Learning, Schools and the Education System in the South Caribbean of Costa Rica

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Moving internationally throws up myriad decisions but for parents of school-age children one of the most important will be the choice and quality of education available.

Although this article cannot claim to be conclusive it is hoped that the information given will assist those in search of the right school for their children.

For adult learning opportunities, see the learning on vacation page.

The Costa Rica Grade system and Terminology

The Costa Rican educational grade system is based on the North American model, which for those unfamiliar can be summarized as follows:

Educational LevelAgeSpanish Term
Nursery2 to 3.5 yrs.Materno
Kindergarten3.5 to 5 yrs.Kinder
Preparatory5 to 6 yrs.Preparatoria
Grades 1 to 6: Primary School 6 to 12 yrs.Escuela
Grade 7 to 12: High School.12 to 18 yrs.Colegio

The School Year

Beginning of February: School year begins.

Beginning of December: School year ends. (Approximately 6 weeks holiday.)

July: 3 week break.

October: 1 week break.

Public versus Private education

As any parent knows what will suit one child may be anathema to another and public versus private education is a very personal choice possibly influenced not only by a child's needs but also by parents' financial constraints and/or political views.

Education options in the Cahuita and Puerto Viejo areas are offered in both the public and private sectors.

Classes for Puerto Viejo's high school take place at the Casa de la Cultura in downtown Puerto Viejo

Classes for Puerto Viejo's high school take place at the Casa de la Cultura in downtown Puerto Viejo

Public schools

The majority of public schools on and around the Caribbean coast cannot boast great reputations. The quality of the education given is generally perceived as low: classes can be large, facilities poor, schooldays short and homework minimal.

For grades 1 to 7 there are public schools in Puerto Viejo, Hone Creek, Cocles and Manzanillo, but no information apparently available on the internet.

Public high schools offer education resulting in a High School Diploma. According to educational experts consulted in this area there is probably 'an academic gap' between public high school and university entrance which may require private tutoring to bridge.

Puerto Viejo and Bribri both have public high schools with Bribri considered to be of a higher academic standard. Puerto Viejo's Public High School is located at the Casa de la Cultura.

Despite the general poor opinion of public schooling in this area, there are notable exceptions in Limon which has several colegios (high schools) with good academic standards and facilities:

Caribbean College, Limon

Also known as: Centro Educativo Bilingue del Caribe.
Website: www.caribbeancollege.net (Further contact information available on website)
Telephone: 2798 4907 / 2795 0800
On Facebook.

San Marcos, Limon

Also known as: Centro Educativo San Marcos de Limon.
Telephone: 2798 0530
On Facebook.

Colegio de Los Montes

No contact information is available.

Private Schools

The level of private education in this area is considered to be on a par with the average Northern American academic standard, with for example, the mathematics syllabus being identical.

The four private schools listed below offer distinct approaches to differing age groups:

Playground at Jardín Infantil Las Semillas

Playground at Jardín Infantil Las Semillas

Jardín Infantil Las Semillas

Education levels offered: Young children, nursery, kindergarten and prepatory
Location: See map, Playa Chiquita, 300 metres south from Hotel Shawandha in the former Caribe Azul Centro de Aprendizaje Independiente space
Facebook: jardinlassemillas
Telephone: (+506) 2756 8325

View of Playa Chiquita School

View of Playa Chiquita School

Centro Educativo Playa Chiquita - Punta Uva

Education levels offered: Kindergarten to Grade 6
Location: See map, Playa Chiquita.
Contact person: Maria Emma Prada
Email: escuelaplayachiquita@gmail.com
Telephone: (+506) 2750 0754 / 8339 4983
Hours: 07.30 to 13.30 hrs.

Emma Prada talks about Playa Chiquita School (Translated from Spanish):

Our educational outlook combines technology, well being and nature. We follow the Costa Rican educational system but adapt it to the children's needs and apply different teaching methods. Our focus is on harmony and tranquility, with a combination of environmental awareness coupled with children's spirituality without focusing on specific religions. Teachers are trained in methods to support our educational outlook.

For instance by Friday, young children are tired, so on that day there is more focus on drama and music.

For pupils that do not speak Spanish there are specific language plans and tutoring available. My advice to parents of future pupils would be to concentrate on introducing them to Spanish classes before arrival, but in my experience, after 3 months pupils speak Spanish without difficulty.

We have an open multicultural school where the essences of our approach are the three pillars of 'Happiness, Tenderness and Technology'.

Primary school classroom at Centro Educativo Complementaria Cahuita

Primary school classroom at Centro Educativo Complementaria Cahuita

Centro Educativo Complementaria Cahuita

Education levels offered: From Diapers to University!
Location: See map, Cahuita
Website: complementaria.co.cr
Contact person: Andrea Brombacher, President and Legal representative.
Email: andreabrombacher@yahoo.com
Telephone: (+506) 2755 0057
Hours: 07.00 to 15.30 hrs
School overview: See presentation

Andrea Brombacher talks about Centro Educativo Complementaria Cahuita:

We seek to provide an environment that educates in the broadest sense: that is our goal. Children are educated to adapt to any situation. All pupils know each other which improves social cohesion and with a scholarship system for local children we have achieved healthy integration. Assistance for newcomers in integrating into the school is well attended by both staff and students.

Cahuita PlaygroundClass sizes are small with an average of 12 students per class allowing for individual attention. Regarding the teaching of languages, English is taught from pre-kindergarten and French from Grade 1 to 9. The 'language barrier' for non-Spanish speaking students is surprisingly absent. It can be amazing how well students cope who initially do not speak Spanish. Assistance is given by all staff and there is an insistence on learning Spanish. My advice would be to have some tutoring initially to ease the language learning process. In my experience after 3 months students begin to communicate in Spanish and never look back!

The level of education given at Centro Educativo Complementaria Cahuita is internationally based so closing the 'academic gap' between the end of high school and university, with numerous students admitted to universities world-wide.

Parents comments and advice

In conversation with parents it became apparent that their children adapted academically well to the change, sometimes repeating half a grade and then proceeding without problems. All parents consulted advised starting children on conversational Spanish prior to the move if at all possible.

Some parents thought a degree of home-schooling was necessary both in Preparatory and High School, with specific emphasis on English, Geography and History. This is an interesting point should parents be concerned that their children learn nationality-specific aspects such as the history or detailed geography of their home country.

Teachers at Playa Chiquita School were perceived by parents as competent and very informal. With a definite emphasis on drama and music it appeals to like-minded children.

The concern for parents consulted is the lack of choice in higher education in this area with Cahuita Colegio & Escuela Complementaria offering the best alternative. Although Limon has decent high schools, for students living in/around Puerto Viejo, the schedule may be punishing with a school day of 12 hours when travel is included.

San Jose and Tamarindo were mentioned by parents as having good high schools but this could necessitate moving the family or at least a fractured family during the week.

Parents commented on the importance of the access to Internet for their children's education, which is used as a resource here as in much of the world. This may be an important consideration for parents moving here as not all areas have decent access to date.

Naturally parents considering moving here will come and check out the education options but Manuel Pinto (Caribe Sur Real Estate owner) and father of two has a word of warning: "If you are thinking of coming to this area with teenage or almost teenage kids, think twice! The area is paradise for young kids, but there is a lack of social and peer pressure to be highly motivated which can be problematical for teenagers. It could be said that the lifestyle in this area is pretty loose and lacks boundaries. For teenagers those years can be difficult enough in a highly regulated society but here the risks are higher."

Manuel Pinto also emphasized that the success of these local schools rests tremendously on the collaboration and participation by local parents and residents......and that help is always welcome!

Pupils at Playa Chiquita School

Pupils at Playa Chiquita School

A Multicultural Education

In conclusion education options in this area have their strengths and weaknesses in the details of hours, travel, facilities and high school options. But perhaps the overriding strength of an education in this area is that a child receives a truly multicultural education complimented by fluency in Spanish. The most recent count of nationalities in this area stands at 34, which helps to demonstrate the degree of multicultural exposure here. It could be argued that in our increasingly global marketplace, there is no better preparation for a child than to learn a true understanding (rather than mere tolerance) on how to function in a multicultural world.

Zoë and Tom

Zoë and Tom


Article by Zoë Courtier. Zoë along with her husband Tom Keller started Geckoes Rainforest River Lodge. Two luxurious holiday houses with private plunge pools in a magnificent rainforest and river setting minutes from Playa Cocles.

Additional comments from our visitors about Education in Puerto Viejo and Cahuita

Write a comment/review

What are people saying about us?


I believe that one of the things that makes a difference in Costa Rica, is our education. We have no army to invest in it and is a disrespectful and shameful business that people like you came here to play with that
EDUCATION IS FREE and to make your business out of the need of the town, is simply disgusting
Instead, if you really want help, you may help to support public schools

August 09, 2023

What are people saying about us?


@Andrea Brombacher

Wir wünschen dir alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
Ganz lieben Gruß von den Binzener!

Harry & Elvira

October 25, 2021

What are people saying about us?


@Andrea Brombacher

Wir wünschen dir alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
Ganz lieben Gruß von den Binzener!

Harry & Elvira

October 25, 2021

What are people saying about us?


Does anyone know of any schools in the Puerto Viejo area that are in session closer to September through May? My family is considering a move there but would need to be in the States June through August for work.

October 13, 2021

What are people saying about us?

Esteban Piedra

Hay algún sistema de educación abierta para concluir bachillerato que no sea en un colegio? Mejor dicho, institutos de educación abierta.

May 24, 2017

What are people saying about us?

chris henkle

I am considering a move to Costa Rica from the states with my family. We have an outside source of income, but my wife would very much like to teach English; however, she only has 2 years of college. Is there ANY such opportunity for her...even on a trial/volunteer basis?
thank you so much!

March 09, 2013

What are people saying about us?


Well there are definitely volunteer opportunities for English teaching in the area. The local schools would love to have a native English speaker to help out and I believe I have heard of this. You can try contacting them; the private ones might be easier to reach via the internet but the public ones you'd probably just have to go talk to them. You might also contact The Bridge and see if they need this type of volunteer or can help place your wife.

As far as getting work permission for a non-volunteer permission, the best resource for this type of info is The Association of Residents of Costa Rica. Their website has tons of information on these sorts of topics and forums as well.

I hope you make it down. Sounds like you'd be a great addition to the community. Great to here of someone who's willing to give back!

March 09, 2013

What are people saying about us?

Curtis & Michele Davis from Florida, USA
Enrichment/College Prep Tutoring - All Levels

My husband and I are seeking teaching positions abroad. We both hold masters degrees in education and are certified in multiple subject areas and have over 10 years experience. We have visited and love the area around Cahuita. We would consider a move there if we could secure several full-time or supplemental tutoring/college prep students. We will consider bartering agreements to tutor/teach for housing, transportation, fresh produce, etc. (anything we might need to live comfortably in the area!). Please contact us (Michele & Curtis Davis)at drewkobi@yahoo.com. We will happily supply you with our credentials, references, evaluations and any further information you require. Our school year does not end here until june 2013 and our plan is to relocate july or august 2013. We look forward to hearing from you!

February 20, 2013

What are people saying about us?

Erika Weber from San Fransisco, CA, USA
English Instruction

Are there any schools that offer instruction in English?

May 09, 2011

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