School Daze – Education in Ecuador

So you pack up the family and move to Ecuador.  Now what?  Those sponges of knowledge that we lovingly call “our children” will need to continue (or start) their education.  How prepared are you to make that happen in Ecuador? What opportunities does Ecuador even offer?  What are other expat families Ecuador doing to address the same circumstances?  We hope this report does a little something to answer most of your questions and clear up some of that ´´ School Daze ´´ about education in Ecuador.

Two issues immediately come to mind, when considering education, at any level, in Ecuador.  The first issue is that there is no uniform plan, procedure or strategy that exists.  This is not a “one size fits all” education country.  There are at least four paths that can be pursued for education, at least prior to the university level.  Second, in addition to the varying options, geography plays a huge part in the education equation.  I emphasize the importance of infrastructure when selecting a precise locale to call “home” in Ecuador, more so than anyone else in my industry sector.  For me, infrastructure is much more than just water, sewer, electric and other utilities.  Infrastructure includes basics like the local school system.  Other than immediate healthcare, perhaps no other infrastructure factor is more geographically variable in Ecuador than school system options.

As mentioned, you have one of four basic school system options from which to choose: 1) Public schools; 2) Private – secular schools; 3) Private – religious denomination schools; and 4) The surprisingly popular and accepted home schooling option.  An in depth review of each is beyond the scope of this report, but we will present a brief synopsis of each.

Public Schools: President Rafael Correa has undertaken an immense, top-to-bottom overhaul of the public education system in Ecuador. Until Correa’s tenure, public school teachers did not even require certification based on a qualification merit system.  It was more of a “who you knew” process.  Under Correa’s mandate, the systemic testing of teachers has been implemented, with pay linked directly to test results.  More so, for those teachers failing the tests, they have a maximum period of time within which they must receive accreditation, or permanently face the loss of their career position.

In addition to the preceding, President Correa has endowed the education sector with dramatically increased public spending, raising the GDP % from 2.5% in 2006 to 6% of GDP in 2013.  The teachers that have met the new stringent testing and qualification requirements have also seen their payroll rise by 25%.

Correa has also pressed forward with a successfully ambitious school renovation and construction program, which witnessed the swift renovation or building of 5,000 schools throughout Ecuador, including in many rural towns and villages, which previously had no direct access to a local school.  The public school system in Ecuador has been super-charged and energized.  Still, much progress remains, especially in outlying areas.

For a parent wishing to enroll their child, or children, in the public school system, there is no better time than the present. The registration process for public school in Ecuador is pretty straightforward. A photo and a copy of the child’s cedula (permanent residency card) or passport is all one essentially needs.  Unlike in most parts of, say, the USA, you are not obligated to send your child to the “local school”.  Only pragmatic considerations of geography and time constraints impact where your child can attend public school. The flexibility is a welcomed relief, even if somewhat impractical beyond certain parameters.

Most public schools also require the report card from the most recent year, in order to assure that the child is placed at the right grade level. If the child has previously been home-schooled, the parents “proper grade” suggestion will generally be accepted, for a trial period, to ensure the child has been placed at the correct grade level. From there, the child may remain at that initial grade level, or be moved up or down, according to teacher findings and reports.

Public schools in Ecuador have no registration fee, but do ask for monetary contributions, from the parents, throughout the year since, even with the Correa improvements, funding usually does not cover all aspects of schooling. Additional fee costs seldom exceed $100 per scholastic year.

It should be noted that even at public schools in Ecuador, the majority of institutions require students to wear a uniform. Most schools have two uniforms, one formal and the other informal for physical education days.  Children are expected to strictly adhere to the uniform requirement.  A nation, such as Ecuador, which despite recent progress still retains a notable poverty rate, struggles to ensure equality in the classroom and a common uniform for all helps ensure that ideal.

Public school in Ecuador can start quite early by USA standards.  It is not uncommon for school to start at 7:00 AM and almost unheard of for school to begin later than 8:00 AM.  However, with some minor allowances for exceptions, schools also let out earlier than the USA average, generally ending the school day at 1:00 PM.

Days off from school are quite frequent depending on the region in Ecuador where the child goes to school. Local, national and religious holidays are all valid reasons for a day off from school.  Vacation time varies dramatically, also depending on the region of Ecuador in which your child attends school.  Overall, someone coming from a USA-style environment will probably observe that there seems to be more holiday and vacation time in Ecuador than the country of expat origin.

Private Schools – Secular: The secular private school system in Ecuador arose, as one might conjecture, from the need to augment a once mediocre public school system.  While the Correa Administration initiatives have gone a long way towards closing that gap, the premier private schools in Ecuador probably still offer a better quality of education, on average, over the public school system.

One notable area of advantage is in teaching foreign language skills.  Public schools, by charter, are supposed to begin bilingual education in English from the second grade.  In practice, while this occurs, many of the public school teachers currently in the system have only a mediocre mastery of the English language.  In the secular private sector, many of the schools were founded, in one way or another, by country-specific foundations – USA, Germany, France, etc.  As such, bilingual or multi-lingual training is much more commonplace and precise.

As also might be readily ascertained, secular private schools charge a fee, usually paid monthly, as opposed to yearly.  At the most prestigious and in demand schools, the fees can get almost get as hefty as in so-called “First World” countries.  Waiting lists at such private secular schools are the rule, rather than exception.  If you wish to enroll your child/children in such a program, it is best to begin your planning well in advance.

It is noteworthy to consider that for a parent that prefers to have their child/children educated in their native tongue, such options exist in the secular private school system.  Far be it for me to tell anyone how to raise their children, but careful consideration should be given, before opting into one of the “native tongue” scholastic options.  While the transfer will certainly ease the challenges for your child, Ecuador is a Spanish speaking country.  If cultural assimilation and integration is a desired outcome, it might be best for your child to have some exposure to the Spanish language.

Most secular private schools also require the wearing of a scholastic uniform. The uniform is generally of a higher quality than that found in public schools, usually proudly bearing the school crest and name.  Secular private school will definitely not release your child from the tediousness of a generic school fashion look.

In a nutshell, secular private schools promise a higher quality of education, with programs more tailored to the individual child, in exchange for a much higher scholastic fee than public schools.  So, is it worth it?  Several recent studies might provide a significant pause.

Several recent scholastic reports, quite ironically, indicate that if the private sector school system has a flaw – both secular and religious denominated – it is the tendency to pass unqualified students, in order to keep parents happy and paying the hefty fees.  In fact, this concern has become so systemic that under the revised Ecuadorian public school system, transferring children from the private sector are having existing grade levels rejected, pending further testing, claiming that there is no way of knowing if stated grades were earned or just paid for favors, from a generous private school system.  Our best suggestion is to research carefully the programs offered, by your private school of choice.

Private Schools – Religious Denominated: The vast majority of private religious denominated schools in Ecuador are of, as might be expected, a Roman Catholic faith. Surprising to some, however, you can find a faith-based private school to meet most religious denominations.  In fact, the Evangelical private school system is growing quite rapidly, while other denominations such as Lutheran and Judaic can also find private schools to suit their faith.

Clearly, the largest differentiator for a religious denominated private school is the emphasis on faith-based teaching, with a strong religious educational component generally being a core curriculum emphasis.  However, in most other ways, good and bad, the faith-based private schools differ little from the secular private schools.  Both offer a fee for service education system. Both require uniforms be worn. Both center education on a bilingual or multi-lingual tract.  Both have similar holidays, although denominational private schools often have religious holiday observances omitted at secular schools, especially if the faith-based school is of a non-Catholic denomination.  Lastly, both also share in the unfortunate reputation of grading and passing students on par with parent expectations, in order to assure continued enrollment via a happy parent.

If there is one additional caveat for the parent desirous of a faith-based education for their child, especially if that faith is something other than Roman Catholic, it is to plan extra early for your child’s education.  Seats at denominational private schools are even more scarce than at secular private schools, especially for the non-Roman Catholic faiths.  In fact, if this is an essential condition of your relocation, consult a professional early on in your home buying or home rental process, because you may find that only certain isolated geographic locales will offer the religious denominated private school education, which you seek for your child/children.

Home-based Schooling: Home-based schooling is a difficult subject to broach.  Not because of any stigma or taboo, as those barriers, for the most part, have long been torn down, especially in a home-based education friendly country, such as Ecuador.  The difficulty in covering the subject lies in the diversity of options that exist as home schooling models.  From formal programs that have evolved over the years, to individualized scholastic programs devised by individual parents, the educational arena in the home-school market runs the gamut.  As such, we will strictly generalize.

As easy as enrollment in the Ecuador school system might be (defined in the Public School section), it gets even easier in the home-school environment.  Most parents readily recognize their child and no formal enrollment is required.  Ditto for the “uniform” requirement, although some home-schooling programs recommend a regimented “dress code” to prepare one’s child for the so-called “real world”.  Of course, no third party fees to pay, unlike other private school options, but the parents are responsible for the costs of assembling all educational materials.

A home-schooling concern always centers around the old “what if”. As in, what if we start home-schooling and decide to later enroll our child in the public or private school system?  In Ecuador, for the most part, as briefly alluded to earlier, the process is a breeze.  In the Ecuador public school system, it gets no easier.  You simply show up and declare something like, “My child is home-schooled through the 4th grade.”  They ask for proof, you can offer none and they respond with a prompt, “Ok”.  Your child is now enrolled in the 4th grade, where his progress will be monitored for promotion, demotion or a simple status quo.

In the private school system, things become slightly more complicated.  Each private school often has its own criteria for how they address a home-schooled child. Sometimes in Ecuador it is best to be proactive and suggest a solution.  That solution might be something like, “Please, simply test my child in advance.”  It offers a concrete, objective solution, which could influence some variation from set policy, if set policy is not ideal for your specific circumstances.  Either way, it is impossible to generalize about the private school system and early inquiries are encouraged, especially if the enrolling child has been home-schooled.

An often less thought of scenario is what if I want to pull my child from public or private school and commence home-schooling?  Perhaps you have tried the traditional school system and it did not measure up to your expectations, for the given region in which you live.  Ecuador laws are pretty straight-forward and simple.  You have the right to pull your child from the school system, if you ensure that they will continue to get a home-schooled education.  Mind you, no specific system of proof exists for such a declaration, so parents have maximum flexibility to do what they believe is in the best interest of the child.

One last consideration, covered extensively in far too many books and programs, is the issue of socialization.  Will a home-school environment provide a sufficiently diverse social environment for your child/children ?  Such a topic, again, goes beyond the scope of this report.  However, I will say that 30 years of global business experience and observations suggests that socialization skills are probably even more important, when living in a foreign land.  Often, in the latter, it is essential to the facility with which cultural integration is given the opportunity to flourish.

There you have it, the basic four categories of available education in Ecuador, along with some essential elements of the scholastic process.  I will close with what for some will likely be the most controversial component of this report.  Not negating anything already presented, education is predominantly a regional issue in Ecuador, whether public or private.  Simply stated, some regions have significantly better school systems than others.  Yes, this is changing, perhaps even rapidly, when it comes to the public school system, largely due to the efforts of the Correa Administration. Still…variances exist.  If you are looking to maximize education options for your child/children, it is very difficult for me to recommend any area in Ecuador, other than Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Manta, Salinas or Loja.  I know this comment will raise the ire of many, especially those in a few select cities I can almost name.  Still, I stand by that statement. Live much outside of one of those six aforementioned cities and you dramatically limit your education options in Ecuador.