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Education in Mexico: What you need to know

If you’re considering a move to Mexico and you have school-age children, you’re likely to be curious about Mexico’s education system and how it works. In 1992, education was decentralised across Mexico’s 31 states and Mexico City, giving each federal entity complete control over the services in their remit – nevertheless, many elements remain consistent across the country. Here we’ve laid out the key things you need to know about education in Mexico.

Mexico’s education system – an overview

The education system in Mexico may be more familiar than you might expect. This is because it follows UNESCO’s International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), a global framework used to enable benchmarking and comparison of educational systems, standards, and statistics in different nations.

Mexico’s education system is broadly divisible into three stages:

  • Primary school (for ages 6 to 12 years).
  • Lower secondary school (for ages 12 to 15 years – also called junior high).
  • Upper secondary school (for ages 15 to 18 years – also called high school).

The first two stages comprise what’s known as ‘basic education’. Additionally, there are two stages preceding primary school – pre-primary education (ages 3 to 5 years) and early childhood education (0 to 2 years).

Both public and private schools follow a standardised curriculum for primary-stage education, which is determined by the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP).

When a child reaches lower secondary school, they’ll have the option to pursue either an academic path leading to higher education or a technical/vocational path leading to careers in agriculture, forestry or industry. Both paths share core subjects, including Spanish, mathematics, the sciences, and a foreign language. There may also be state-specific subjects taught, relating to historical or environment elements individual to the area.

When students make the transition from lower to upper secondary school, they’ll continue along their chosen path, with classes and study programmes designed to prepare the student for university or attendance at a Technological Institute.

Finally, after finishing upper secondary school, students may progress to one of the following institutions to pursue more in-depth study:

  • University.
  • Technical university.
  • Teacher’s college.
  • Technological Institute.

Some upper secondary schools are affiliated with autonomous universities and will follow classroom curriculums set by those universities. Typically, students who attend such high schools go on to attend the affiliated university.

Is it compulsory to attend school in Mexico?

Up until 2012, school attendance was compulsory only until the end of lower secondary school – however, pupils must now stay in school until they are 17. Pre-primary education has been compulsory in the country since the 2008/9 academic year.

Public or private?

Public and private schools in Mexico each offer very different educational experiences. Aside from the fact that public schools are free and private schools charge tuition fees, other points of difference may include:

The language that lessons are typically taught in

  • School environment
  • School culture
  • Classroom size
  • Availability of resources

Among expats living in Mexico, a few other considerations can come up in conversation. These include school security, whether the teachers hold the appropriate qualifications and the quality of the extracurricular activities on offer. School security is widely considered to be superior at private schools, as is the qualification level of the teachers. Fee-paying private schools are also in a better position to run breakfast and after-school clubs, organise educational excursions and field trips, and host events to mark special occasions or national celebrations.

Public schools in Mexico

Public schools in Mexico are free of charge, completely non-religious, and attended by the vast majority of children. They can be found all over the country, in rural and urban areas, and half-day schooling is common, with lessons either held during the ‘morning shift’ or the ‘afternoon shift’.

However, the quality of the education they’re able to provide can be uneven. City-based public schools tend to be better than rural schools, but even so, class sizes will be large, and resources may be scarce. Furthermore, teachers at public schools may not be as qualified as their private school counterparts. It’s for these reasons that many expats choose to either homeschool their children, or send them to fee-paying private or international schools.

Private schools in Mexico

Many expats moving to Mexico choose to send their children to fee-paying private schools, for the smaller class sizes, better facilities, and the more concentrated teaching these enable.

There is a huge amount of variation in the cost of private schooling in Mexico, and much depends on your location. For example, in the five biggest cities –  Mexico City, Tijuana, Ecatepec, León, and Puebla – the fees commanded are much higher than those in states with a lower cost of living, such as Oaxaca or Chiapas.

It’s sensible to make an in-person visit to any schools you’re considering, as it’s the best way to get a feel for their atmospheres, and the school culture. Seeking recommendations from other parents in your local community is also a good way to draw up a shortlist – and to pick up nuggets of inside information you won’t find in any prospectus!

If you’re considering sending your child to a private school in Mexico, be sure to check it’s accredited by the SEP. This ensures any qualifications your child achieves will be recognised internationally.

International schools in Mexico

There are over 120 international schools across Mexico, and they remain a popular option with expats. It’s worth noting that although all international schools are private and charge fees, not all private schools are international.

International schools are well set up to welcome and integrate foreign students, and the sense of community and camaraderie they create can be very appealing. You will find schools catering for the American, French, German and Japanese communities in Mexico. Curriculums vary, and some are IB World-accredited, meaning they offer the International Baccalaureate. The main teaching language will also vary – for many, it’s English, but there are others that lead with Spanish, and still others that give equal weight to two languages, known as bilingual schools.


Homeschooling is legal in Mexico, and a popular choice with expats, who either opt to fully homeschool their children or to combine half a day’s homeschooling with half a day’s attendance at a nearby school. For many expats, this proves a happy medium, assisting their child’s language development and helping them settle in socially. There is also the benefit of tighter control over the topics taught and the depth to which each is covered.

Spanish or English-speaking schools?

In public schools in Mexico, all classes are taught in Spanish, except when English is taught as a foreign language. This is in contrast to private schools, which may offer teaching in Spanish and another language, and international schools, where the primary language used for all communications is likely to be English and many of the teachers are native English speakers.

Quality of education in Mexico

Although education in Mexico has improved immensely over the last few decades, the system is still troubled by challenging socio-economic factors. Many public schools face challenges that the private schools often attended by children of expats do not experience. For example:

  • Lack of investment in infrastructure
  • Lack of funding, leading to poor resources
  • Classroom overcrowding
  • Barriers to understanding caused by many languages being spoken among pupils
  • Pupils are statistically more likely to come from poorer backgrounds.
  • Non-attendance is also a problem, with up to one-seventh of primary-aged children not turning up to school.

The standard of education you could expect at a public school in an urban location is likely to be a little better than its rural equivalent, but this is not always the case.

Is Mexico good for higher education?

The higher education system in Mexico is internationally well-regarded – its universities are particularly renowned for business excellence, with respected companies keen to hire their graduates. In addition, The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Monterrey Institute of Technology both have reputations as world-leading institutions. And the QS World University Rankings 2022 places UNAM 105th out of 1,300 universities it has ranked, putting it comfortably in the top ten percent of universities worldwide.

Location, location, location

Make sure you account for the schools you like the look of when you’re researching the location of your family home in Mexico. Rural Mexico is typically under-served for both public and private schools – the former not being especially good, while the latter tend to be found in the cities – so bear this in mind when you’re making plans for your future lifestyle. If you’re moving to a city, consider the effects of traffic and transportation options on your daily routine. In Mexico City, drivers spend about 227 hours stuck in traffic every year.

In summary

As with its population, cultural influences, and topography, when it comes to education, Mexico is truly a country of plurality. Many private and international schools exist and prove especially popular with expats for their resources, facilities and the quality of education provided.

From budgeting and business etiquette to health and homes, there is plenty more to research before making the move to Mexico. Take a look at our Mexico Destination Guide for expats.

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