School. It’s been almost two months and for some people it already seems like a year. Homework, tests, presentations have already begun, the alarm clock rings in the morning and most of the evening is spent doing prep. My point is, the cheerful, beloved summer is finished and the “boring” school routine has become again part of our life. But is school really boring? And how does it work in the rest of the world? What can we learn from other systems?
We are lucky to attend an international school, in which everyone has the possibility to come across different cultures and traditions and learn from them. Most of the students not only come from different backgrounds but even from different types of education as school systems change from country to country. It may seem strange but even in Europe – not such a big continent – there are huge differences in how the school is perceived and how it is run. There are dissimilarities between the German, the Italian, the Spanish, the French and the British systems, not to mention the African countries, India, Afghanistan and so on. The world is really big and it is interesting to learn from it and to know that the life we live is only a drop in the vast ocean of people that populate the world. We have to be conscious that the world we probably know is only a little slice of the entire globe and that we can learn from the “foreign” cultures and lifestyle in order to be a more aware “global citizen”. There is a real need to prepare students for life in the real world which is actually a melting pot of different cultures and the best way to be prepared is to be informed.
So let’s take a glance at the world around us and think about how lucky we are to have the possibility to have a proper education and how different the ways of teaching and learning can be.
The United Kingdom
The country most of us know best, because in one way or in another, all of us have come to study at Hockerill, some come from England, but others had to start a completely new life in the UK, living apart from family, friends and learning how to cope with customs and lifestyles that are very different to the ones they were used to. I personally belong to this last category and I am proud of it. The beginning was not so easy, but I have to admit that I am really enjoying this experience. If I had the possibility to turn back, change and keep living my “past and common life”, I would definitely have chosen to come here in England, again and again. I think all the international students, but even the “native ones” are really lucky to be here (and I will never tire of repeating this).
Regarding how the school in the UK works, the education system is divided into early years (ages 3–4), primary education (ages 4–11), secondary education (ages 11–18) and tertiary education (ages 18+). Education is compulsory, but school is not, and children are not required to attend school because they could be educated at home. (In fact 1996 Education Act of the UK Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act states: “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable- (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”)
Full-time education is compulsory for all children aged between 5 and 16 and at the age of 16, students write an examination called the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education). All students are tested in mathematics, English literature, English composition, chemistry, biology, physics, history or the Classics, one modern language, and one other subject, such as art or computer studies.
After completing their GCSE’s, some students leave school, others go to technical college, whilst others continue at high school for two more years and take a further set of exams, (A levels, the IB diploma, or the Cambridge Pre-U). These exams determine whether a student is eligible for university.
Higher education often begins with a three-year bachelor’s degree. Postgraduate degrees include master’s degrees, either taught or by research, and the doctorate, a research degree that usually takes at least three years. Universities require a Royal Charter in order to issue degrees and all but one are financed by the state via tuition fees, which cost up to £9,000 per academic year for English, Welsh and EU students.
Now it’s time for the more interesting part: holidays. As for holidays in the UK the main school holidays are:
• Christmas- 2 weeks
• Spring – 2 weeks
• Summer – 6 weeks
But again Hockerill students are lucky because they have even more holidays, the beloved half term holidays, generally 10 days so distributed:
• end of October
• mid February
• end of May
We have talked about the English school, but as said before, the author of the article is not British. I know the school system in Italy and I can assure that the differences are noticeable. Not only in the organisation but even, and above all, in how the school is viewed. Trying to better explain this point, in Italy the majority of the students are terrorised of the school and teacher. There are a lot of exams, tests and interrogations, in all the subjects and every student after that gets a grade. But the grade is registered and at the end of the year there is an average of all the grades in each subject according to which the student is allow to pass the next year. Furthermore there is not a real relationship with teachers, that most of the time just stand behind the desk, say what they have to teach while students take notes.
Another difference with the Italian system is that there is one static class, of about 20 to 25 students per class and the teachers move and go to the class they have to teach in. In the UK, it is the literal opposite that happens: it is the students that go to class.
Coming to the formal data, the Italian school is offered free to all children in Italy regardless of nationality. All children are required to attend school from age six through sixteen.
The school system has a good reputation but tends to focus on rote memorization and obedience over creativity. The studies are more focused on theory and on books rather than on practical work.
Scuola elementare, or primary school, begins at age six and continues for five years; the next level is formerly known as scuola media (middle school) which lasts for three years and gave access to the Licenza Media, an exam after the course of studies that must be pass to gain access to the high school.
While the schooling is free, books must be purchased.
Higher secondary school lasts five years until the student is eighteen or nineteen years old. After the 5 years there is a common exam called “Esame di Maturita’ ” and if is passed the students receive what is called “Diploma”.
Students must make a choice about their education and choose the higher secondary school they will attend. Each higher secondary school is broken down by subject matter such as:
• liceo scientifico (scientific)
• liceo classico (classic)
• liceo linguistico (language)
• liceo delle scienze umane (school for teachers, focused on psychology and behaviour )
• istituto tecnico (technical school)
• istituto professionale (professional school)
• liceo artistico (art school)
But in every school the amount of subjects studied is always the same, what makes the difference is where the studies will be more focused. You cannot, as in England, choose the subject that you like more and study it more in depth, but you must study all the 10-13 subjects that are compulsory.
Usually after technical or professional school, students can enter into the world of work, while after a liceo they must attend university.
Coming to the holidays, in Italy (where school does not start the same day but changes from region to region) they are divided as such:
• Christmas- 2 and a half weeks
• Easter- 1 and a half week
• Summer- 14 weeks
So yes you have read well, 14 weeks… In Italy summer holidays are really long and loved: from the day we go back to school, we start looking forward the summer! (But don’t worry, we are given homework to do).
When it comes to Germany, I can write about what other German students have told me, as I do not know much about it.
In Germany the education system is mostly federalist, this means that the different federal states of Germany have got different education systems but there is a general wish to unify the education. Some generalisations are possible though.
First of all the overwhelming majority of German students attend public schools.
Children aged three to six, may attend kindergarten. After that, school is compulsory for nine or ten years. The primary school usually lasts 4 years and the subjects taught are the same for all. After year 4, they are separated according to their academic ability and the wishes of their families and decision has to be made: the student can choose whether to attend the middle school, which last 6 years, after which comes the secondary school leaving certificate, or attend secondary school for 8-9 years in order to obtain the general qualification for university entrance.
German students at public schools attend school in the morning. Classes normally start between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. and can end between 12 noon and 1:30 p.m. Class periods are normally 45 minutes long with a short break in between and there is no provision for serving lunch.
Regarding the school holidays in Germany summer holidays are mostly between July and late August, with regional differences. Some regions begin as soon as early to mid June, some end as late as the middle of September. They last 6 weeks. Other holidays are around Easter (2 weeks), in autumn (1–2 weeks) and from mid- to end-December to the beginning of January (2 weeks). Depending on the state, further holidays can be around Pentecost or in winter between the first and the second half of the school year.
I have information even about school in China, that’s one of the interesting things of living in a boarding house and sharing it with students from all around the world!
Education in China is notoriously stringent and offered by both public and private sectors. Teachers in China have a pretty good reputation, for example they do not pay taxes on their salary, and they receive their own national holiday (the Teachers Day, on September 29th).
Children attend school from pre-kindergarten years and often move onto speciality schools for secondary education, which includes vocational schools, teacher training colleges, and schools with special college to prep classes. Primary school lasts 6 years, then there are 3 years of middle school after which students have to take an exam. The high school is optional and the most important exam is the CEE [College Entrance Exam], that determine which university the student will be able to attend. Chinese schools have a hard work ethic, resulting in student success but they do not segregate high achieving students from lower achieving students through tracking levels, due to the belief that all students can succeed if they put in the effort.
The school routine is quite similar to the British one, the school lasts from the morning to the afternoon and there is evening school for students who need extra help or additional support.
Teaching is centred on teachers and could be compared to lectures. A lot of homework is assigned because of the belief that, as students, youths have to dedicate their whole life in studying.
Schools in China have a break lasting for several days or a week during China’s national holiday in the beginning of October.
During Spring Festival (the Chinese New Year) in mid-January or mid-February, depending on the lunar calendar, students have one to three weeks off.
The next break is for China’s labor holiday, which occurs during the first few days of May. Summer holidays usually last from early July to end of August.
For what concerns India, we are proud of the knowledge we have about it because it comes from a fantastic summer trip enjoyed by some of the students of Hockerill, who had a real life-changing experience. They have seen with their own eyes and worked in an Indian school and happy to share what they have learned.
According to the 2009 Right to Education Act, schooling is free and compulsory for all children from the ages of 6 to 14. However, improvements are slow in implementation and disadvantaged groups may still not have adequate access to education. Education is considered very important, as it ensures a stable future and all parents want their children to attend the best private English schools, but places are limited. The admission process is therefore highly competitive.
There is arguably little room for creativity in Indian schools. Subjects are mainly traditional academics such as math, science and English.
Traditional schooling methods tend to emphasise rote learning and memorisation, rather than encouraging independent or creative thinking. There is a strong focus on examinations from an early age. This makes the atmosphere at Indian schools competitive.
Best school systems in the world
East Asian nations continue to outperform others regarding the score in the global report of education.
South Korea tops the rankings in relation to the results of the PISA test, followed by Japan (2nd), Singapore (3rd) and Hong Kong (4th).
The fifth country in the ranking is Finland, where teachers are held in extremely high regard and are awarded the same social status as doctors and lawyers. In fact to become a teacher in Finland, one must complete a Masters degree, and potential teachers are selected from a pool of the highest ranking students.
So, in the end, “to each his own” and “variety is the spice of life” and that could been applied even to the school system. However we must not forget that there are children that do not have the possibility to go to school. The majority of them are girls, because of some primitive beliefs about women’s inferiority compared to men and consequently the fact that they do not “deserve” an education. This must change everywhere. Furthermore in some countries there are not enough funds to have appropriate teachers, classes, stationary and books. Some families keep prefer to have their children helping them at work rather than going to school. This must change too, because education is really what can save this children from a future of submission and completely change their life and those of their families.