Public education Colombia is free and compulsory for students coursing Primary Studies (Básica Primaria) consisting of five years, from first grade to fifth grade. Classes begin in February and finish in November. Students usually begin primary at age of six, and finish it at age of ten. Secondary Studies (Básica Secundaria) are not free and consists of four years, from sixth grade to ninth grade. Classes begin in January and finish in November. Vocational Middle (Media Vocacional) is the final level, is not compulsory but required to apply for superior studies. It is composed by tenth and eleventh grade. During the eleventh grade students apply for the ICFES test, similar to the SAT test, which is needed to apply for superior studies. Public schools in Colombia usually attend only half a day, since there are so many kids and so very few schools and teachers, they divide the day in two, having one set of kids attend in the morning from 7 to 12 pm and one set in the afternoon from 1 to 6 pm, having like two schools in the same facility. The government has started a night school program for those students who work during the day , though. Some teachers may work at two or three different schools during the day or at the same school during the whole day.The students can go to classes in the morning, from 7 AM to 12 PM , in the afternoon, from 1 PM to 6 PM,or at night from 6:30 to about 10:00( some night schools hours may be shorter). Most students of public schools are from low income families and cannot afford superior studies. Such students can choose a free course in the SENA (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje) or study in educative corporations (corporaciones educativas) which offer very few titles of universities, and technical degrees. There are only a few public universities where students can get an education for free or very little money.
Private education in Colombia is more reliable than public education, but is more expensive. In intermediate and small cities, monthly costs can range from USD 50 to USD 400. In bigger cities, costs can be USD 300 or more, however, the most expensive schools are not always the best. The classes begin in the morning (usually at 6:30) and finish in the afternoon between 1:30 and 2:30 pm. The school year starts in January or February and finishes in November, for Calendar A schools. The school year in calendar B schools begins in August and finishes in June. Most schools expect from children to learn to read and write before beginning primary and most schools are bilingual, however, all schools, public and private must teach English as a second language. The teaching of English is more intensive in private schools, some students are fluent before beginning middle vocational studies. Most private schools assure that all the students can apply for superior studies in a normal university. Due that most students come from middle and upper class families, they can afford superior studies. Private universities are expensive, a semester can cost USD 1500, most private universities are located in Barranquilla, Bogotá, Medellín and Cali.
Education in Colombia comprehends the formal and non-formal education. Formal education is composed of nursery school, elementary school, high school and technical instruction and college education. The basic goal expected for the average citizen is of 11 grades (elementary school and mid highschool). The covering of basic education for the state institutions is about 50%. The private institutions cover the other 50% and most of the technical and university formation, due to the scarcity of public resources destined to education.