Guatemala Children and School

By | June 15, 2021

School in Guatemala

In Guatemala school is compulsory for six years. So it is in the law that children have to go to school. However, absenteeism will not be prosecuted or punished.

Free education

School fees do not have to be paid in state schools. But since school uniforms, books and pens also cost money, it is often difficult for the poor population to send their children to school. Girls are particularly disadvantaged. Many children also have to work, either all day or after school.

From elementary school to high school

Primary school takes six years and is called Escuela Primaria. Schooling is compulsory only for them. 89 percent of the children go to school. There has been great progress here in recent years, but the number of children enrolled in school is now falling again.

Secondary school (Escuela Secundaria) is now only attended by 48 percent of boys and 45 percent of girls. It lasts three years. Many of these schools are private schools, have school fees and are therefore only affordable for families from the middle or upper class.

Those who then go on to school can do the Abitur after two years, the Diversificado. There is also the option of adding three years to complete an apprenticeship alongside the Abitur.

Can read

Among young people between the ages of 15 and 24, the number of those who can read is now 95 percent of boys and 92 percent of girls. This can be improved, but a few years ago there were many more illiterates. Among adults, the rate is only 78 percent. Members of the indigenous peoples and women in particular are particularly affected.

Grades: From 0 to 100

In Guatemala, a country located in Central America according to aceinland, grades are given between 0 and 100. 100 points are outstanding, so like a 1+ with us. 90 to 99 points is excellent, 80 to 89 is still very good. 70 to 79 points is a “good”. Those who achieve 60 to 69 points have passed. Anything below 60 points means: Failed!

Problems in schools

Unfortunately, there are still poorly trained teachers, overcrowded classes and a lack of teaching materials. There are not enough schools in the country. Children often have to travel long distances to get to school at all. Another problem with Indian children is that they cannot follow classes in Spanish because they only speak the language of their people.

School in Guatemala


Child labor, street children and malnutrition

Child labor is a big problem in Guatemala. 26 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 work. The proportion of boys who work is considerably higher than that of girls, namely 35 percent. 16 percent of the girls work. The proportion of working children is much higher than in neighboring countries.

Most of these children work in agriculture. They often work unpaid for their own families. Children are also employed as workers on plantations for corn, coffee and sugar cane. Others work in mines, quarries or construction. In the cities, the boys clean shoes, clean windshields at traffic lights or they are rubbish collectors: on the huge rubbish dumps they look for recyclable items that they can sell. Girls are mainly used as housemaids. Some children have to feed their entire family.

Street children

There are also many children who live on the streets. Some ran away from home because they were beaten, others lost their parents and don’t know where to go. Many of these children take drugs, mostly they sniff glue: it’s cheap and numbs your senses. Many street children are sick.

Too little to eat

Another problem is malnutrition. Because many people are poor, they also don’t have enough to eat. Children in particular suffer from this. If they are not fed enough food as babies, their brains cannot develop properly. Later on, they remain much smaller than well-fed children. However, they not only have too little to eat, they also often eat far too one-sidedly. This is particularly the case with the indigenous population where poverty is particularly widespread. The Indians grow corn and beans and only feed on them. They don’t know a supermarket. But if you only eat corn tortillas with beans in the morning, at noon and in the evening, the body is lacking important nutrients.

Holidays and Events

Christmas in Guatemala

As in Mexico, in Guatemala the traditions of the Spaniards were mixed with those of the Maya. At Christmas in Guatemala, houses are decorated with lights. Many families now also set up Christmas trees. This tradition has spread from the United States to Central America. However, the Christmas tree is set up much earlier than here, often on December 1st!

Under the Christmas tree – in Spanish it is called Árbol Navideño – is a crib set. Small figures represent Mary and Joseph, the three wise men, shepherds and ox and donkey. In Guatemala City, the streets are also decorated. The Advent wreath with four candles is also known. Unlike ours, there is a big fifth candle in the middle. It is set on fire on December 24th.

On December 7th, the devil is symbolically burned, for example in the form of a piñata. This should bring happiness to the family and keep evil away.


The Posadas take place from December 16 to 24. You re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for a hostel. A different family entertains the neighbors every day. There are also Christmas presents. In some families on Christmas Eve at midnight, in others not until January 6th at the arrival of the Three Kings.

Tamales and ponche

On Christmas Eve, tamales are traditionally eaten, corn dough cooked in leaves. You drink ponche with it, a punch. In some families, the custom from the USA has established itself to eat a turkey at Christmas. Then there is pumpkin puree. There is a fireworks display at midnight. Often there are even more fireworks on December 25th and of course on New Year’s Eve on December 31st.

Feliz navidad! Merry Christmas!