Or, A Month Of Classes In A Nutshell,
Levels of Education
While the US has three main levels of school education (elementary, middle school/junior high, and high school), Chile only has two: educación básica and educación media.
Educación básica basically corresponds to grades 1 through 8 in the US, with the ages and years being pretty much the same as they are here: 6-year-olds go to Primero Básico, 7-year-olds go to Segundo Básico, and so on up until the 13-year-olds in Octavo Básico. There’s no such thing as a separate middle school in Chile, or at least I’ve never heard anyone mention it; grades 1º básico through 8º básico are always together in the same school. Schools that offer educación básica are generally called escuelas if they’re public and colegios if they’re private.
Educación media, also known as educación secundaria, is the equivalent of US high school. There are four grades, from Primero Medio through Cuarto Medio — a student in 4º medio would be a high school senior in the US, and would probably be 17 years old. Schools that offer educación media are liceos if they’re public and colegios if they’re private.
(Also, just to make things more confusing, the word colegio also refers to the general concept of schooling; if you asked a kid “Do you like going to school?” you would use colegio, but if you wanted to ask “Do you like your school?” you would use the word corresponding to their type of school.)
In terms of preschool, there seem to be two types in Chile, one called a jardín infantil and the other a sala cuna. Jardín infantil is a loan translation of Kindergarten, but in Chile children from a few months to five years of age might go to a jardín. (Preschool enrollment is in general is pretty low, though — only fifty-something (I think 52?) percent of families with incomes in the top 20% of the country send their kids to preschool.) I’ve sort of inferred that a sala cuna is more like a daycare, and is for infants and young toddlers, but that inference could be totally incorrect.