Formal education is compulsory and free at all pre-university levels, i.e. basic education for children aged 4–14 years. The State provides all the supplies needed for learning throughout general basic education, including school meals.
The formal education sector comprises nine public agencies, which are overseen by the Ministry of Education. The total budget is allocated to the Ministry of Education, which then transfers it directly to the nine agencies. The Ministry of Education’s National Directorate of Finance and Institutional Development allocates resources according to priority needs in primary and secondary education.
In 2017, the Ministry of Education had a budget of USD 1.4 billion, i.e. 6.5 per cent of the national budget. The school-age population is 1.3 million. Lastly, in 2013, it was estimated that 54.2 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty.
The State organizes and directs national education as a public service and the National Education Act also regulates private education. Private education may be fee-based at non-compulsory levels. The constitution provides for economic incentives to benefit public and private education. The private sector represents 13.5 per cent of educational provision in Panama.
Fondo de Equidad y Calidad de la Educación [Fund for Equity and Quality in Education – FECE]
This fund finances equity-related scholarships and grants. The 2017 Ministry of Education budget was allocated according to three categories, including education insurance which covers the Fund for Equity and Quality in Education. This budget category executed USD 72 million, i.e. 6.51 per cent of the budget.
An annual allowance per student for those with socioeconomic difficulties and high academic performance at the primary (USD 270), middle (USD 360) and secondary (USD 450) levels. In 2018, USD 197 million (0.9 per cent of the national budget) was invested, benefiting 644,000 students (49 per cent of the school-age population).
This programme provides financial assistance to primary, secondary and higher education students from vulnerable and at-risk populations. It granted 11,000 awards at a total cost of USD 10.5 million (0.04 per cent of the national budget).
Students with disabilities: Students from low-income households receive a monthly allowance during primary school (USD 45), middle school (USD 55) and secondary school (USD 65) to start or continue their studies in official or private schools or in special education institutions.
Students in small towns with high levels of poverty and in indigenous areas: Those who live in the 300 small towns with the highest levels of poverty receive USD 35 per month for educational assistance at the primary and secondary levels.
Eradication of child labour: Adolescent students in work receive USD 35 financial assistance per month to start or continue their primary and secondary education.
Conditional cash transfers for small towns with extreme poverty and families in extreme poverty. This network grants USD 50 per household if children aged 4–17 years have 85 per cent school attendance and if a parent participates in parent training sessions. In 2017, the Government invested USD 35.2 million, i.e. 0.06 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), for the benefit of 54,000 households (333,000 people, i.e. 8.23 per cent of the total population).
Conditional cash transfers for rural villages and families with high rates of extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition, who are provided with a book of 20 coupons with a total value of USD 100 (USD 5 per coupon) to be exchanged for food products if children aged over 6 years attend school. In 2017, the Government invested USD 5.7 million, i.e. 0.02 per cent of the national budget, which reached 13,500 households (1.6 per cent of the total population).
Ángel Guardián [Guardian Angel] programme
A conditional cash transfer programme of USD 80 per person per month to cover the basic needs of people with disabilities. If the recipient is a minor, they must be enrolled in school. In 2017, this programme spent USD 16.4 million (0.07 per cent of the national budget) and benefited 18,500 people (0.45 per cent of the total population).