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School Around The World: Is It That Different?

school around the worldThink you have the best (or worst) school in the world? It’s natural to feel either a strong pride in your alma mater or a listless longing for graduation so you never have to step foot in a classroom again. But have you ever stopped to think about what school is like in other parts of the world and how lucky/unlucky you are that you have the American experience instead of an alternative?

We here at 4Tests feel that it’s important to know more about the world, and yes, that includes learning more on school around the world. So did a recent questioner on the Quora website. While the thread itself is far more extensive than what we’ve excerpted here — and as such, it’s deserving of your time and attention — we’ve picked our four favorite explanations of what international schools are like, as told by the people who’ve actually experienced them. Let’s get started!

India, As Shared By Rupal Sonawane

Indian school life is actually quite unique and interesting. I’ve studied in many different schools (here, in India, and abroad) so I’ll try to bring out the uniqueness of studying in India with respect to what I’ve noticed.

Various aspects of student life:


Discipline is a very important in any Indian school. Whether the school is private or public, there is, definitely, a dress code.

The dress code changes as you move through elementary, middle and high school. Normally, there’s a pinafore for girls and shorts and shirt for boys.

By the time one gets to high school, it becomes a skirt and top or full pants and a shirt.

Blazers are not compulsory on all days, but need to be worn during assemblies etc (at least that was the norm in my school)

Normally, the length of skirts is prescribed as ‘below the knee’, but most girls ignore that rule after eight standard or so. If anything, the skirts kept getting shorter every year 😛

There is a different uniform for the days on which we have ‘PT’ (Physical Education), and very unfortunately, on these days students must wear spick and span white canvas shoes.

They only look like that when they’re new, though, so right before assembly/checking, all of us would try to make them look cleaner by colouring them with chalk. (Success varies with how dirty they were to begin with)

There are two occasions on which we can chuck the uniform (aka ‘wearing colour dress’): birthdays and Children’s Day. Normally there’s a lot of hype because, yay you get to be out of uniform on your birthday! Everyone notices you, and you feel all special.

It’s customary for students to distribute chocolates on their birthday (and it was awesome if that chocolate was accompanied with a complimentary pencil).

In most schools of India it is perfectly okay for the teachers to punish their students with beatings. I study in a really good college in India, and up until a few years ago, it was okay to hit students (20 year old students!!)

It is becoming less and less acceptable for students to be punished by hitting, but it is not very rare to see a case in the newspaper of a student being beaten to death.

Non violent forms of punishment include being made to stand on the ‘bench’, or being made to stand outside the class (best possible punishment, in my opinion).

China, As Shared By Lee Zilong

Education in China:

1. The length of compulsory education in China is officially 9 years, while some regions have shifted to a 12-year policy, and some other regions are implementing different policies that are less than 9 years.

2. For most regions in China, elementary school lasts 6 years, followed by a 3-year long middle school, and a 3-year long high school. For some other regions, elementary school lasts 5 years, and middle school lasts 4 years, and high school lasts 3 years.

3. Higher education in China is being divided into Regular(本科) and Professional(專科), each of them are then being divided into: Regular I(一本), Regular II(二本), Regular III(三本), Advanced Professional(大專), Intermediate Professional(中專). Only the students who enter regular colleges or universities are being considered as university students. And those who enter Regular I and Regular II universities pay less tuition fees than the rest.

4. A typical elementary school in China starts from 9 a.m., finishes at 5 p.m, there is usually a 2.5~3-hour lunch break; middle schools and high schools usually start from 6~7 a.m. to 12 p.m, then from 2:30 p.m. to 6~7 p.m., some schools continue from 8 p.m 10~11 p.m(during the third year of high school, in most schools, students have to attend classes on Saturdays, some schools require students to come on Sundays as well).

5. Students are being taught not only maths, Chinese, foreign languages(mostly English, some schools provide alternatives such as Japanese, Russian, etc.), history and natural science, etc, but also “politics”, i.e. the communist ideology.

6. Most schools in China put strict regulations on student’s hair styles, name tags and uniform.

7. Corporal punishment is prohibited by law, but it is fairly common in Chinese schools.

New Zealand, As Shared By Moira Lomas

In New Zealand, children normally start school on their 5th birthday though school is compulsory from 6 years old to 16 years but many students stay to 18 years.

Primary school goes from either year 0 to year 6 (aged about 10-11) or 8 (full primary), followed by intermediate (years 7 and 8) and high school (years 9 – 13) or college (years 7 – 13).

School runs at high school from about 9 to 3.30, and primary about 9-3 but schools can pick the times (and can pick the start and finish dates of the summer holidays within certain dates). School runs from end of January/early February to December. We have about 6 or 7 weeks off for summer (and Christmas) holidays, and 3 holidays through the year of 2 weeks each. There are 4 terms of about 10 weeks each.

Kids usually attend their local school and bring a packed lunch (usually sandwich, fruit, yoghurt, biscuit, muesli bars)- there are two main breaks – morning tea which is about half an hour and lunch of an hour. In this time kids sit on the fields or play sports, attend extra tutorials.

Class sizes are around 22-28 students per teacher, and schools have different set up – the latest move is to shared learning spaces in new schools, but most schools are classroom based.

Some primary schools have no uniforms, some have uniforms – this is pretty typical (each school is different) – note the hats to protect from our harsh sun, and no shoes is usual (not because kids are poor – but because no one wears shoes).

Our education is pretty good – it is mainly internally assessed, with a few exams at the end of the year, however if you are bad at exams it is possible to  all your credits through internal assessment. The emphasis is on learning and applying concepts as opposed to rote learning.

Some private schools choose do the English exams instead of the NZ system.

There is no corporal punishment and schools are very relationship based – the students want to know all about their teachers (where they live, about their families and children). Some schools use restorative justice as the discipline.

There are several government initiatives to improve Maori achievement and use of Te Reo  is encouraged at all schools. There are also bilingual schools (English and Te Reo (Maori Language)) and total immersion (only Te Reo) schools.

Sri Lanka, As Shared By Deepthi Amarasuriya

Most schools are public (run by the government) but in the larger cities and their suburbs there are a few private schools run by small groups of individuals. All public schools, and (I’m guessing) most private schools follow the British educational  system where students take the more general O. Level exams at the end of 10th grade, and branch off into narrower academic concentrations at the start of 11th grade, to prepare for the A.Levels in another 2 years. (Schools are K -12; not segmented into primary, middle and high school like in the USA. So the more populous schools are physically spread out on a fairly large area, almost like small community colleges in the USA.) Religion(s) play an important role in all schools – most schools teach only one religion, but some teach several. Uniforms are mandatory in all schools (as far as I’m aware).

Private schools

Some of these private schools are international schools, targeted at the kids of expatriates working in Sri Lanka (e.g. for various UN organizations, multinational companies, embassies, banks, etc.), and for the kids of Sri Lankan nationals who have returned home after a long stay overseas.

Private schools are more individualistic than the government run schools. The personality of the founder or principal is more evident in private schools.These generally have fewer students than public schools, and the teachers generally hand picked by the principal in keeping with the ideals s/he would like to promote. The students, too, are encouraged to develop as individuals, and explore interests like art, theater, tennis, swimming, etc.

I started off in a private school where girls were encouraged to do Math. The principal had been a Math major at college (an extreme rarity for her generation) and she made sure to hire excellent Math teachers to teach all levels from K through 12. Because of an administrative conflict between the Principal and Manager, the school pretty much disintegrated when I was in fourth grade, and my parents enrolled me in a public school.

Public schools

The medium of instruction of public schools is either Sinhala or Tamil (or both). English is taught as a second language starting from the fifth grade, and that too from the excrutiatingly, painfully, mind-numbingly boring government textbook. When I was in school, the stock character in the series was a farmer who lived in a village and went to the market every Sunday to sell his wares. We learnt about the minutiae of his existence from grades six through nine, no joke. And the writers of these tomes seemed to have lacked the literary imagination to, say, have him relocate to another village because of drought, or because the elephants destroyed his crop, or anything. (Presented with the essay topic “Write about the oldest man in the village”, in my sixth grade English final exam, I started out writing that he was a farmer – who had been a criminal in his younger days, and  had escaped to India by a boat at night to evade the police. There, he repented his deeds, and spent years hiding out in the forest with yogis and learning their spiritual ways.) OK, so not much encouragement of individuality and creativity in the public schools. I was very lucky that my sixth grade English teacher didn’t penalize me for trying to be a little miss smarty-pants with my unusual take on the hackneyed theme. Wonder of wonders, I even won the sixth grade English prize that year!!

Believe me, that was an anomaly in my life as a public school student. I’ve been punished throughout grades 5 – 12 for thinking outside the box. My former private school teachers had encouraged and rewarded this trait. I read voraciously and widely, was active in science clubs within and outside the school, had piano lessons with a private teacher i.e. not affiliated with my school and won a national prize in a Theory exam, taught myself basic Astronomy from books, was the leader of the Science Quiz Team at my high school (placed fourth nationally) … and lived my day-to-day life in fear of what kind of retributions these would bring me. The latter included humiliation in front of the whole class: “Deepthi, since you read so much outside of school, do you know …..?”(uttered in a mocking, sarcastic voice), being downvoted from consideration for leadership roles, and getting a poor letter of recommendation, which I immediately tossed in the garbage. Yes, believe it or not, my American friends who grew up being rewarded for these kinds of activities, this was my HS experience. (My mom, who heard about the American school experience from her friends who had emigrated to the USA with their kids, actually told me this when I complained to her about all the flak I was getting from the teachers: “In the States, schools encourage students to do these things.”) I was not bullied by the girls; I was bullied by the teachers! And I attended the supposedly “best” K-12 school for girls. (All the large schools are single – sex.) I’m not extrapolating from a  n = 1 sample;  I’m using my personal experience as an example of the cookie cutter, pliant, unquestioning mentality public schools foisted on girls. (I hope things have improved a bit by now.)

In Summary

Now that we’ve examined school around the world, take a look at your own educational experience. Are there things that you wouldn’t mind adopting into our own culture, or do you now have a new appreciation? Share your thoughts in our comments section below.

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's work appears regularly here at 4tests.com and across the web for sites, such as The Inquisitr and Life'd. A former high school teacher, his passion for education has only intensified since leaving the classroom. At 4tests, he hopes to continue passing along words of encouragement and study tips to ensure you leave school ready to face an ever-changing world.

Website: http://aricmitchell.blogspot.com/

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