Escuela en Panama

Schools in Panama: Private vs. Public Schools

Looking for the right school for your children in a foreign country can be a challenge. You want your child to integrate into the society, but you don’t want them to miss out on a proper education. So you’re stuck deciding between private schools or public schools. Right off the bat, let’s just state that it is highly recommended for foreigners to enroll their children in private schools in Panama. The public school system in Panama lacks resources, devoted teachers, and a proper curriculum aimed at enriching the children. Not to mention the overcrowding problem within public schools resulting in a split day system where children either go in the morning or the afternoon to school ending up in shorter school days.


The Panama public education system has been described as providing a low level of education and needing major improvement.  and remains unchanged for 30 years due to fears of upsetting the teachers union. Education curriculum of Panama follows a traditional curriculum with a heavy focus on the humanities.

Though education is taught predominantly in Spanish, the current president, Varela, has initiated a program to strengthen bilingual education throughout the country to prepare its students for the ever globalizing society.


With a new minister of education at the helm, the Panamanian government hopes to make some radical improvements to their quality of education, especially focused on their secondary education system. New technologies are being introduced into the schools, but still at a slow rate including the installation of computer labs which shows promising results.  But until education is taken seriously, with investment in teachers and the resources available to the students, the public education system in Panama will continue to provide lackluster results, hurting the future of the children it educates.


Primary education is compulsory in Panama until 9th grade and is free of charge for all students. The only cost for parents come from buying the required uniforms, books and school supplies.  High school is offered with a few fees, but generally free of charge as well, but attendance is not required by law.


Private schools on the other hand are among some of the top schools in Central America, offering quality educations relatable to that of North America. With vast resources and quality educators, private schools tend to be taught in English resulting in an educated bilingual middle class within Panama society.


The admission fee of private schools varies greatly, ranging from $1,000 up to $12,000 per student. Fee structures may also vary as some may be one time fees where others are recurring monthly fees, ranging from $180 to over $1,000 per child.  You can pick between the small private schools which cater mainly to the neighborhood where they are situated (these come close to giving a public school education), the traditional catholic schools (La Salle, El Javier, Maria Imaculada, Las Esclavas, St. Mary´s, Colegio Episcopal), and the high end bilingual schools where half the kids are children from expats and multinational company workers (Academia Interamericana de Panama, El Colegio de Panama, The Oxford School, Balboa High School, International School Panama, The Lincoln Academy).  There is also the Lycée Français Paul Gauguin which is taught entirely in French, with English and Spanish considered mere second languages and not given much attention.

Raising kids in Panama


When it comes to school year, it really depends on the school as the traditional Panamanian school year runs from March to December, taking their summer break during January and February for Carnavales. Other private schools follow the traditional North American semester schedule from September to June. Public and Private schools observe the Carnavales, Easter, and Christmas holidays, not to mention the number of government holidays throughout the year.
Though the public school system in Panama is improving, it is still far behind that of the private schools in the country. If you have the financial resources to invest, it is in your child’s best interest to study in a private school.

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