On its surface the public education system in Mexico may seem similar to that of the United States and other Western countries, but there are many distinct differences. Here are basics about the structure of Mexico’s education system.
Primaria is the term given to lower grades in the Mexican school system and includes first through sixth grades. Unlike in the Unites States, kindergarten is not as common and not compulsory anywhere in the country. When children turn six years old, they reach the age of compulsory education in Mexico. Primaria forms the foundation of all students’ academic careers, and is where teachers focus on solidifying the basics of math and language.
Classes are typically taught in Spanish, but some bilingual schools have half day instruction that allows students to immerse themselves in multiple languages. In these schools, teachers instruct in Spanish for part of the day and in another language for the other half of each day.
Secundaria in Mexico’s school system refers to middle or junior high school, and lasts from seventh through ninth grade. Students at this level are typically 12 to 15 years old, and the focus is on getting ready for the more difficult studies undertaken in high school. Teachers go beyond basic studies in secundaria and delve into subjects like global studies and physics.
Preparatoria is the high school stage in the Mexican school system. This is the last part of compulsory education in the country, and is comprised of grades 10 through 12. Preparatoria students are generally between the ages of 15 and 18. Studies become more targeted and specialized at this level, and students begin to hone their talents in various areas such as commerce, social sciences, physical sciences, and skilled work.
Some students prepare to move onto university studies, while others are encouraged to go into technical and vocational trades. These programs are commonly referred to as comercio and tecnologia. A few students, largely those from privileged backgrounds, study at high schools that are modeled after the International Baccalaureate program.
Mexico has many post-secondary options, including colleges, universities, and career training programs. At the college level, schools in Mexico closely resemble those in the US, and many colleges have study abroad programs. Tecnica refers to vocational studies, which many students choose to complete after high school.
These educational options are not compulsory, but education through grade 12 is now required for many students in Mexico. Those who live in rural regions have the lowest graduation and college participation rates.
Many educational advocates within Mexico and abroad are concerned that the structure of Mexico’s education system needs great reform. Approximately 12 percent of students in Mexico attend high school, and fewer go on to post-secondary studies. Lack of school attendance in rural Mexican towns is a big concern, as there isn’t much uniformity in the schools there. Local investment in education varies wildly, with some schools barely putting any funds into students, supplies, or teacher salaries. By contrast, in other areas of Mexico teachers are paid decently, but very little is directly spent on students.