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The differences in global primary education

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

By Sean Connick | Published: 22nd August 2023

In this article, we explore the differences between global primary school education in Japan, Australia, the United States, and South Africa. This article is not meant to be used to determine which educational system is better or worse but is meant to highlight the different approaches and help ed-tech professionals think more globally!


Japan


Primary education is delivered through institutions known as 小学校 shogakko (primary schools),encompassing a six-year duration tailored for children aged 6 to 12, corresponding to Grades 1 through 6. Entry into the primary education system is permitted for students who attain the age of 6 by the 1st of April.


The curriculum encompasses a comprehensive array of subjects, including Japanese language, social studies, mathematics, science, life studies (offered exclusively in Grades 1 and 2, combining aspects of social studies and science), music, arts and crafts, homemaking, and physical education.source


The Japanese primary school term time typically follows a three-term academic year structure, similar to many other countries. The terms are as follows:


First Term (春学期 - Shun Gakki): This term usually starts in early April and runs until late July. It is the longest term of the academic year and covers springtime.


Summer Vacation (夏休み - Natsuyasumi): Following the first term, there is a summer vacation that generally lasts for about six weeks. This break typically spans from late July to early September.


Second Term (秋学期 - Aki Gakki): The second term begins in early September and continues until late December. It covers the autumn season.


Winter Vacation (冬休み - Fuyuyasumi): After the second term, there is a winter vacation that lasts for about two weeks. This break usually takes place around the end of December and the beginning of January, coinciding with the New Year holiday.


Third Term (冬学期 - Fuyu Gakki): The third term starts in early January and lasts until late March. It covers the winter season and marks the end of the academic year.source


Typically, children are expected to be at school by 8:45 am. The school day concludes around 3:15 pm, resulting in approximately six and a half hours of attendance every weekday, from Monday through Friday. Additionally, a considerable number of children participate in after-school clubs, while many also engage in juku (cram school) during the evening hours to supplement their studies.source


Japan has a well-established history of after-school clubs, known as ''gakudo,' which play a crucial role in nurturing students' individuality and talents. These extracurricular clubs offer a diverse range of options, encompassing sports, music, arts, and even traditional Japanese cultural pursuits like Kado (flower arrangement).source.


Parenting a child attending primary school in Japan unveils numerous intriguing aspects, and you can delve deeper into these insights here.


Australia


A primary school in Australia provides foundational education for children and typically covers ages 5 to 12, encompassing Years 1 to Year 6. The curriculum emphasizes core subjects such as English, mathematics, science, and social studies, while also incorporating various other subjects like arts, music, physical education, and languages.


School hours in Australia can vary, but a typical primary school day generally starts around 9:00 AM and concludes at 3:00 PM. The school year typically consists of four terms, with breaks in between for holidays and vacations. source.


First Term: This term usually starts in late January or early February and continues until April. It encompasses the summer season.


Autumn Vacation: Following the first term, there is a short autumn vacation that usually spans around two weeks in April.


Second Term: The second term begins in late April or early May and extends until June or July. It covers the autumn season.


Winter Vacation: After the second term, there is a winter vacation that typically lasts for two weeks in July.


Third Term: The third term commences in late July or early August and continues until September or October. It covers the spring season.


Spring Vacation: Following the third term, there is a spring vacation that usually spans around two weeks in September or October.


Fourth Term: The fourth term starts in October or November and lasts until December. It covers the summer season and marks the end of the academic year.


Primary education in Australia focuses on creating a balanced learning environment that nurtures students' academic, social, and personal development. This period lays the foundation for further education and helps students acquire essential skills and knowledge for their future endeavors.


Most children commence primary school in the year they turn 6, transitioning from "Kindy" (preschool). However, parents have the option to defer their child's entry until they reach the age of 6 before enrolling them in primary school. source.


Unfortunately, Glasshouse Primary School has no placements available for this calendar year. source.


If you are interested you can read more about the experience of the Australian educational system from the perspective of a parent here


South Africa


Primary education in South Africa serves as the foundation for a child's academic journey, typically spanning from Grade R (Reception year) to Grade 7. This phase focuses on imparting essential skills, knowledge, and values to students aged approximately 5 to 12 years old.


The curriculum encompasses a range of subjects, including mathematics, languages (such as English and an additional official language), natural sciences, social sciences, arts and culture, life orientation, and physical education. Primary education places a strong emphasis on developing basic literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. source.

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In South Africa, the primary school term time typically follows a four-term academic year structure, similar to many other countries. The terms are as follows:

First Term. This term usually starts in January and runs until around March or April. It encompasses the summer season.


Autumn Vacation. Following the first term, there is a short autumn vacation that usually spans around two weeks in April.


Second Term. The second term begins in April or May and continues until around June or July. It covers the autumn season.


Winter Vacation. After the second term, there is a winter vacation that typically lasts for two to three weeks in July.


Third Term. The third term commences in July or August and extends until around September or October. It covers the spring season.


Spring Vacation. Following the third term, there is a spring vacation that usually spans around two weeks in September or October.


Fourth Term. The fourth term starts in October or November and lasts until December. It covers the summer season and marks the end of the academic year. source.


If you're interested in delving deeper into the South African educational system, I recommend exploring this informative parents' guide available here. This resource can provide valuable insights into the various aspects of primary and secondary education, helping you gain a better understanding of how the system works and how to navigate it effectively. Here.


United States


Primary education in the United States encompasses the initial stage of formal education for children, typically ranging from kindergarten to around 5th or 6th grade. It serves as a critical foundation for students' academic and personal growth. The curriculum includes core subjects like English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. Alongside academics, primary education focuses on developing essential skills and fostering creativity, all of which contribute to students' overall development.


Primary education in the United States is primarily overseen and funded at the state and local levels rather than by the federal government. Education in the U.S. is mainly decentralized, with each state responsible for establishing its own education policies, curriculum standards, and funding mechanisms for primary schools. This means that education laws, regulations, and funding can vary significantly from one state to another. While some federal guidelines and initiatives influence education, the day-to-day management and control of primary education broadly fall under the jurisdiction of state and local governments. Source.


The per-head funding level per student can vary significantly; for example, while New York state allocates an average of $24,881 for public education per student throughout their education, Utah spends $7,951 per student. Source.


In the United States, primary school term times can vary depending on the state and school district. However, a common structure involves a school year divided into two semesters or four quarters. The school year typically starts in late August or early September and ends in May or June. Here's a general breakdown:


First Semester/Fall Term: Starts in late August or early September and extends until December. There is usually a short break for Thanksgiving in late November.


Second Semester/Spring Term: Begins in January and continues until May or June. Spring break is typically observed in March or April. Source.


As you can see, certain general features of primary education are roughly similar, such as the age at which students start. However, there are also key differences among the various countries. Of course, the old bugbear of funding and the lack of it often plays a role in the quality of education, but dedicated educators and learning professionals ensure the best outcomes for their students.


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