Many more families with children are relocating to Panama. One of their biggest concerns is getting a good education for their children. Public schools are only taught in Spanish. International or bilingual schools are readily available but they can be expensive. So, many parents decide to homeschool their children in Panama.
I asked Ellen Bailey, who home schools her son, to write an article about homeschooling in Panama.
As parents, one of our biggest responsibilities is the education of our children and when contemplating a move to another country, choosing how to educate them becomes paramount. Should they be enrolled in the public school system or would a private one be a better fit? Perhaps you have tried homeschooling or even used a combination of homeschool and public school, often referred to as “hybrid homeschooling,” and this has worked well for you. Although homeschooling is not prevalent here in Panama, this is a popular choice especially among expatriates, or expats, and the one that my husband and I decided to implement for our son.
I have often been asked how we made the decision to homeschool our now 16-year-old son when we moved to Panama in 2015. After conducting extensive research on public and private schools, we decided that homeschooling would be our best choice for many reasons. Although there are some wonderful private schools in Panama, the area we first lived in made it logistically hard for him to attend. He had spent all of his early education, from 2 years old to 5th grade in public and private institutions, which initially caused this mom A LOT of anxiety when deciding to explore this homeschooling concept that was foreign to me.
It is imperative that you do your due diligence, and research which style of homeschooling is best for your child since there is a multitude of choices including the school at home/textbook-oriented, classical homeschooling, online or virtual school, eclectic or relaxed homeschooling, unit studies, Waldorf, Montessori, Moore Formula, Charlotte Mason or even unschooling.
After much research, we decided to try a program called Enlightium Academy, a private Christian school that serves homeschool, co-op, and online students. This is a fee-based program that he completed entirely online and worked out pretty well for our first year as it provided more structure that I felt was necessary for him to have. However, when we first moved here, we were doing the “border hops” that required us to leave the country every 3-6 months for at least 3 days at a time and because we always chose to go to Costa Rica, internet service was not always available. This meant that he would be behind a few days, which caused a bit of undue stress.
After that first year, we decided to try a program called Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool and it has been a fantastic choice! The curriculum includes 180 days of homeschool lessons and assignments and covers reading, writing, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, math, history/social studies/geography, science, foreign language, Bible, computer, music, art, PE/Health, and logic, all with the flexibility that we need, using only free materials found online! It gives us the ability to choose which courses we want him to take and even use some “Parent submitted” courses such as Consumer Math and Coding. When trying to choose a homeschooling curriculum, you must also take into consideration if your child is planning to continue their education at a college, university or even trade school and if the program is accredited and will be accepted at the postsecondary institution of their choice.
Another popular question that I have heard is how long does a “typical” school day take? This depends on a myriad of factors but perhaps the most important ones are the personality and learning style of your child. It seems like we initially tried it all: morning, afternoon, evening, at the kitchen table, outside on the balcony overlooking the Pacific (HOT!), mom at his side the majority of the time, mom sitting in the same room but not by him and finally, mom nowhere near him because apparently I’m not very bright – teenagers, gotta love ‘em! A day could be as short as a couple of hours or take almost 4.
What has been important for me to remember is that even if he finishes in 2-3 hours, the learning does not stop there, especially since we live in this beautiful foreign country. A lot of his learning, especially with his foreign language, Spanish, is reinforced out in the community, with his friends, and even at an after school program for the Indigenous people, where he spent many hours playing soccer, learning their culture, eating with them, and even sitting in on some of the music and computer classes. It was those early days when we first moved to Panama that he became fluent in Spanish and cultivated his love for this country. He takes Spanish in school so he will know not only how to correctly speak, but also had to read and write fluently. For his PE classes, he plays Pickleball, 3 times a week as well as soccer, baseball, American football, and basketball.
Many times I am asked if homeschooling is legal in Panama and what the “rules” are. This is the best explanation I have come across:
“Homeschooling is not legal but there are a number of families who are currently homeschooling.
Schooling is mandatory and not attending school is penalized.
The Constitution allocates Title III on Individual and Social Rights and Duties, Chapter 5 to Education. In it, Article 91 provides that the State organizes and directs the public service of national education and guarantees parents the right to participate in the educational process of their children. While Art. 94 guarantees freedom of education and recognizes the right to create private teaching centers, although always subject to what is established by law.”
In other words, like most things here in Panama, and other places in the World, there is always a “workaround.” As stated earlier, homeschooling is not as popular here like it is in other parts of the world although many expats and increasingly more locals, especially in Panama City, are deciding to do this because the education system is honestly not up to par, ranking 3rd from the bottom in the world in 2009. However, with the election of the new head of Education in Panama in 2018, and the fact that the government recognizes the need to improve schools, there has been a push for funds for more technology in the classroom.
Because we had never homeschooled before, I was concerned if he would be able to meet new friends, become active in sports, band, clubs, etc. I must admit that he has made as many if not more friends here as he had in the U.S. I absolutely have to give the majority of the credit to him because he literally jumped in with both feet! The second day we moved here, he was invited to come to play with the kids at the school program next door which allowed him not only to learn Spanish but also to meet many friends. His best friends live down the street and treat him like a member of their family. He has served as an interpreter for our good friend, a Kuna Indian, who has an artesian shop in the downtown area where he has been able to help people from all over the world. He found a pickleball group to play with, albeit most are adults and even joined a community band where he carried the flag our first Christmas here and then marched as a member of the band the next year. All of these things he did mostly on his own which is very different from any organized sport or club he was a member of in the U.S. There were no notes sent home or letters encouraging us to sign him up for whatever activity was being offered. He actually had to go out into the community, find these different groups, and even work to be able to buy his own drum, uniform, racquet, etc.
I realize how daunting relocating to another country can be especially when moving with children! However, it is possible for them to not only survive but also THRIVE! Remember that children are very resilient and are more capable of making this change than we adults are. When it comes to education, homeschooling will allow you to make the decisions on what subjects, curriculum, and teaching/ learning styles you want for them. Whatever part of the country you decide to move to, you will always be able to find other families that are doing the same thing. Join as many social media groups as you can for the area you will be settling in. There are always those who have “come before” and are more than willing to lend a hand!
To you, mom and dad, I say relax, breathe, and just do it!