Education in Guatemala — A Brief Overview

The University of San Carlos of Guatemala is one of the oldest universities in the Americas.

Education has come a long way since higher education began in 1620 at the Colegio de Santo Tomas de Aquino, predecessor to San Carlos, which was officially founded in 1676.

Guatemala education

University of San Carlos, La Antigua Guatemala (Hadazul Cruz)

Women did not attend university in colonial times, and only some were accepted at the School of the Maidens, or El Niñado, the only school of importance for girls.

“The first documents for founding this school are dated April 17, 1553 … and approved by his Majesty October 7, 1592. These rules were very strict and limited those to be admitted to orphan girls, daughters of nobles, descendants to conquerors, or early colonizers of Old Christian heritage.

Guatemala education

Colegio Tridentino, La Antigua (Hadazul Cruz)

These girls were under the supervision of nuns of Concepcion and lived a cloistered life until old enough to choose between marriage or becoming a nun.” (Verle L. Annis; The Architecture of Antigua Guatemala 1543-1773) The school later moved to Capuchinas Convent. Indeed, education for women in colonial times was limited.

With educational reforms in the 1870s, public schools opened to boys and girls. Today the Guatemalan government has such a meager budget for education that public schools provide teachers and classrooms but no school supplies, making it very difficult for the economically challenged to get an education.

Colegio Mayor de Santo Tomás, La Antigua (Hadazul Cruz)

Colegio Mayor de Santo Tomás, La Antigua (Hadazul Cruz)

Many low income kids rely on NGOs for education. Depending on a family’s income, tuition for private schools can put quite a strain on their budget.

Today there are 12 universities throughout the country as higher education has become a goal for Guatemala’s youth to get better-paying jobs.

Rectoría Universidad de San Carlos, Guatemala City

Rectoría Universidad de San Carlos, Guatemala City


by Elizabeth Bell, author/historian.


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