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Secondary Education Across the Globe

Global Immersions Recruiting - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Although for many of us the words ‘secondary education’ conjure up memories of brightly clad sports teams and painful social standards that often govern the locker-lined hallways of American high schools, in many parts of the world this level of education is vastly different. In fact, in most countries the final formal years of education before the possibility of entering into higher education are not mandatory and are not even four years long.  For most countries, compulsory education is required for nine years and only those who plan to continue to higher education attend the final years of education before this step towards university can be taken. Most countries also require rigorous entrance examinations for students to be admitted into secondary education.  Working with students from all over the world inspired our Go Global Blog this week as we examine secondary education in the home countries of many of our high school age international visitors.

In China the Chinese Communist Party has had strong influence in the education system for years, making marked improvements in the quality of education as part of their modernization plan to strengthen the country. There, high school consists of three years of costly voluntary education after nine years of mandatory education. The basic curriculum for secondary education includes Chinese, Mathematics and English as they are the three subjects in which all students must pass in their final exam called the Gaokao. These final exams are highly competitive as they determine acceptance into university. Most provinces of China also examine students in subjects such as natural science, physics or biology, and social sciences, which include history and geography. Extracurricular activities are uncommon as the school day typically lasts from early morning to early evening and they are not nearly as important as the Gaokao for university acceptance. After secondary school these students are considered educated although almost all continue on to higher education or vocational schools afterwards.

In Japan, the education of students is also measured by rigorous examinations. Students must pass exams in Japanese, English, mathematics, science, and social studies to even be accepted into secondary education and are examined once again at the end of the three year period for entrance into the most prestigious universities. Education in Japan is generally much more rigorous than in the U.S. with an average of 240 school days a year, compared to 180 in the average American school and with classes often held on Saturdays. Uniforms are also mandatory and students are often required to collectively clean the entire school building at the end of each day. The typical student has two hours of homework a night and most students choose one extracurricular activity in which to take part in for their entire high school career, each taking about 2 hours after school each day. In both China and Japan, the amount of mandatory courses a student must take make it almost impossible for students to take elective courses.

In Denmark we see a similar secondary schooling structure.  Much like in Japan and China, the objective of upper level schooling is to prepare students for higher education after nine years of mandatory education. A marked difference in the Danish system is the ability of students to choose which area of interest in which they would like to pursue their educational career at the secondary level. Students must take an exam at the end of their nine year mandatory education and with those results they choose to continue education in a program focusing on business and socio-economic disciplines, called HHX, humanities or social or natural sciences, called STX, or technologic and scientific subjects, called HTX.  All maintain a core curriculum containing basic subjects along with the specialized courses. Another marked difference in the Danish education system is that student must accept the lesson plans of their teachers. Unlike in Japan and China where the governments control the curriculum and the teachers choose how to teach it; in Denmark each school’s curriculum is self-governed and it is required that students approve a teacher’s lesson plan prior to teaching.

In all three of these countries, the challenging level at which students compete for entrance into universities enhances educational competitiveness in ways in which many college level students in the United States can sympathize with after years of studying for tests such as the SAT and ACT.  Although the ways in which classrooms are taught and governed are different all over the globe, the pressure for students to do well in hopes of entrance into higher education is a phenomenon experienced youths all over the world. 

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