Our trip to Ecuador had many motivations. But at the top of the list, we wanted our two girls (3 and 5 years old) to learn Spanish. We imagined them in a cozy, caring little schools with kind teachers and playful friends. In this environment for a year, we knew they would have a lot of fun and become fluent in Spanish in the process.
With that goal in mind, we planned to enroll them in a local school as soon as possible after arriving in Cuenca. This article will share our personal school criteria, the process we used to find schools, and the details for MANY schools in Cuenca, Ecuador. We also included some details about enrollment requirements and school costs.
This is a fairly comprehensive post. For those not planning to send kids to school in Cuenca, Ecuador, some of the school details you’ll find later in the article may not be that interesting. But we wanted to include as much detail as possible to help other parents considering school for young kids in Cuenca. Plus we wanted to remind ourselves why our heads hurt so much with information overload during the first 2-3 weeks here!
So, this article will give you the highlights of our research and explorations of Cuenca, Ecuador schools, including elementary (escuela) and preschools (guardería or preescolar or centros de desarrollo infantil).
School Search Begins
While still in the US, we got a few recommendations for schools from contacts in Cuenca and from an oldish article we found online. We were surprised not to find much information online. We gathered as many details as we could, but we knew the bulk of the search process would happen on the ground. To prepare for enrollment while still in the US, we also collected the girls’ grade reports and immunization records.
During the first two weeks in Cuenca we spent A LOT of time touring schools. In fact, other than eating and sleeping I (Kari) didn’t do much else! It was an interesting way to get to know the beautiful, historic city of Cuenca as I zig-zagged around on foot and in taxis.
But we realized very quickly that following our nose and just wandering around would never lead to a good decision. We needed to get our search organized and focused. That’s when we made the list!
Our School Criteria in Ecuador
We really wanted to make sure the school was a good fit for the girls. After all, they would be spending much of their time there. The girls adored their schools and teachers in the US, so we were hoping we’d find teachers here in Ecuador that they also loved. Here are the criteria we brainstormed and listed for an ideal school:
- Welcoming and nurturing environment: The girls’ teachers in the US were very sweet and kind, and at the same time they kept a structured, safe, and fun environment for learning. It would not be pleasant for them or or us to switch to an old-school, disciplinarian-style teacher. We hoped our girls would have a personal, fond connection with their teachers. And as parents we hoped to have the same connection with the teachers as well.
- Small classes: 15 students to teacher is an ideal ratio for us. We weren’t sure if it was possible, but it would be great.
- Centers: In the States, the girls’ classes had centers where they could move around the room at different times of the day to do various kinds of activities (i.e. reading, kitchen, blocks, puzzles, etc.). We didn’t want the girls to have to sit in rows of desks all day and listen to a teacher lecturing at them.
- Different modalities: We want to make sure our girls are making music, creating art, exercising, and playing while they learn. The core education topics (math, language, science) are important to us, but especially at this age we want their creativity, imaginations, and muscles stimulated as well.
- Open mindset: We didn’t want a very rigid, close-minded school philosophy. Instead, we wanted a school that encouraged curiosity, learning, and exploring, not just memorizing rules and copying off the board.
- Same school: We thought it would would be easiest and best if the girls were at school together.
- Walkable: We envisioned the girls going to a neighborhood school so that we could walk with them in the open air each day.
- Good communication: It is very important that the teachers let us know what’s going on in the classroom and with our girls. We need to know if there are issues we need to help with at home.
- Preferably bilingual (although not necessary): We thought that a bilingual school would ease the transition for our girls since they had very limited Spanish before arrival. The extent of their Spanish had been a few weeks of Spanish class, kids Spanish songs, and watching cartoons in Spanish (Uno, dos, tres, ¡A jugar! and Peppa Pig en español).
- Affordable. We imagined spending about $400 per month total in tuition between the two girls.
So, these were our criteria. They were based on our experiences with US schools in Clemson, South Carolina, where we lived, but we weren’t even sure if they were realistic expectations for a school in Ecuador.
During the first two weeks we spent time talking to everyone about the schools in Cuenca, from taxi drivers, to hotel staff, to complete strangers. Anyone who looked friendly and who appeared to have school age kids, grandkids, nieces, or nephews was fair game (ok, that included basically the entire population of the city!).
Here are some of the basics that we learned during our explorations and conversations.
School Organization in Ecuador
Schools in Ecuador are called Centros Educativos, Unidades Educativas, or Colegios. Children up through age 4 attend child development centers (called Centros de desarrollo infantil), where the levels are Maternal (up to age 2), Educación Inicial 1 (age 3), and Educación Inicial 2 (age 4). As far as we could tell, all preschools here in Cuenca are private.
At age 5, children begin Educación General Básica (EGB). The equivalent of kindergarten in the US is grade 1 in Ecuador. Although we got a variety of different explanations, it appears that basic required education in Ecuador is 1st through 10th grade, and then some students continue on to something similar to high school (Bachillerato) for their final 3 years. We didn’t focus much on the upper levels of school because it is not on our radar right now.
Our 3-year-old who attended 3K preschool in the US now attends Inicial 1 in Ecuador. Our 5-year-old attended kindergarten in the US and now attends Primer año (1º) de Básica in Ecuador.
Confused yet? I was too. I had all of these terms floating around in my dizzy head while still acclimatizing to the 8,300 feet of altitude here in Cuenca.
But there is more. We had to think about public or private schools.
Public Schools (aka Centros educativos fiscales) + Kari Gets Scolded
A few people told us that the public schools in Cuenca are very good. The government sets the curricular standards for all schools, private and public. Class sizes are limited to 30 students per class. All students are required to study English every week, though I don’t remember if they have one class per day or per week.
With public schools as a possibility, I went to the Minister of Education (Distrito de Educación) office one day to inquire about options for our older daughter. Just FYI, in case you need to go, know that there is one office (at Banco Central) for the schools in the northern part of the city and another (Av. Simón Bolívar y Av. General Torres) for the schools in the southern part of the city.
During this meeting I was informed by a stern, reserved female official that registration usually occurs in August. Seeing that it was January, I was too late to enroll our daughter in school (yikes!). She also informed me that we needed a copy of our child’s ID (cédula/ID card or passport) and a utility bill. We were staying in a hotel until we decided on a school, so a utility bill was out of the question.
Ironically, this meeting began to feel like I was going back to school and being put in my own little corner for punishment! But I think the combination of my exhaustion, frazzled hair, and wide eyes made me look particularly pathetic at that moment. Perhaps out of pity, the official across from me flipped a switch. She finally said not to worry. She would help my daughter enroll in a local public school somewhere.
Yaaay! Out of the corner!
She kindly offered to call schools with me (public or private) and help me figure it out. But after talking with her, I had decided that a private school would be best for my daughter. Given my daughter’s limited Spanish skills and her tendency to be timid in new situations, I wasn’t sure how well she would do in a big class of thirty students. Also, I wasn’t sure of the teaching methods, classroom layout, and personalized attention that we would find in public schools.
So, I continued my research with some of the private schools on our list. Below is a list of private schools, including short descriptions.
Private Schools (Centros educativos particulares)
We visited MANY private schools and preschools/daycare facilities, both religious and lay, in search of the best fit for our daughters. I am fortunate to be able to speak Spanish because I don’t think I could (or would) have visited all of the schools I did without my language skills. Registration for the fall school year starts around February in most private schools, but some could still accept my daughter mid-way through the school year.
Here is a list of some of the schools I called and visited with a brief description and my personal first impression. We tried to provide a lot of details here in case other parents moving to Cuenca happen to find the list.
International and Bilingual Schools in Cuenca
- CEDEI is a bilingual school that comes highly recommended by kids and parents, both local and expats. Each class has a local teacher and a native English speaker. I believe the school limits class sizes to 15 students. They did not have space (cupo) for my 5-year-old, so we had to look at other options. We liked all we read about their methods on their website prior to our arrival, and we were a bit disappointed that it was full. But as with most things in life, when one door closes, another opens.
- Santana is one of the most elite and affluent schools in Cuenca from what we gathered talking to people around town. It is bilingual, and there is an English speaker and an Ecuadorian teacher in each class (at least at the early grades). It is seems to have a different approach than many of the other schools we toured. At the preschool and 1º de básica levels, the curriculum is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education. Students sit in circles and have councils, and they vote to choose the topics of their learning. Santana is also an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, which is a network of international schools that hold their students’ learning to a high standard. If our girls were older, we probably would have chosen this school.
- Asian American School is a very nice school outside of Cuenca, farther east than Challuabamba. It is a multicultural school with English taught from preschool and Mandarin taught after the age of 8. The classrooms are bright and spacious, and there is a nice music room and a pool on the campus. It began in 2009, and they keep expanding as the interest in the school grows.
- Bell Academy is a smallish but lively international school that we found through a friend of a friend when we arrived. Their unfinished website has their mission, vision, and history, which caught our attention. We really liked the family atmosphere at the school and their focus on children’s holistic learning. They teach in Spanish and also teach English and Portuguese. It was founded in 2005, and it continues to grow to meet the needs of their students and families.
- Joseph De Jussieu Escuela Francesa is located in Misicata, just to the west of Cuenca. We have a couple of Cuencan friends whose children attend this school. They like it because they want a more international learning experience for their children. They teach French and Spanish from the start and later teach English. We figured Spanish would be a challenge enough for our girls, so we didn’t want to complicate things by adding another language from the start!
- Colegio Alemán Stiehle has a great reputation among expats. It is a German-Spanish school in the town of Challuabamba, just to the east of Cuenca. English is also taught after 3rd grade (I think). It is also an IB school. We considered this school, however, like the French school we figured our girls would have enough challenge learning Spanish without complicating their learning by mixing in German. As an aside, Chad minored in German in college, and he would love the girls to learn German as well. Perhaps our next big trip?!
More Recommended Local Schools
- CEDFI seems to be another one of the more elite private schools in the area. It is not bilingual, though they do teach English. Located just west of Cuenca in Misicata, CEDFI is in a beautiful setting on a mountainside with panoramic views of Cuenca. Depending upon the part of town and traffic, it’s a 5-30 minute bus ride. The class size was around 25 students with one teacher. We liked what we read on their website about students being in charge of their own learning and that their mission is to produce responsible, proactive, and happy citizens who respect diversity.
- Pasos seemed wonderful online. The location seemed perfect, and we met an ex-pat American mom who was very happy with her children at Pasos. They didn’t have availability, so we didn’t tour the school to see it in person.
- Unidad Educativa Salesiana María Auxiliadora is an all-girls Catholic school in the historic center of the city. We were interested in it because it is all girls. I had a wonderful experience attending an all-girls Catholic high school. However, they didn’t have availability, so we didn’t tour the school to get further impressions.
- Unidad Educativa Bilingüe Interamericana is a large evangelical Christian school with a strong focus on the teachings of the Bible. Their class sizes were a little larger than some of the other schools I toured, which I was concerned would be overwhelming to my daughter who was just learning Spanish.
- Unidad Educativa La Asunción is a rather large private school with a good local reputation. The school is located on the campus of the University of Azuay. They didn’t have availability, so we didn’t get a chance to tour the school.
- Ausubel High School seems like a great school from what we read on the internet with a high level of English taught, but we didn’t find it until our daughter had already started at another school.
- Centro Educativo Alborada is a school that a couple of people recommended, but that we didn’t visit or learn about until after we’d chosen a school.
As you might imagine, our heads were spinning after visiting so many schools! We were all getting a little tired and frustrated from this searching routine.
We did finally buckle down and make a decision, first for our 5-year-old’s school and later for our 3-year-old’s preschool.
Now, I’ll share details of the preschools we explored and researched.
Walkability was our number one criteria when choosing a preschool. We did not have a car in Ecuador, and we didn’t want to send our three year old to school on a bus. We also looked forward to being able to walk her to and from school.
I JUST now found this website with a directory map of daycare facilities (guarderías) in the Cuenca area, which would have been really helpful a few weeks ago :/. But here is the list of school we found from random walks, taxi driver conversations, and talks with friends.
- Pulgarcito is a daycare and preschool that I found when walking in an area I really liked along the Yanuncay River (Av. Primero de mayo/Tres Puentes area). They had free dental care for the children and had a doctor, speech therapist, and psychologist available. They offered swimming and horseback riding as extra activities for the older kids.
- La Cometa is a daycare and preschool where some friends had sent their daughter. We really liked the school. It was a warm and inviting atmosphere where the children had the teachers’ full attention. The school offered extended care, which was a wonderful option to have if we needed it. They have a school psychologist and speech therapist available. It is located in an area we really like (the Av. Primero de mayo/Tres Puentes area.)
- Mundo de Juguete is a daycare and preschool that we found upon recommendation from some friends. The school is bright, clean, and well-maintained, and we liked their approach that children learn through play. Teachers connect all learning activities to a game and some kind of movement. The two bunnies that live in the real grass playground/courtyard fascinated our daughter. The children have English classes, and they also offer ballet, mountain biking (yes, for 3-year-olds on balance bikes!), and swim lessons for an extra fee. They also have a school psychologist and speech therapist available. It is close to our apartment.
- Primeras Huellas is the daycare and preschool associated with the private school CEDFI. Many parents we met recommended it. Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t walkable to where we wanted to live, so we didn’t tour the school.
- Crayola is a daycare and preschool that has a big outside play area that caught my daughter’s attention when we were walking by. The location is great as it is just a few blocks from Parque de la Madre in El Vergel.
- Crecer feliz is a daycare and preschool in a nice location near our apartment. This was the only preschool that we visited with cameras in every classroom so a parent can log in to see what her child is doing throughout the day.
- Carrusel is a bright and sweet preschool and daycare. The facilities are colorful and well-maintained, and the teachers seemed attentive to the children. They teach English, art, music, and have physical education type classes to work gross motor skills. It is located in a neighborhood we like (El Vergel).
- CEDEI is a Spanish-English bilingual preschool (Incial). They have an Ecuadorian and an English speaking teacher in each classroom and teach all subjects in both languages. It is also in a convenient location near El Vergel.
That’s our list of private schools in Cuenca. Now, here is a list of requirements that were typical at most of the private schools here.
Requirements for Admission to Private Schools in Ecuador
- A copy of parents’ and student’s passports
- 6 ID-sized color photos (easier and cheaper to get here than in the States)
- School records
- Immunization record
- A couple schools required an interview with the student prior to admission
- One school (Santana) requested financial statement from our bank or employer
- Some preschools requested a letter of health from our child’s pediatrician
The requirements above are only part of the ticket to entry. The other part for private schools, of course, is money. Just how much do these schools cost? What all do parents have to pay for? The list that follows will help answer those questions.
- Registration fee (matrícula) varied depending on the school. We found a range from $56 to $156, paid once a year.
- Monthly tuition (pensión mensual) varied tremendously depending on the school. The most affordable school we visited was $90 per month, and the most expensive was $250 per month.
- Snack and lunch (refrigerio y almuerzo). Most of the schools only offer a morning snack around 9:30 or 10 since the school day ends around 1:30. It costs between $30 and $55 per month. It is not goldfish and crackers like we have at our schools in the States, but rather fruit, jello, popcorn, rolls, or corn. A few daycare/ preschool facilities offered lunch for $25 to $40 per month.
- Insurance (seguro) covers accidents that may happen while our child is at school. It cost anywhere from $15 to $25 per year, and some schools either didn’t offer it or included it as part of tuition.
- School supplies (útiles) shocked us. We spent $300 on our older daughter’s school supplies. We bought textbooks, paper, erasers, paint, construction paper, crepe paper, shiny paper, glitter, glue, glittery glue, cardboard, office paper, paintbrushes, notebooks, an agenda, and much much more. They prorated our younger daughter’s school supply list, so we paid $60.
- Uniforms (uniformes) for the schools we chose were about $40 for a sweatshirt, t-shirt, and sweatpants. As the students get older, they wear a more formal uniform (usually a skirt for the girls and tie for boys). I find it interesting that local stores here in Cuenca make the uniforms and embroider or print them for each school, and you buy the uniform directly from them.
- Transportation (transporte) costs varied from school to school, ranging from $20 to $57 per month. Most schools have small school buses (busetas) that pick your child up at your home or a central location. Some of the larger schools had full-sized school buses.
- Swimming (natación) is an add-on activity at many schools but is part of the school day. Usually schools bus the students to a pool for swim lessons. Costs varied from $18 to $30 per month.
Are We Ecuador School Experts Yet?
The journey to find schools for our girls was our first priority upon arriving in Cuenca, Ecuador. If you’ve made it this far, you can tell that it was a THOROUGH search that sent us on a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride! But as we look back on the experience, we realize it was a fun adventure that caused us to grow and learn.
I think Chad and I were both impressed with the experience because it affirmed our shared humanity with people here in Ecuador. Educating and nurturing the growth of children is just as important here as it is in our community back home. And the warmth and interest local people took in us and in our search made us feel very special.
We hope the information you’ve read has been interesting and helpful. We’ve chosen not to share our actual school choice for privacy reasons while we are still here. After our trip we can share more details to give you insights about our experience.
We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Thanks!