There are so many differences between my high school in the country of Panama, where I grew up, and the United States, where I now attend college. This series, In Perspective, is meant to give you an inside look at how education is conducted both domestically and abroad. Thus, here is the story of my education in a far off country.
The Logistics of an Education in Panama
I graduated in December 2012 from my high school, Colegio San Agustin, in Panama City, Panama. I think that’s one of the main differences between school in the US and school in my country: the school year starts in February and ends in December, because Panama only has two seasons (rainy season and dry season). Dry season extends from December to March, so that’s when vacations are.
An important part of my story is that public education in Panama is really bad, at least in the city where I grew up. If you want a decent education, you must certainly have to go to private school. Thus, my high school was private and Catholic. It had a really strong math and science program, but not a good English program. Luckily, I learned to speak English in my elementary school, Oxford International School. Also, for the most part, in Panama, high school (or rather, “secondary school”) is considered to be from seventh grade through twelfth grade.
Classes and Diplomas
Growing up and watching American TV shows, one of the things I found super cool was that students would walk from classroom to classroom to go to their classes. That’s not the way it is in Panama. You are assigned a classroom the beginning of the year, and that’s where you spend every day. We don’t get to pick classes, either. Each school has a set of subjects assigned for each school grade. Usually, you take 8 – 15 classes each year. For example, during my senior year of high school, for example, I was taking Calculus, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Literature (Spanish), English, Religion, Physical Education, and Philosophy. We don’t have semesters either; we have trimesters, and subjects are taught the whole year. They don’t change every trimester.
The classes you take ultimately depend on the “Bachiller” (or Bachelor) you’re aspiring to get for high school graduation. There’s a bunch of them right now, but the most common are Science, Arts, and Commerce. Most schools make you pick one before tenth grade, so you specialize in one area and have fewer classes.
In my school, a student graduated with all three. Science is pretty self-explanatory, Arts has more to do with humanities than actual art, and Commerce has to do with accounting, finance, etc. (I wasn’t taking any commerce classes my senior year because we graduate from Commerce in tenth grade). Your Bachiller has a lot to do with the career you’ll pick. I liked having all three because it didn’t limit my major choice. It would suck to pick Commerce in tenth grade because you like Management, but by the time you graduate you decide to be a doctor, and then none of your classes prepared you for that.
As you might have known already, it doesn’t snow in Panama, so we didn’t have snow days. (Temperature in Panama is pretty much the same all year, around 80°F to 100 °F). We did, however, have “there is no water in Panama City so stay home today” days, or the most recent, “it hasn’t rained in a few weeks so the lakes that provide electrical energy to the city are almost dry so don’t come to school the rest of the week” days. Perks of living in a developing nation.
My school (and practically all schools in Panama) didn’t have homecoming dances, formals, junior proms, or anything like that. We only have senior prom, and it’s a BIG deal. My prom was in the Trump Tower in Panama City. We had arranged for buses to pick us up at 4:00 am and take us to Nikos, a 24 hour restaurant, to drink “sancocho”, a typical soup that is said to wake up the dead. And by dead, I mean really drunk people (The legal drinking age in Panama is 18, and by prom almost everyone is 18, so schools serve alcohol for prom). After that, we went to Causeway, a boardwalk, to see the sunrise. I got home at 7:30 am after the BEST night EVER. Besides that, everything else is like prom night in the United States. We had corsages, and limos, and awesome promposals.
For the last day of classes for senior year, we have an awesome tradition that most Catholic schools in Panama participate in. We had a “caravana”, where everyone painted their cars with sayings like “Class of 2012”, or “This sh*t is finally over!”, or with the names of the people inside the car. Everyone sat on the windows, or poked their heads through the sunroof, and we rode through the city like that screaming. It was the most awesome thing in the world. We had to have two policemen escorting us, though.
Anything else you want to know about my education in Panama, or anything else in general about my awesome country you can let me know in the comments!