The home of the Panama Canal, a hub of travel and transport for the world, is now a leader for homeschooling in Latin America.
Last month, the Panama National Assembly passed a groundbreaking law that recognized homeschooling as a legal exemption to compulsory school attendance.
Like leaders in all countries that are struggling with pandemic closures and problems for their schools, Panama legislators and policy makers were looking for additional options. Deputy Corrina Cano initiated the legislation in January of 2021 in partnership with the Panama homeschool community.
After months of back-and-forth, during which I worked with several advocates to provide input based on the development of home education in the United States, language was negotiated that would allow homeschooling for all Panamanian citizens. The law is expected to be signed by the president of Panama in the coming months.
Until this point, homeschooling was not explicitly legal. Parents who could afford to enroll their children in internationally recognized education programs were able to (technically) satisfy the requirement of being enrolled in a school while teaching their kids at home.
For many reasons, homeschooling has been growing in Panama for 10 years. Our contacts from Panama tell us that the nation of 4 million people may now have thousands of homeschooled students.
Government’s previous opposition
Despite homeschooling’s steady growth, the government had remained officially opposed to this educational option.
In fact, I know of one family who decided to homeschool because they were not able to enroll in an international school—and had their children taken away for a period of two years because of their decision. The children were removed from the family in 2019 and were finally returned in July 2021.
It was because of this tragedy that I met someone who has become a key advocate for the new homeschool law.
About two years ago, Patricia Zarate Pérez called me to ask if I could help the homeschool family whose children had been taken by government agents. Unfortunately, there was little HSLDA could do in that situation.
But in 2021, I reconnected with Patricia as she and others worked to get a new homeschool law passed.
Patricia is from Chile, and homeschools three children with her husband Danilo Pérez, a four-time Grammy Award–winning jazz musician from Panama. They split their time between Panama and Massachusetts, where Patricia teaches and Danilo directs the Global Jazz Institute at the prestigious Berklee School of Music.
Their organization, the Danilo Pérez Foundation, has been active in music and education in Panama and other countries for decades. Their support and intervention in favor of home education were critical to the new bill’s success; they helped educate the many policy makers in Panama who were unfamiliar with homeschooling. Over the years, the couple has supported the growth of the Panamanian homeschool community by organizing homeschooling conferences.
In January 2021, just about the time the homeschool bill was introduced, Patricia was in Panama running an online version of the annual Panama Jazz Festival. After the event, she reached out to me for insight in how to ask legislators to improve aspects of the initial bill.
As it turned out, HSLDA board member Rogers Hellman had planned a trip to Panama in April. He was able to present testimony to the Panamanian National Assembly, helping educate and inform legislators about homeschooling. I also participated in numerous
meetings with Patricia and Panamanian policy makers and provided written support for the homeschool community.
Patricia spoke with me on the first episode of HSLDA’s Homeschooling Around the World podcast. She shared her own experience with homeschooling, the exciting details of how the bill was passed, and how important this measure will be for Panama and possibly all of Latin America.
Because Panama’s measure is among the first laws explicitly recognizing homeschooling in Latin America, it provides an example to other countries all over the world who are considering how to regulate homeschooling. Although the law provides for notification to the ministry of education, training (optional for parents with a bachelor’s degree), and annual assessments, it also recognizes that all parents are protected in their right to homeschool.
The law requires more oversight and government involvement than HSLDA thinks is necessary, but as a positive homeschool measure in a country with a small population, this law is an important first step toward protecting the rights of parents to homeschool their children.