Schooling for your children in Mexico
By: Suzanne Marie Bandick

Do you have a desire to move to Mexico but are just not sure what to do for schooling your children?
The questions keep coming to you . . . . Is the schooling any good? Does anybody speak English? How much does it cost? How do we find out what schools are available to us? What do they do in the school? Will my kids fit in? Is Mexico even safe for the kids?

I know the questions because my husband and I had them all too! We are Canadians who have lived in Mexico with our son and daughter for seven years now. We spent one year in Puerto Vallarta and the rest in Playa del Carmen. Our kids are now 15 and 17; they started their Mexican experience in Grades 3 and 6 and this year our daughter graduates!

I will endeavor to give you the best of my knowledge on the subject of educating your kids in Mexico. It has certainly proved to be an interesting experience for our family.

First, if you put your children in the school system here, I recommend a bilingual private school that you will pay for. How much will you pay? We will break it down: Every year you pay an inscription fee which will vary between $4,500 pesos and $7,000 per child (approximately $450 - $700 USD). Then you pay the monthly school fee ($300 – $550 USD/month). You will also pay for their uniforms, books and miscellaneous school supplies. To enroll your children for the very first time, they must take an entrance exam which is a cost of approximately $30 USD. Every time you change schools they must take a new entrance exam with the new school.

Parents are often told that their children should be placed a year behind their current grade level. We decided it was important to keep our children at their current grade level and it worked out fine. It is up to the parent to refuse this if you deem it unnecessary. Kids enter school at different ages here so it seems a 2 or sometimes 3 year spread between students in any given grade is not unusual.  

If your children are at as high school level, sometimes the school has a mandatory anti-doping test that you will need to pay for. It seems to upset many parents but personally I have no problem with this. If any kids have chosen this path, I think it is best they are identified and hopefully helped. It is something a parent could miss; let’s face it, hormonal teenage mood swings alone are confusing.

Children in primary grades are usually taught for half a day in Spanish and half a day in English. When they get to the high school level they will get some subjects in English and some in Spanish. Be advised that often the teachers teaching in Spanish do not know English. This can be a huge challenge when our kids do not yet know much Spanish. In Puerto Vallarta they pulled our kids out of their Spanish classes and gave them Spanish tutoring at that time. I have not yet heard of a school willing or able to do that in Playa del Carmen. My suggestion is that you work with the school to help make this happen even if you hire a tutor to come in. Discuss a plan before you enroll them and make sure it is acceptable to you all. To speed the process our first year in Mexico, we also hired a tutor who came to our house 3 evenings a week. Often kids can also get by with a classmate who is bilingual. Our kids have played translator many times.

The private schools in Mexico provide a good, basic level of education. You may however choose to supplement the level of English grammar, reading and writing they receive as the English is not always at the grade level of their Canadian or US counterparts (I believe this is due to the fact that English is the second language here). Let’s face it though; school is really only a part of a child’s education. We as parents fill in the gaps and the experience of living in Mexico will be the further education.

By choosing to live in Mexico, I feel our children’s education has become broader and more expansive. They have not only been immersed in a second language but a new culture and new community as well. That experience is something you just cannot get in book learning.
What else? The schools tend to be well maintained as that is where part of the tuition goes. The teachers are usually well educated but usually not paid well. Often the schools have their own pool and swim classes are a part of any given day.

Is Mexico safe? Come for a visit and get a feel for yourself. I have not once felt unsafe in our Mexican community. The schools by the way, usually have a fence or wall around the grounds with specific rules for entering and exiting as well as a guard posted at the entrance to monitor the activity of all comings and goings.

How do you find the schools in any given area of Mexico? That is a very good question. They do have computer classes for the kids, but do not appear to have learned the value of the internet for marketing their schools as of yet. My suggestion would be to try and find a contact in the area that you are interested in and find out from them. Of course Playa Maya News already has all the options listed for this area!
There is always the option of homeschooling and its different derivatives. Please be aware that homeschooling is not recognized in Mexico so if you later decide to put your children in a traditional school here you may have a challenge. A way around this is to have access to some form of official certification for their grade level. Also some Canadian and US schools have a long distance learning program where you can mail or email assignments back and forth. Another option could be to try an internet schooling program.

If you are thinking of enrolling your children in a Mexican school, check with any schools that interest you in advance so that you know the documentation to bring. Usually you will need their birth certificate, passport, certified grades and grade levels completed, a note of good conduct from their last principal, and their vaccination documents.

This will be a lot of change for you and your children, so here are my recommendations to hopefully help facilitate the adjustment. Plan as much family time as possible, eat dinner together if possible, try to keep similar routines or create new ones, keep the lines of communication open, ask them about their day, listen a lot, let them keep in contact with old friends as much as possible, hire a Spanish tutor if needed, encourage them to invite new friends over and offer lots of hugs.

It took our children a full year to adjust. If I had not been determined that this move was for the best for all of us – we would currently be living back in Canada never having made it that first year. Now our children feel more at home here than in Canada and in fact our daughter has chosen to go to University right here in Mexico.

Enjoy the Adventure!