Click on a student to learn more about them. While reading biographies, you might come across some unfamiliar terms having to do with the Guatemalan educational system. To go to a quick Glossary click on the highlighted word in the student bio, or to go to a more complete description of the Guatemalan educational system, click here.
The educational system in Guatemala has some similarities and some differences from the one here in the US. Like the American system, education is divided into primary (grades 1-6), middle (grades 7-9), and secondary (grades 10-12). Unlike the US, only primary school is mandatory, and is the only level of education supported by the government.
Despite being mandatory, in reality many Guatemalan children do not complete primary school, much less continue on to middle school. The reasons for this are several: First, despite being government-supported, primary school students must still pay for uniforms, books, school supplies, and transportation to and from school. This is beyond the reach of many Guatemalan families, especially rural, Indigenous families. Second, the primary language of almost 40% of Guatemalans is not Spanish, but rather one of more than 20 Mayan dialects. Despite a law passed in 1996 mandating that classes be taught in both Spanish and the local dialect, this has yet to occur in many schools, requiring Indigenous children to struggle with Spanish in addition to the usual first-year problems. Because of these and other factors, at present Indigenous children average only 2.5 years of education, compared to 5.7 years in non-Indigenous children.