The ciclo común (ages 12 to 15) is equivalent to the American junior high school. In 1996 the number of students who attended the first level of education rose to 371,250. In 1997, over 31 percent of the education budget was earmarked for preprimary and primary education.
After completing the common cycle, students take an exam that allows them to enter a secondary school or academic cycle (ciclo académico). The most well known secondary school at this level is the National Institute in Panama City. At the secondary school they spend three years (ages 15 to 18), after which they are required to pass a final examination to get a high school degree (bachillerato). According to the chosen curriculum, students are awarded one (or more) degrees: sciences, arts, or business. Between 1990 and 1996 the total number of students enrolled in the second level of education rose from 196,000 to 221,022. In 1997 almost 20 percent of the education budget was used for secondary education. The government agencies in charge of secondary education are the Directorate of Professional and Technical Education and the Directorate of Secondary Education.
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