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Honduras became an independent nation in 1821, having been previously part of the Spanish Empire. Nestled among three other Central American countries, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with approximately 84% of the population below the poverty line. With a population estimated at 6,670,000 people, its population growth rate surpasses that of the region by 40%. Hondurans are young, boasting a median age of just less than 19 years, with 35% of the population between the ages of 15 and 34 and 40% of the population 14 years old or younger. The official language is Spanish, but pockets of the population speak many indigenous dialects, as well as Creole and English. A freely elected civilian government came to power in 1982 after two and one-half decades of mostly military rule. In comparison with its neighbors, Honduras escaped the political turmoil that prevailed in Central America during the 1980s relatively unscathed.


Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998. The storm killed about 6,000 people and caused approximately $2 billion in damage, leaving an unprecedented 60% of the nation's infrastructure and 70% of crops destroyed. The Hurricane Mitch tragedy spearheaded the largest, most comprehensive educational reform in the history of Honduras. As a result of the 1999 National Reconstruction Movement, the entire educational system of Honduras is being restructured with elementary and lower secondary levels already completed and upper secondary expected to be finalized in 2006. The higher education system will follow and currently is in the process of completing a self study. Under the reform, education is compulsory up to the 9th grade (last year of lower secondary) and there are two very distinct upper secondary educational tracks, one academic and one technical-professional.

Currently, the Secretaría de Educación oversees the country's education system.

Secondary Education

Under the reform, the secondary school tracks are:

  • Academic Track: Bachillerato en Ciencias y Letras (Sciences and Letters), lasting 2 years and concentrating on the humanistic and scientific formation of pupils. This track is meant to provide a strong academic base for further, university level study.
  • Technical/Professional Track: Lasting 2 to 3 years, this track allows students to obtain professional / vocational training to access the labor market. This track offers the following focus areas:
    1. Agricultural Education: Bachilleratos in: Horticulture, Aquaculture, Coffee production and Agriculture
    2. Industrial Education: Bachilleratos in: Electricity, Electronics, Auto Mechanics, Tools and Machinery, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Woodworking, Metal Structures (Welding), Dress-making, Forestry and Quality Control.
    3. Administrative Services: Bachilleratos in: Marketing, Computer Technology, Business administration, Social Work, Commerce, Hotel Management and Tourism.
    4. Environmental Education: Bachilleratos in: Ecology and the Environment, Health and Nutrition
    5. Civil Engineering: Bachillerato in: Industrial Construction.

Post-Secondary Education

Fewer than 7% of eligible students attend higher education in Honduras. The Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) has legal authority to recognize postsecondary institution, supervise postsecondary programs and approve the granting of degrees by higher education institutions. Only tertiary degrees conferred by the UNAH or by institutions recognized by UNAH are legally recognized in Honduras. Public universities are “autonomous”, allowing them to set their own curricula and design their own study plans. Private universities have to submit their curricula and study plans to UNAH for approval. Private non-university institutions have to submit their curricula and study plans to UNAH (through its administrative branch, the Dirección de Educación Superior (Bureau of Higher Education) for approval.

First and Second Cycles

The first stage of higher education leads to the first degree of Bachillerato Universitario and Licenciatura or to a first professional degree and takes between 4 and 5 years. The Bachillerato Universitario is mainly conferred in technological fields but began to be awarded in the social sciences beginning in the 1990s. The Licenciatura is awarded upon completion of a five-year degree program in the fields of accounting, administration, economics, engineering, journalism, mathematics, and natural sciences. The Licenciatura in nursing is awarded upon completion of a four-year degree program. For students at the UNAH, the first year is spent studying in the Centro de Estudios Generales (Center for General Studies), except for medical students who spend two years.

Third Cycle

Doctorado (professional doctorate) degree programs lead to the Título de Doctor upon completion of 6 years in pharmacy and dentistry and 7 years in medicine. For medicine graduates only, holders of the Título de Doctor may be admitted to a post-professional degree program requiring 30 credits of coursework and a three-year residency leading to the qualification of Especialidad (specialty) in a medical field.

There are a total of 13 recognized institutions of higher education in Honduras, 5 public and 8 private, serving approximately 100,000 students. The school year typically runs from the last week of February to the last week of November.

Teacher Training

Teacher education is provided by both secondary level and postsecondary level institutions:

Primary school teachers are trained at secondary level Escuelas Normales (teacher schools). Graduates receive the Maestro de Educación Primaria after three years of specialized secondary level study.

Secondary school teachers are trained at Escuela Superior del Profesorado (higher/advanced schools for teachers) and at the Universidad Pedagoigica Nacional (national pedagogic university). Graduates receive the Título de Profesor or Profesorado en Educación Media after four years of postsecondary study. However, until approximately 2006, the Título de Profesor or Profesorado en Educación Media required only three years of post-secondary study.

Secondary education reform began in 1999 and was to have been fully implemented by 2006. Post-secondary education reform began in 2006 and was to have been totally implemented within five years, but because implementation varied both geographically and among institutional types, there are no clear cut-off dates for given degree requirements because implementation has been uneven. This means that a range of secondary credentials will be presented from 1999-2006 and a range of post-secondary credentials will be presented from 2006 through approximately 2011. Credentials awarded during these years will follow both pre-reform and post-reform curricula and number of years of study required.

Because of the urgent need for teachers, curricular reform was implemented in secondary level Escuelas Normales (teacher schools) before it was implemented in either post-secondary level Escuela Superior del Profesorado (higher/advanced schools for teachers) or at the Universidad Pedagoigica Nacional (national pedagogic university).

And even though the teacher qualifications described above were initially designed as terminal degrees leading to employment (and not to further education), as a result of educational reform, it is possible for teachers to pursue a university degree after they have completed numerous prerequisite courses. And, it is even possible for high school graduates to earn teacher certification and an academic degree at the same time. This new credential is the Título de Profesor y el Grado de Licenciatura en... (field of study) which requires four years of postsecondary study.

headshot of Luisa Havens Gerardo
Luisa Havens Gerardo

Vice Provost Enrollment Management, Virginia Tech


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