General Description of the Education System

The structure of the Costa Rican education system has various levels (cycles): preschool education, elementary education, secondary education, and higher education (see Table 3.1). At the end of the second cycle a diagnostic test is given to

Table 3.1 Structure of preschool, general basic, upper secondary and higher education in Costa Rica



Ages and grade spans for each cycle

Offered by the

General basic

Cycle I

From 7 to 9 years (1°, 2° and 3°)



Cycle II

From 9 to 12 years (4°, 5° and 6°)

Cycle III

From 13 a 15 years (7°, 8° and 9°)



Cycle IV

From 13 to 17 years (10°, 11°, (12° depending on the brancha)



Public and Private



Lower undergraduate (certificates and teaching degrees)

Upper undergraduate (bachelor’s and licentiate degrees)

Graduate (specializations, master’s, Doctorates)


aCycle IV (Upper Secondary) is subdivided into three branches: academic with a duration of two years (tenth and eleventh); artistic, also with a duration of two years; and technical, with a duration of three years (tenth, eleventh and twelfth); this last one is diversified into modalities: industrial, agricultural, commercial y services

know, among other elements, the achievement in the previous grades. It does not have implications for continuing on to the next cycle.

There is another national test that is required at end of upper secondary school: the Upper Secondary Test. A student’s grade is determined as a weighted average of a grade called presentation (the average of grades in Social Studies and Civics, Spanish, English or French, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry or Physics) and the Upper Secondary Test itself. Students receiving a passing grade are awarded an “Upper Secondary Diploma” (a School Baccalaureate). This grade is not only important for passing Upper Secondary but, also, because it is a requirement for admission to university studies.

With respect to personnel, in 1971 there were almost 18,000 teachers and administrators, and in 1981 there were about 22,500 teachers. In 1983 the number of private universities began to increase. Forty-five new private universities were created between 1986 and 2000 (at the end of 2014 there were five public universities and 52 private universities). In 2011 there were 12,195 students that received degrees from public universities and 28,115 from private.

As a result of the growing number of universities and programs related to Education, the country is producing many more certified teachers, particularly in private universities. In 2004 there were 8948 graduates from Education programs (34 % of the total) (Estado de la Education 1, 2005). From 2010 to 2011 there were 21,446 new graduates in Education (Estado de la Education 4, 2013, p. 36).[1]

In 2005 and 2006 more than 8000 students a year were receiving degrees in Education. The six most common areas were: Elementary, Preschool, General Education, Educational Administration, English and Special Education. By 2009 the number of Elementary teachers in the country had risen to 26,463 (43 % of the total teaching force) (Estado de la Education 3, 2011, p. 142).

  • [1] Data updated in 2014.
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