The public school system

How it works

The public school system

Public schools are readily available in Nicaragua. As an expat, however, you should always check the quality of education as the public school system is still performing poorly on the world scale.

Quality of the system

The quality of public schools in Nicaragua compared to the rest of the world is very low. In 2013 Nicaragua ranked 132nd in the world on the Education Index , which compares the amount of years a child has to study with how many years he/she actually studies. Schools located in the rural areas of Nicaragua have particularly low performance. Within these rural communities, parents are responsible for paying maintenance and utility bills of the school building. This economic hardship for both parents and children living in these areas is tough and contributes towards higher delinquency rates.
Nicaragua also has one of the highest dropout rates and lowest high school enrollments in all of Latin America. From 2009-2013 only 42% of male and 49% of the female students enrolled in high school, according to statistics from UNICEF.  Nicaragua performed so poorly in worldwide standardized testing that the country stopped participating in global testing several years ago.

Fees and curriculum

Public school education for elementary grades is free of charge and compulsory. However, families are sometimes expected to to pay for books, uniforms, school dinners and transportation as well as additional fees.
Public schools are divided into two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Most primary school children attend the first shift and the older students attend the afternoon shift. A normal public school day begins at 7am and ends between 1pm and 4pm. In Nicaragua, the school year runs from February to November, with summer holidays during December and January. Since more than 50% of the Nicaraguan inhabitants are Roman Catholic, the majority of public holidays are related to Christian holidays, with schools closing for most of these.


Many private schools offer classes from preschool through high school. A list with all the pre-schools and kindergartens in Nicaragua can be found here .

Primary school

Nicaragua uses a 100 point scale system to grade exams, with a range of classifications within this, from reprobado (fail) to sobresaliente (excellent) When students graduate from primary school they receive a Diploma de Educacion Primaria (Diploma of Primary Education).

Students at public schools are required to wear a school uniform. This rule is enforced to avoid discrimination towards children from lower income families who cannot afford varied clothing. The curriculum focusses mainly on maths, science, reading and writing.

Secondary school

Only 45% of students who enter primary school go on to secondary school, making Nicaragua’s secondary-school enrollment among the lowest in the world. Those fortunate enough to make it through to grade 12 and receive their Bachillerato qualify to continue their education at a higher level at one of the local universities.

Secondary education consists of two parts: 3 years of el ciclo basico (lower secondary school) and 2 years of el ciclo diversificado (upper secondary school). Like in primary school, students at public secondary schools are required to wear a school uniform. Secondary schools also use the 100 point grading system, where 60 points equals a pass. Students can also choose to enroll in el ciclo diversificado (technical school) Where students can take three-year technical courses, receiving the title of Técnico medio.

For more information and statistics on primary and secondary education in Nicaragua click here .

Further reading

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