While the Costa Rica education system is considered to be one of the best in all Central American countries, there is a big difference in quality of education between the public and private schools.
Public schools are generally very poor, have no sports or after school facilities, and certainly no computer labs. Even text books rarely exist, so the students have to use copied pages instead. Some of the public schools end at 9th grade, some at 11th grade. The degree achieved at 11th grade allows entrance into universities in Costa Rica, but hardly anywhere else.
For those reasons, most expats send their kids to one of the private schools. With a few exceptions, all of the private Costa Rica schools are in or around San José. So, if you – like me – relocate with school-aged children, the Central Valley will be the best location for you.
Comparing schools and finding the right one for your child isn’t an easy task.
The following questions might help you:
- How big is the school all together?
- How big are the classes?
- Which curriculum and calendar do they follow?
- What types of diploma do they offer?
- Are classes only taught in English, or in English and Spanish?
- If only English, do they offer extra tuition in Spanish?
- And of course, what are the admission requirements and how high are the fees?
There’s an excellent article about education in Costa Rica at TheRealCostaRica.com, including a list of private schools with addresses and web sites.
Below is “my” selection of private schools in Costa Rica, i.e. the schools that I liked best:
Blue Valley School
Located in Escazú at the western end of San José, the school prides itself in having one of the most beautiful and spacious campuses in the country. They run on both the Costa Rican and US school calendar, which makes me wonder if this means more or less holidays for the kids?
The about 600 students are taught in English. Spanish as a second language (SSL) is available at extra cost. Monthly tuition fees range from $580 at preschool level to $875 at high school level. There’s also a one time enrollment fee of $1,500 per child.
British School of Costa Rica
With 900 students one of the bigger private schools in Costa Rica, the British School is also located in the western part of San José, in Rohrmoser, which is closer to the City Center than Escazú or Heredia. 85% of students are native Costa Ricans, the remaining 15% consist of 21 different nationalities. Quite an international crowd!
Classes are taught in English and Spanish or French, with English being the main language.
Monthly tuition fees start at $663 for preschool kids, and go up to $909 for the senior levels. The one time admission fee of $1200 is charged per family, not per child. There’s also a yearly registration fee ranging from $635 to $909 (equals the tuition for one month).
450 students from 20 countries make up the student body of the European School, located in San Pablo de Heredia, north of San José. The school was founded in 1989 by Anne Aronson, a graduate from the Sorbonne university in France and mother of five children (!), who wanted to establish a literature based educational program in Costa Rica.
Fluency in both English and Spanish is achieved by teaching classes in English, and having one daily period of Spanish language and literature.
Monthly tuition fees range from $448 at preschool level to $712 at secondary level. Fees are actually listed as yearly fees on their website and are payable per trimester. There is an additional yearly registration fee of $500 per child.
In 2012 this school celebrated its 100th birthday – so its for sure one of the oldest private educational institutions in Costa Rica. Originally founded as German School for the kids from German immigrants, it offers now a bi-lingual (German and Spanish) education to about 900 students from various countries.
The school is situated in Pavas, a western suburb of San José. There is no mentioning on the web site that only German descendants can attend, but speaking German fluently is one of their requirements.
10 monthly fees of $593 are paid both for primary and secondary level. There’s a one time enrollment fee of $500 and a yearly registration fee of $600 per child.
Marian Baker School
The only school to the east of San José, in San Ramon de Trios, is also the smallest one, with only 200 students. Classes are taught in English, with Spanish as second language available. The emphasis at Marian Baker School is on “learning by doing” and developing critical thinking skills.
Apart from a yearly registration fee of $1100, the tuition fees per year start at $5,935 (which translates into $495 per month) at Kindergarten level and go up to $11,910 (or $992 per month) at Middle & High School level. Yearly fees need to be paid in two installments. There’s also a one time enrollment fee of $1,200 and an application fee of $200.
Ficus Tree School
The Ficus Tree school is the only one on our list located outside the Central Valley. The private bilingual school was founded in 2007 in Playa Hermosa, close to Jacó, a well known town at Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.
As of this writing (October 2014), the school offers pre-school levels up to 5th grade elementary school. 6th grade is planned to open in September 2015. The school combines the Montessori educational approach with other philosophies to foster three core believes in their students: respect for self, respect for others and respect for all living creatures.
Monthly tuition fees for pre-school range from $200 to $325, depending on how many days and how many hours per day your child attends. For elementary school, the monthly tuition is $335.
In addition there is a one time enrollment fee of $325 for pre-school and $335 for elementary school, and yearly curriculum fees of $100 (pre-school) and $300 (elementary school).
Please note: all fees mentioned above are for the school year 2013/2014.