Costa Rica is known as the country that changed the army for a better education. After the abolition of the army, Costa Ricaís government decided that the money not spent in warfare would be spent in education, and so it has been since then. The 96% Costa Rica literacy rate is one of the results of said efforts. Since 1869, Costa Rica education has been compulsory and free up to 9th grade. By law, 6% of the GDP has to be used for education, and many times the amount spent is greater than the allotted percentage. The Costa Rica school system follows a different structure than in North America. The school year begins in February and ends in December. The year is divided into two semesters with vacation time between each. In December, Costa Rica students are let out for 2 monthís holidays and in July they are given a couple of weeks before continuing with the school year. Students in Costa Rica schools use uniforms as a way to standardize the students and diminish apparent economic differences between the students. The uniform for kindergarten is a light blue dress with matching pantaloons for girls and a light blue shirt with dark blue shorts for boys. Once the children start in the Escuela, grades 1 to 6th, they will use dark blue pants or skirts for girls and a white button down short sleeve shirt. When students graduate from 6th grade they will continue their education in the Colegios or Costa Rica High Schools and will use dark blue pants or skirts for girls and a light blue button down short sleeve shirt. Students in Colegios study until they reach the equivalent of junior year (11th grade) in most schools in Costa Rica. In technological high schools sometimes students study well past their senior year finishing their technological elective degree, graduating after finishing what would be a 13th grade.
Each Costa Rica school has an emblem or distinctive shield patch that students will have to sew on their uniform, either on the shirt pocket or on the sleeve, that is what differentiates Costa Rica students from the different schools. In the last years, some schools have changed their uniform rules a bit, and it is not uncommon for last year students to wear a different colored shirt or use a distinctive classmen jacket for their last year at school. Every student in Costa Rica has to take government achievement tests in 6th, 9th and 11th grade as a requisite for advancing to the next school year, and this goes for both public and private schools. In the last years, public education has suffered budget cuts and the quality has decreased, making Costa Rica private schools the most popular choice for middle to high income parents wishing to give their kids an international education. Private high schools in Costa Rica are very diverse. You can find almost 300 different private schools in Costa Rica: every religious denomination, educational philosophy, bilingual with French, German, Italian, Hebrew or Japanese as a second language and with different schedules, time frames and regulations. Private schools in Costa Rica are quite popular, and there are many families who send their children to these schools even if it means making a greater sacrifice to pay for their education. There are also International Schools in Costa Rica where many expats send their children. Some are american schools in Costa Rica that still keep the US calendar and start the school year in August and end in July, so students donít get held back a semester and are able to continue their education after relocation and not have to worry about being left behind. Another quite recent option is the boarding school in Costa Rica. These schools do not follow the Costa Rican educational system and are usually geared for North American children with curricular difficulties or behavior problems.
Costa Ricaís higher education system also includes the public and private university division. The most recognized university is the University of Costa Rica, known as the UCR. There are three other state universities: The National University (UNA), the Costa Rica institute of Technology (TEC) and the Distance Learning State University (UNED). Tuition is on a sliding scale, with one in four students having a full scholarship and not paying anything at all. For higher education, the state managed universities are the ones with the best reputation, private universities in Costa Rica are not all created equal and some are garage operations without certification. However, a private university is sometimes the only option for someone who needs to work while they study: the flexible schedules, faster pace and more relaxed entrance requirements are some of the advantages they have over the public universities, which on the other hand, donít have room for every student that graduates high school. Many students decide not to pursue a university degree and will go on to massage schools in Costa Rica, or will decide to learn a specific skill at places like the American Business Academy. Others will go to University Colleges like the Colegio Universitario de Cartago (CUC), the Colegio Universitario de alajuela (CUNA) or the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (INA), state sponsored university schools where they can learn how to repair cars, cook gourmet meals in the cheff school or learn the ropes of bartending. Students from these schools quickly find employment thanks to the good reputation of these alternative education options.