Your Children in Costa Rican Schools

A remarkable difference between Latin American children and their North American counterparts is their behavior toward one another and toward authority Gringo kids are typically energetic, full of energy, and extremely competitive. On the other hand, Latin American children, especially Ticos, tend to be polite, calm, and well behaved. Bullying other students is all but unknown. Both in the family and school, cooperation is approved and competition discouraged. Classroom discipline is no problem for the teachers, which makes Tico kids a delight to work with. (I can say this from experience, as one who has taught language classes both in the United States and in Costa Rica.)

Your children can select from three types of Costa Rican schools: (1) private English- only schools, (2) private bilingual schools, or (3) free public schools. The farther you live from Central Valley, the more limited your choices. When you live in an area where private schools are too far to commute, your choices could be a public school or home schooling.

Most foreign residents I've interviewed about their children's progress in private schools heartily endorse the educational and cultural experience their kids were enjoying. Tuition costs vary from the most expensive private school, with tuition and fees of about $7,500 per year (plus bus transportation), to some of the more inexpensive bilingual schools that offer tuition as low as $60 a month. Again, it's way beyond my scope of expertise to even try to make recommendations. You'll need to interview your neighbors and interview the school personnel.

Private Schools Most North American parents prefer an American credited school with a curriculum equal to that offered stateside. Around the San Jose area, you'll find a choice of twenty or thirty English-only or bilingual private schools. Some present classes half in Spanish, half in English; others are basically English-language schools. Some offer classes from pre kindergarten through high school, others just the first three to seven grades. English-only schools are popular with Costa Rican families who can afford the tuition. They want their children to learn English, and these schools are essential for those preparing for U.S. universities.

At the end of this chapter you'll find a partial list of well-known private schools that cater to North American students. Tuition varies from expensive to moderate, and selections will depend on the location of the school facility and distance from your new home.

Public Schools For the most part, Costa Rica's public schools are patronized by expatriate children living too far from the larger population centers to attend a conventional private school. Despite the fact that Costa Rica spends an inordinate amount of money on education, schoolrooms and facilities can be crude and rustic when compared with the average U.S. or Canadian classroom. Often library books are scarce or nonexistent, and the quality of the teachers varies widely.

The daily hours of a public school day are usually shorter than those at private schools. Also, when a teacher is absent, classes can be canceled and children sent home early. This is partly due to an irrational government policy of assigning teachers to schools based on need, without considering where a teacher's home is located. Schools provide housing for teachers during the week, and they go home every weekend. Of course, teachers look for any possible excuse to cancel Friday-afternoon classes so that they can get an early start on the trip to their hometowns.

Depending on where you live, your only alternatives could be home schooling or a Spanish-only public school (sometimes both). Parents of kids enrolled in public schools give mixed reviews. Some children are immediately befriended and accepted by the other children and love their teachers. Others feel lonely and ignored. None reported their kids being mistreated, bullied, or teased because they are different-as is often the case in U.S. schools. Much depends on a combination of the individual child's ability to adjust and the particular situation in the school (the attitude of the teachers, the friendliness of the other students, etc.).

I know a couple from Holland whose three children attend an all Spanish classroom located in a small village on the Guanacaste coast. The youngest (in second grade) absolutely adores the school, the teacher, and her classmates. The next oldest (fourth grade) hates school as much as her sister loves it. The older brother, who has Down's syndrome, enjoys school so much that his parents have trouble making him go home after classes. His learning disability keeps him permanently in kindergarten, but the students his size encourage him to play soccer (which he loves) and they treat him with extraordinary kindness and respect.

The bottom line is that all children cannot adapt to a public-school setting, and some could do poorly It seems to be an either/or situation that becomes apparent rather quickly They either love it or they hate it. Whatever you do, don't force the issue if the child is not happy with public school. When there's no way for the child to attend a private school, the only other solution is home schooling.

Even when children enjoy going to a public school, it's a good idea to supplement the Tico school curriculum with home schooling. First of all, a student in an unfamiliar foreign-language environment will have gaps in understanding or grasping class material until he or she is totally fluent in Spanish. Second, Costa Rican schools do not teach subjects on the same schedule or level as North American classrooms do. When students go back to the States for college, they'd like to be on par with others of their age group.

Writen by John Howels

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