The Mexican education system: An overview


If you’re moving to Mexico with your family, an important decision you’ll face is how to continue your children's’ schooling. Mexico may not have the strongest public schooling available, but there are a variety of options available to you.

The Mexican schooling system has had a tumultuous past - from battles with the catholic church to the influence of socialism, it hasn’t always been a smooth road. Luckily, the schooling system has increased in quality and stability in recent years, with strong optimism for the future. Now regulated by the Secretaría de Educación Pública or SEP (meaning Secretariat of Public Education), public schools are completely secular, well-funded in urban areas and mandatory until age 18.

Whether you’ve already packed your bags, secured your work visa and are ready for the big move or you’re just an expat adjusting to life in Mexico, it’s never too early to start learning about the Mexican education system.

Here is a quick guide to get you started.

The Mexican education system

Pre-school (which is optional and privately-funded) is available for children starting at age three. Primary school is mandatory from ages six to twelve, after which middle school (also mandatory) is for children aged twelve to fifteen. Mandatory schooling finishes with high school, after which attendance at University is possible (although uncommon, especially in rural areas of Mexico).

Educación Preescolar (Preschool) Educación Preescolar isn’t mandatory and may start as early as age three.
Primaria (Primary School) Primaria education in Mexico is mandatory for all children aged six to 12 and consists of grades one to six.
Secundaria (Middle School or Junior High School) Secundaria is comprised of grades 7-9 (when a child is aged 12-15) and is part of Mexico’s basic compulsory education system.
Preparatoria (High School or Preparatory School) Preparatoria is compulsory for students aged 15-18 and consists of grades 10-12.
Universidad (Higher Education) University education in Mexico generally follows the US education model - four years to complete a bachelor's degree undergraduate level (Licenciatura), and two degrees at the postgraduate level, a two year Master's degree (Maestría), and a three year Doctoral degree (Doctorado).

Primary School (Primaria)

Primary school (or Primaria) is offered free of charge to children in Mexico and is mandatory for all children aged six to 12. Primaria starts in grade one and concludes in grade six . New standards created by the SEP have seen more and more schools requiring a second language. Where learning a second language is mandatory, half of the school day is taught in Spanish while half is taught in a second language of choice (often English, French, or native Mexican languages Tzotzil or Tzeltal).

Middle School or Junior High School (Secundaria)

Secundaria begins at the age of 12 for Mexican students and usually consists of three years (grades seven to nine). It’s during these years that students receive more focused and specific education, including courses on subjects like Physics, World History and more.

Mexico also offers telesecundaria, or distance learning programs, for students aged 12-15. These online

High School or Preparatory School (Preparatoria)

Preparatoria was not mandatory for Mexican students until very recently. It’s now compulsory for all children in Mexico to complete their education through to the 12th grade, however, there are a wide variety of options available for specialized education.

There are two main types of high school programs in Mexico:

  • SEP Incorporated Preparatoria - curriculum is mandated and run by the Government via the Secretariat of Public Education
  • University Incorporated Preparatoria - these Preparatorias are closely affiliated with a local University, who establishes the curriculum

Should you decide to send your child to a private school, you may also choose from other minority programs such as the International Baccalaureate program. Should a student choose to pursue a vocation rather than higher education, there are tecnología (technology) and comercio (commercial) programs that are designed to prepare students for a future outside higher education. Each of these programs carry different systems and methods of teaching, but in order to be accredited each must include a national subject and pass standard qualifications as established by the SEP.

One difference you’ll see between Mexican Preparatoria schools and American High Schools is Preparatoria allow students to select some degree of specialization. For schools that prepare students for higher education (college or university), the first half of the year is dedicated to a common curriculum. These schools are often called Bachilleratos and allow students to focus on a specialization of their choice from physical or social sciences (chemistry, biology, commerce, philosophy, law, etc.) to artistic endeavors (literature, fine art, music, etc.) later in the school year.

What are the Pros and Cons?

The Mexican educational system has had a history of ups and downs and has come under a lot of criticism in recent years. The number of students who complete their schooling is extremely low, and lower still is the number of students who choose to continue on to higher education after completing their compulsory coursework. The cause of this dropoff is often attributed to the lack of infrastructure in rural schools - much of Mexico’s population lives in non-urban areas.

Unless your child is bilingual, public school is often not the best option for expats or internationals, especially because these public schools often see corruption and underfunding. However, many internationals choose to send their child to public school for half a day, while homeschooling for the other half. This allows children to learn Spanish while also integrating themselves in Mexican culture.

Overwhelmingly, expats and internationals choose to send their children to private schools, which offer stronger bilingual integration and have more funding. There are many international schools in Mexico as well, mostly in larger cities.

What’s the cost of education?

While public schooling in Mexico is free from grades one to 12, students must purchase their own textbooks and school supplies. Private school fees vary from school to school, and the bilingual schools tend to be the most expensive. In general, expect to pay a first-time admission fee, annual reinscription fees and additional charges for things such as school transportation, after-school activities and other student programs.

If you decide private school is the route for you, don’t over-pay those hefty fees. Using Wise is the best way to get the real exchange rate - cutting out expensive international bank conversion and transfer fees.

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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