Education in “The Republic of Panama”




1. Overview 

The Republic of Panama is a small country of approximately 30,000 square miles and 3 million inhabitants, bordered by Costa Rica and Colombia, that forms a bridge between Central and South America and is home to the Panama Canal. The history of education in Panama is considered to have progressed through three distinct periods, as has the history of the republic itself: 1) the Colonial Era (1501-1821), 2) the Colombian Era (1821-1903), and 3) the Era of the Republic (1903 to the present). 

Education in Panama began with the arrival of the Jesuit priests in 1519, the year the city of Panama was founded. The Jesuits established various primary schools over the years, followed by a high school in 1744 and the Universidad de San Javier (University of St. Javier) in 1750. This period came to an abrupt end, however, in 1767 when the Jesuits were expelled from the country by order of King Carlos III of Spain. 

The second noteworthy period of education development in Panama began in 1821 with Colombia’s independence from Spain, while Panama still formed part of Colombia. In 1841, the Universidad del Istmo (University of the Isthmus - this institution bears no relation to present day Universidad del Istmo) was established to provide studies in Spanish and Latin grammar, rhetoric, theology and law and maintained operations until 1852, after which there was no formal higher education in Panama until the beginning of the next century. 

Education as a national endeavor revived after Panama’s separation from Colombia in 1903. The constitution mandates obligatory public primary education and pledges support for secondary and professional education; thus, education at all levels began to flourish during the 1900s and by the late 1990s the literacy rate had grown to over 90 percent. According to the constitution, higher education 
falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education but authority for curricular oversight resides with the University of Panama by law. 

The University of Panama was established in 1935. Predating this, the first higher education institution in the Republic of Panama was actually the Panama Canal Junior College (aka Panama Canal College) founded in 1933 by the United States to offer classes to the military and civilian personnel of the U.S. Canal Zone (Chronicle of Higher Education 1997), but not to the general public of Panama. When the Panama Canal reverted to Panama in 1999, Florida State University - Panama was allowed the use of the PCC campus and currently awards a few undergraduate degrees to students of all nationalities. 
Additionally, with the reversion of the Canal Zone territory, the “City of Knowledge” was founded. 
Governed by a private non-profit organization, the City of Knowledge is an international complex for education, research and innovation that was developed to promote and facilitate synergies between universities, scientific research centers, businesses, and international organizations. 

It is important to note that throughout the tenure of the U.S. construction and administration of the Panama Canal, two different socioeconomic systems existed within the country: one for the U.S. inside the Canal Zone and one for Panama in the rest of the country. This duality extended to the educational facilities. The Panama Canal Company and later the U.S. Department of Defense operated a network of primary and secondary schools separate from the Panamanian system (known in Panama as the ‘regimen expecial/special system) that catered selectively to Canal Zone personnel, with some Panamanians accepted as “paying” students. Only with the reversion of the Canal territory in 1999 was a single, integrated system formed that conformed to Panama’s 

In 1965 the Catholic Church founded Panama’s second university, the Universidad Católica Santa María la Antigua (USMA), through a law passed by the government, making it the only private university in the country established in this manner. This has meant that the USMA holds quasi-official status and is listed in Panama’s official NGO registry for international technical aid programs. 

Panama continued with two universities in its higher education system until 1981, after which four more public universities were established: the Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá (Panama University of Technology, usually called UTP) in 1981, which evolved from the School of Engineering of the University of Panama; 
the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí (the Autonomous University of Chiriqui) in 1994; the Universidad Especializada de Las Américas (the Specialized University of the Americas), concentrating in special education, in 1997; and most recently, the Universidad Marítima Internacional de Panamá (the International Maritime University of Panama) in 2007, which evolved from the original Escuela Nautica 
de Panamá. 

The last two decades have witnessed an explosion of private universities in Panama—of both domestic and international origin—many of which operate as for-profit entities. Currently, the Ministry of Education recognizes a total of 36 universities operating in the country. The Public Registry, however, lists over 80 universities currently operating in Panama. In response to this growth, Panama is now beginning to create structures related to quality assurance; the Consejo de Rectores de Panamá (Council of Rectors) was established in 1995 and the Consejo Nacional de Evaluación y Acreditación Universitaria de Panamá (National Council of University Evaluation and Accreditation - CONEAUPA) was formally established at the end of 2006, but its secretariat is still in the preparatory stages of organization. 

The Panamanian government spends a total of 5.7 percent of GDP on education of all levels (UNESCO 2003). Nearly all Panamanians (94 percent) of primary school age are enrolled and 92.5 percent of the age group completes primary school. At the secondary level, 57.8 percent of those in the corresponding age group are enrolled and of those, only half complete their studies. University level study has 
progressed from the 7 percent enrollment rate prevalent in the 1950s to a current rate of 25 percent.

Nevertheless, there are still significant socioeconomic discrepancies as only 3 percent of the poor attend university compared to 31 percent of the non-poor (PREAL-COSPAE 2002). 

The Panamanian school year runs from March to December and classes are generally given in Spanish. 
Exceptions to both academic calendar and language are found in several private international primary and secondary schools and Florida State University, which operate on the U.S. system educational regulations. 
During the U.S. period, four US universities also offered courses and degrees within the Canal Zone territory: Nova Southeastern University, Central Texas College, University of Oklahoma, and Florida State University. 
Alter the reversion of the Canal, FSU chose to continue its presence in Panama. To this effect, a Panamanian permit to operate was obtained and subsequently FSU-Panama became affiliated with the City of Knowledge. 

2. Educational Ladder 

The following model presents the educational ladder of Panama. It is a graphical representation of the different levels of the educational system, which generally correspond to 6 years of primary education (primaria), 3 years of junior high school (premedia), 3 years of high school (educación media), 4 to 6 years for undergraduate studies (estudios post-secundarios; post-media; estudios de pre-gradoestudios de licenciatura) and 1 or more years for graduate level studies (estudios de postgrado; estudios de maestría; estudios de doctorado). 

Educational Ladder of The Republic of Panama 

Panama Educational Ladder

Source: Ministry of Education of the Republic of Panama. 

3. Grading System 

Secondary school grading in public and private Panamanian schools operates on 5-point letter grade system; public and private universities operate on a 3-point letter grade system. Both are similar to the U.S. system but with different assigned grade points, which affect the calculation of averages. The two systems are depicted in the tables below. Exceptions to the Panamanian grading system are found in the international secondary schools that use U.S. or European grading scales and the U.S. affiliated universities such as Florida State University. 

4 Grading System – Secondary Education 

Letter grade Performance equivalent Percentage Grade points 
A Outstanding 91 – 100 5 
B Good 81 – 90 4 
C Average 71 – 80 3 
D Minimum to pass 61 – 70 2 
F Fail 0 - 60 1 

Source: IAU, World Higher Education Database (WHED), from the Ministry of Education, Panama 2006. 

Grading System – University Education 

Letter grade Performance Score Grade points 
A Outstanding 91 – 100 3 
B Good 81 – 90 2 
C Average 71 – 80 1 
D Minimum to pass 61 – 70 0 
F Fail 60 o less 0 
I Incomplete No points assigned 0 
P Pass - - 
N Fail - - 

Source: Office of the Registrar, Universidad Católica Santa María la Antigua, 2007 

At the university level, specific honors are awarded for higher grade point averages, though these differ between the public and private institutions. 

The tables that follow indicate the required grade point average for each type of distinction

5 University Honors Grade Point Averages 

Private Universities Honors title Graduate Studies Grade Point Average Undergraduate Grade Point Average 
Summa *** Laude 3.00 2.90 – 3.00 
Magna *** Laude 2.90 – 2.99 2.70 – 2.89 
*** Laude 2.80 – 2.89 2.50 – 2.69 

Public Universities 
Honors title Grade Point Average 
Sigma Lambda 2.50 or above 

Source: Office of the Registrar, Universidad Católica Santa María la Antigua, 2007 

6. Institutions of Higher Education

The Ministry of Education’s list of approved institutions is the list of public and private universities registered at the Ministry and granted permission to operate in Panama, though there are two other listings that are frequently cited as well. The University of Panama (UP) has a list of all private universities that registered with the Ministry and have had the required curricular and institutional documentation submitted for UP revision and approval. The Council of University Presidents (CRP) also lists the public and private institutions that are members of the Council. 

The Ministry of Education list appears on the Ministry website (December 2007), 

The UP list of reviewed and approved institutions is listed below. This list includes universities that the UP has reviewed (or that are in the process of being reviewed) and, as of December 2007, it showed a total of 11 institutions that do not appear, as yet, on the Ministry of Education list, eight of which it indicates are pending approval: 

1. Delphi University (not currently functioning in Panama) 
2. Universidad de Santander (not currently functioning in Panama) 
Universidad de Técnicas de la Comunicación (UTC) 
4. Escuela de Arquitectura y Diseño de América Latina y el Caribe Isthmus (pending approval
5. Universidad de Los Llanos del Pacífico (pending approval
6. Universidad Particular en Ciencias de Mercado (UCM) (pending approval
7. Universidad Internacional de América Latina (pending approval
8. Universidad Ngabe Buklé (pending approval
9. Universidad Nuestra Señora del Carmen (pending approval
10. Universidad del Caribe (pending approval
11. Universidad Virtual - Centro de Estudios Regionales de Panamá (CERPA) (pending approval

7. Institutions members of the Council of Rectors of Panama (CRP), are shown in their official list. 

Consejo de Rectores de Panamá/Council of Rectors of Panama: Universities of Panama Private universities: Name - url - email address
1 Universidad Católica Santa María La Antigua 
2 Universidad Interamericana de Educación a Distancia de Panamá 
3 Universidad del Istmo 
4 Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología 
5 Universidad Latina de Panamá 
6 Columbus University 
7 Universidad de La Paz 
8 Universidad Abierta y a Distancia de Panamá 
9 Universidad Interamericana de Panamá 
10 Florida State University 
11 UniversidadLatinoamericana de Comercio Exterior 
12 ISAE Universidad http://www.isaeuniversid 
13 Universidad Americana 
14 Universidad Panamaericana 

Public universitiesName - url - email address
1 Universidad de Panamá 
2 Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá 
3 Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí 
4 Universidad Especializada de las Américas 
5 Universidad Marítima Internacional de Panamá 

In addition to these lists, the Public Registry identifies a growing number of institutions of higher education legally registered in Panama that do not appear on either the Ministry of Education or the University of Panama list: 

1. Universidad Scholarship Foundation 
Universidad de Delaware 
3. Universidad de Kabbalah 
4. Universidad del Pacífico 
5. Universidad del Pacífico (UDEP) 
6. Universidad para la Familia 
7. Universidad para la Paz 
8. Universidad Particular de Ciencias del Mercado 
9. Universidad Barú 
10. Universidad Bolivariana Internacional de Panamá 
11. Universidad Central de Panamá 
12. Universidad Centroamericana de Panamá 
13. Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) 
14. Universidad de las Américas (UIAMERICA) 
15. Universidad Iberoamericana de Panamá 
16. Universidad del Área Andina Panamá 
17. Universidad Internacional de Panamá 
18. Universidad Internacional de las Américas 
19. Universidad Internacional del Pacífico 
20. Universidad Internacional de San Isidro Labrador 
21. Universidad Internacional en Español 
22. Universidad internacional de América Latina 
23. Universidad Libre de Costa Rica 
24. Universidad Libre de Panamá 
25. Universidad Paulo Freire de Panamá 
26. Universidad Planalto de las Américas 
Universidad Politécnica de Centroamérica (UPCA) 
28. Universidad Príncipe José 
29. Universidad Técnica de la Comunicación (UTC) 
30. Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores Monterrey 
31. Instituto Superior de Administración y Tecnología 
32. Instituto Técnico de Aviación 
33. Instituto Uraba 
34. Instituto Técnico, Computacional y Turismo 
35. Instituto Superior Latinoamericano de Administración y Tecnología Naval 
36. Centro de Estudio Superior Oxford University de Panamá 


Bernal, Juan Bosco. 2001. "La educacion superior en PanamaSituacion, problemas y desafios." San Salvador: Universidad Francisco Gavidia. 

Ceville, Oscar. 2005. “Evolución del Régimen Jurídico de la Educación Superior en la Republica de Panamá” (Evolution of the Legal Framework for Higher Education in the Republic of Panama). Panama: Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá. 

Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge). 
2007. Historical background. Panama City, Panama. Retrieved on July 20, 2007, 

Consejo de Rectores de Panamá (Council of University Presidents, CRP). 2007. Retrieved on December 4, 2005, 

Inter-American Development Bank. 2003. "Enfrentando el Futuro.
La Educación Terciaria en Panamá: Desafíos y Oportunidades " Inter-American Development Bank, Washington DC. 

International Association of Universities (IAU). World Higher Education Database (WHED) 2005-2006. 
Panama Education System. Retrieved on November 30, 2007, 

Library of Congress. Federal Research Division, Country Studies – Panama. Retrieved on December 4, 2007, 

Ministerio de Educación de la República de Panamá (Ministry of Education). 2007. Education Statistics. 
Retrieved on December 6, 2007, 

Programa de Promoción de la Reforma Educativa en América Latina y el Caribe (Program for the Promotion of Education Reform in Latin America and the Caribbean, PREAL) and Consejo del Sector Privado para la Asistencia Educacional (Private Sector Council for Educational Assistance, COSPAE). 2002. “Informe de Progreso Educativo – Panama.”
(“Report on Progress in Education”). Panama City, Panama: COSPAE. 

UNESCO-IESALC (Instituto Internacional para la Educación Superior en América Latina y el Caribe).
2003. "Informe Nacional de Educacion Superior de Panama." Caracas, Venezuela: UNESCO-IESALC. 

9 Credentials 

Credential Spanish/ English Description 
Advice to Admissions Officers 
Entry level requirements/ Options upon completion 
B.1. Diploma de Pre-media/ Middle school diploma 

This qualification signifies graduation from middle school (9th grade or pre-media), 
the first cycle of high school and the end of compulsory education. 
This qualification is comparable to a U.S. middle school diploma. 
Students must complete primary education (primaria) in order to pass to the secondary level. Middle school represents (pre-media) the end of compulsory 
education, though students may opt to continue and finish high school (educación 
B.2. Diploma de Educación Media (Bachiller)/ High school diploma 
This diploma represents completion of both cycles of secondary school through 12th grade and usually contains a specialization, the Bachiller (e.g. business, 
agriculture, sciences, letters). 
This diploma is comparable to a U.S. high school diploma. 
Students must complete middle school (pre- media) in order to pass to the high school (educación media) level. 
Upon completion of high school, students may opt to continue with additional technical or university education. 
C. Técnico/ Post- secondary technical certification 
Higher technical and vocational studies are offered in special high schools or post- 
secondary centers and institutes, which offer two to three-year courses leading to the technical qualification of Técnico. The Universidad Tecnológica confers a title of Técnico after three years of university study. 
This qualification represents additional technical study following high school, which may or may not be comparable to the same number of years of university study. 
Bachiller is generally required for technical training. Qualification as a Técnico leads to employment or further study at university level. 

Licenciatura/ Licentiate 
The Licenciatura is generally conferred after studies lasting 4-5 years. Students must submit a thesis or other graduation project. 
Terminal professional titles are conferred in several fields, generally after five years (three in Nursing and six in Medicine). 
This qualification is roughly comparable to a U.S. Bachelor’s degree. 
A high school diploma (bachiller) is required for university admission along with an entrance examination for some public universities. The terminal Licentiate leads to a professional licensure. Further university study at the graduate level (estudios 
de postgrado)follows the Licentiate degree. 
Diplomado/ Graduate – level Certificate 
This graduate-level certificate is awarded for study in a specific area beyond the level of Licenciatura (Licentiate) but below the level of Certificado de Postgrado
Graduate-level Certificate 
This qualification represents specialized university study beyond the Licentiate level but below the level of the Master’s. 
The Diplomado leads to employment or to further graduate-level study. 
Certificado de Postgrado/ Graduate- level specialization 
The certificate of Postgrado represents 1 or more years of additional study in a 
particular area of specialization following the Licentiate degree. 
This qualification represents specialized graduate-level study beyond the Licentiate level but below the level of the Master’s. 
Licenciatura/licentiate s required for further study at the graduate level. The Postgrado qualification (graduate- level certificate) leads to further graduate study. 
F. Maestría/ Master’s The Maestría is conferred after 1-2 years' graduate-level 
study beyond the Licenciatura/licentiate. 
Students must submit a thesis or other graduation project. 
This degree is roughly comparable to the U.S. Master’s. 
Licenciatura is required for further study at the Master’s level. The Master’s 
qualification leads to further study at the doctoral level. 
G. Doctorado/ Doctorate 

This qualification is usually conferred after additional years of study beyond the 
This degree is roughly comparable to a doctorate. 

I1. Bachiller Pedagógico/ Primary School Teacher ertification 
Primary school teachers are trained at Escuelas Normales (Normal high schools). 
Students enter after completing the first cycle of secondary education. The three- 
year course leads to the Bachiller Pedagógico, equivalent to the regular Bachiller (high school diploma). 
Secondary school teachers are required to have a Licenciatura/licentiate plus a Profesorado de Educación Diversificada (additional year for a teaching certificate) 
This qualification is roughly comparable to a U.S. high school diploma. 
Completion of the first cycle of secondary school (middle school) is required for entrance to the Escuela Normal. 
This Bachiller/baccalaureate degree leads to employment in primary school education or further study at the university level. 
Profesorado de Educación Diversificada/ Teacher Certification 
This graduate certificate is granted after an additional year of study following the 
Licenciatura/licentiate and is the required teaching credential for secondary school 

This qualification is comparable to a U.S. teaching credential. 
This certification leads to employment as a secondary school teacher or further study at the university level. 

Source: IAU, World Higher Education Database (WHED), Panama 2006; Ministry of Education, 
Panama 2007. 

7. Sample Documents 

The Ministry of Education regulates the content of diplomas to a certain extent, but each individual institution designs its own format and presentation of credentials. The “cédula” is the official Panamanian personal identification number and appears on credentials along with a person’s name for more accurate tracking and identification. See attached documents for samples of diplomas and credentials from a variety of Panamanian high schools and universities. 


Spanish names 
Official documents in Panama will use the formal, official name of the recipient and follow the Spanish tradition of identifying: Given Name, Middle Name, Paternal Last Name, Maternal Last Name, as follows: 
Example: Etilvia María Arjona Chang, cédula de identidad personal: 8-88-875 
Given Name: Etilvia Middle Name: María Paternal Last Name: Arjona 
Maternal Last Name: Chang Personal identification number: 8-88-875 

10. Glossary 

1. Bachiller: High school diploma 
2. Bachiller Pedagógico: High school diploma that serves as a qualification for teaching primary school 
3. Catedrático: University professor, a title which denotes tenure and full-time employment. 
4. Cédula (de identidad personal): personal ID number given every Panamanian when the birth or nationalization certificate is issued. Used in all official documents to identify the person. 
5. Diplomado: Graduate certificate below the level of “postgrado” 
6. Doctorado: Doctorate level degree 
7. Educación Media: The second cycle of secondary education, high school (grades 10-12) 
8. Escuela Normal: Normal high school 
9. Escuela Primaria: Primary or elementary education (grades 1-6) 
10. La Casa de Mendez Pereira: The name given to the University of Panama that may appear in certain official documentation. Dr. Octavio Mendez Pereira was the first president of the university. 
11. Licenciatura: licentiate, undergraduate degree roughly equivalent to a US bachellor’s degree. 
Also terminal professional degree granted by Panamanian universities. 
12. Maestria: Master’s level degree 
13. Maestro: Elementary school teacher. 
14. Magister: graduate level degree and title given at the master’s level. 
15. MEDUCA: The acronym for the Panamanian Ministry of Education 
16. PostgradoPostgrado (also posgrado) is the term used to designate post-undergraduate studies or graduate level education. Grado is the Spanish term for title. After a semester or two of study, students are granted acertificado de postgrado (graduate-level certificate). 
17. Pre-escolar; Maternal: Pre-K education 
18. Pre-media: The first cycle of secondary education, middle school (grades 7-9), the final portion of compulsory education 
19. Profesor: High school or university instructor 
20. Profesorado de Educación Diversificada: Undergraduate-level certificate that is the equivalent of a teaching credential which is granted after the licentiate degree. 
21. Rector Magnífico: title given to the president of a university. 
22. Regimen especial/special system: The terminology used to refer to the U.S. based and U.S. regulated education system that existed in the U.S. Canal Zone 
23. Secretaria/o General: Registrar 
24. Técnico: Post-secondary –level technical qualification. 




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