and school days in Mexico are shorter than that of many other countries. The school year usually runs from September to the following June.
The system is normally divided into three levels:
Primary school (primaria): grades one to six, ages six to 12
Junior high school (secundaria): grades seven to nine, ages 12 to 15
High school (preparatoria), grades 10 to 12, ages 15 to 18
Children must achieve at least 60 percent in the national examination at the end of each school year to proceed to the next grade.
For high school, students have several options. Students can attend specific colleges for technological, technical and vocational training courses and receive a bachillerato, preparing them for the workforce. Otherwise, students who attend preparatoria gain a general education in subjects they may specialise in, such as in physical or social sciences. This prepares them for tertiary education.
Unfortunately, there have been reports of corruption in Mexican public schools. These schools are often underfunded and lacking in resources and drop-out rates are high. This is especially true in rural areas which often receive bilingual, bicultural and community-centred curricula through distance learning. Urban centres are only marginally better.
Because of these disadvantages, public schools are rarely an option for expat children. That said, those who are fluent in Spanish can benefit from attending public school for half the day, followed by homeschooling in the afternoon.
Private schools in Mexico
Most expats send their children to private or international schools, which are concentrated in the big cities, as they offer a broader curriculum and better teachers than public schools. While public schools are secular, religious education may be available at some private schools.
When considering a private school, expats should ensure that it is accredited through the SEP and visit the school, meet with teachers and check the curriculum to see if it is a suitable option. Parents may not be able to do this themselves before moving, but relocation companies offer extensive school-searching services.
Those with children who will be going to university in their home country should also ensure that the school is accredited internationally.
Expats enrolling their children in a private school in Mexico will usually need to present school records proving that their child has completed the previous year of school and has qualified to continue to the next grade level. Schools usually ask for a copy of the child’s birth certificate, a copy of their school records and photo identification for the child and the parent.
Bilingual schools in Mexico
Bilingual education is available in both public and private schools. Language is a complex issue affecting education in Mexico and it’s not just a challenge for foreign students: around sixty indigenous languages are spoken in the country.
Often in bilingual schools, half the day is taught in Spanish and the other half in a second language, usually English, French or one of the main native languages. International schools cater not only for the language but also curriculum of one's home country.
International schools in Mexico
An international school is often the best choice for expat children. Attending an international school will ensure that children receive a world-class education and can attend university in their home country or anywhere else in the world.
Most international schools in Mexico are located in large cities, such as Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. English and American, as well as German, French and Japanese schools are available in Mexico. Tuition costs range greatly from affordable to exorbitant. Parents should also factor in where the school is and how they will get around between home, school and work daily.
Tertiary education in Mexico
Tertiary education in Mexico is similar to the model followed in the United States and there are several types of higher education institutions and qualifications. A Bachelor’s degree is typically four years long, a Master’s degree is two years long and a Doctoral degree is three years. Alternatively, the Higher Technician certificate allows students to train with skilled workers and professionals in a specific field and then enter that trade themselves.
Expats should note that tuition in public universities is free, with some administration costs, while private institution fees vary.
Special-needs education in Mexico
Like many other countries, Mexico is working towards inclusive education in both private and public spheres. A specialised group of professionals, part of the Unidades de Servicio y Apoyo a la Educaión Regular (USAER), assist children with disabilities in regular classroom settings. These professionals include speech therapists, psychologists, special-education teachers and others.
Students with severe disabilities are not usually catered for in these settings and usually attend Centros de Atencion Multiple (CAM) for specific attention and care.
Unfortunately, there are barriers to inclusive education, such as limited training for teachers and confusion of roles between the main class teacher and professionals from the USAER. Many school environments are not physically adapted to individuals with certain handicaps, and much infrastructure and resource development are still needed.
Private and international schools are likely to afford better resources and support for expat children with disabilities.
Nurseries in Mexico
Preschool is an important part of early childhood development and many parents opt to send their children to nurseries and preschool. A nursery (guardería) not only allows parents to continue working and have extra time to themselves but also helps infants develop, gain necessary skills and begin socialising.
Daycares are easy to find in large cities – some provide Montessori-based holistic approaches and others are attached to international schools. Parents should consider how close the nursery is from their accommodation as well as the style of education.
Homeschooling in Mexico
Many families choose to homeschool their children in Mexico and this is a beneficial solution for expat parents staying for a short term who are unhappy with public education but cannot afford international schools. Some parents may opt for part-time school learning and part-time homeschooling.
Distance learning is possible through Mexico’s education system, and parents need to decide which curriculum they will use and how they will educate their children.
Homeschooling is not a decision to make lightly, and parents will need to do their fair share of research and decide if it is suitable for them. Additionally, homeschooling parents can seek tutors for private lessons and assistance.
Tutors in Mexico
Tutors are a fantastic way to learn in Mexico and can be found to cater for all ages and subjects. Expats can network locally or use online platforms to find tutors, such as Apprentus, Preply or Mexico City’s UniversityTutor.
Children in all types of schooling can benefit from extra tuition. Adults can find tutors for their university courses or pick up some extra Spanish classes to better orientate themselves in their new homes.
Are you an expat living in Mexico?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Mexico. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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