Gaining Knowledge Globally

A comparison of school systems around the world


Schools around the world differ in many ways, whether it be student life, learning styles, or curriculum. Some of the norms can come as a culture shock to students that grew up in the US school system. Schools in Europe, East Asia, and South America share the most differences with US schools.

According to a new report by the Brown Center on education policy. European exchange students studying in the US found that American school life is much easier compared to studying in Europe.

Compared to the US, European schools’ schedules are very different, with school starting at 9 am and ending around 3 pm. Students also have around 15 minutes of free time in between classes. 

A reason for the shorter school day would be that students in Europe take fewer classes than US students do. Schools in Europe focus on main subject areas while US students have more freedom to take classes that explore their hobbies or interests.

In the US, students have the freedom to choose what classes they want to take based on their future career goals or interests. US schools will have graduation requirements set in place, but overall, students will have control over what their schedule looks like. 

In European countries, students stay in one classroom where they take all their lessons. While students can’t pick specific classes, as US students can, 11th and 12 graders have the option of choosing a schedule based on what they want to study in University. Possible subject areas include; liberal arts, math, science, and literature.

Schools in East Asia are more intensive compared to other parts of the world. Students dedicate most of their time to studying, with school starting at 7:30 and ending at 4:30. Most students also attend extra classes in the evening for college prep or help with current classes. Although these night courses cost tuition, they yield positive results during exam season.

According to the PISA (Programme for international student assessment) rankings, countries in East Asia take most of the top spots. The PISA measures 15-year-old students’ math, reading, and science skills.

Some countries in East Asia use an entirely different grading system than the US called the bell curve system, in which students will receive letter grades based on a specific average. This system is more competitive compared to the US where students get their grades based on a particular score. 

Another main difference in East Asian schools is class participation. At Millard North, it’s very common for students to have class activities like Socratic seminars where they are graded by participation. Students in the US are often encouraged to participate in class by answering questions or engaging in class discussions. This is uncommon in East Asian schools because most classes are lecture-based. Students are mainly focused on taking detailed notes in these classes so they can ace their exams.

Schools in South America are known for their sense of community, with most schools being small in population. Like in Europe, students can choose which subject area they want to study. For example, in Paraguay students can choose to study accounting, social sciences, or biological sciences. Unlike the US, students in South America have to pay tuition to attend high school and other higher education. Students also have to take an entrance exam in order to attend; this is the same for many European and East Asian countries. Compared to the US, where students attend the high school closest to them. 

Even though these countries have different approaches to learning, they all want their students to succeed. These school systems can differ in learning styles, student life, or curriculum. Schools around the world can benefit from learning about these differences in order to improve.