International Comparisons

Compulsory Education: When it starts and how long it lasts

Around the world, for the most part, compulsory schooling starts at 6, although some start at 7, and a very few at 5 or even younger. There is less consensus about how long compulsory education should last, but 9 years is the most common length, with 10 years running a close second.

Although most countries are at least consistent within their own borders, a few countries have no national policy, but instead operate at a state/provincial level. Thus, in the United States, commencement age ranges from 5-7, depending on state, and length of compulsory education varies from 9 years to 13. Similarly, in Canada, commencement age is either 6 or 7, and students are required to attend school for 10 to 13 years. Australia and Germany likewise show variability between states/Länder, but not to the same extent.

International Comparisons

  Commencement of compulsory schooling No. of years compulsory education
Australia 6 9-101
Austria 6 9
Belgium 6 12
Canada 6/71 10-131
Czech Republic 6 9
Denmark 7 9
Finland 7 9
France 6 10
Germany 6 9-10 full-time + 3 part-time1
Greece 6 9
Hungary 6 12
Iceland 6 10
Ireland 6 9
Italy 6 9
Japan 6 9
Korea 6 9
Luxembourg 6 10
Netherlands 5 12 + 1 part-time
New Zealand 62 10
Norway 6 10
Poland 7 12
Portugal 6 8
Singapore 6/7 104
Spain 6 10
Sweden 7 9
Switzerland 6 9
United Kingdom 53; 4 in Nth Ireland 11
United States 5/6/71(most commonly 6) 9-131
  1. varies between states/provinces
  2. 6 is compulsory, but 5 is universal
  3. 5 is compulsory, but many children start at 4
  4. 6 years are compulsory; an extra 4 is universal but not compulsory

United States: Variation between States

State/Territory

Compulsory Education

Alabama

7-16

Alaska

7-16

Arizona

6-16 (or completion of grade 10)

Arkansas

5-17

California

6-18

Colorado

7-16

Connecticut1

5-18

Delaware

5-16

District of Columbia

5-18

Florida

6-16

Georgia

6-16

Hawaii

6-18

Idaho

7-16

Illinois

7-16

Indiana

7-16

Iowa

6-16

Kansas

7-18

Kentucky

6-16

Louisiana

7-18

Maine

7-17

Maryland

5-16

Massachusetts

6-16

Michigan

6-16

Minnesota

7-16

Mississippi

6-17

Missouri

7-16

Montana

7-16

Nebraska

6-17

Nevada

7-17

New Hampshire

6-16

New Jersey

6-16

New Mexico

5-18

New York

6-16

North Carolina

7-16

North Dakota

7-16

Ohio

6-18

Oklahoma

5-18

Oregon

7-18

Pennsylvania

8-17

Rhode Island

6-16

South Carolina

5-17

South Dakota

6-16

Tennessee

6-17

Texas

6-18

Utah

6-18

Vermont

6-16 (or completion of grade 10)

Virginia

5-18

Washington

8-18

West Virginia

6-16

Wisconsin

6-18

Wyoming

7-16 (or completion of grade 10)

[information taken from http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/50/51/5051.htm]

Canada: Variation between Provinces/Territories

Province/Territory

Compulsory Education

Alberta

6-16

British Columbia

5-16

Saskatchewan

7-16

Manitoba

7-16

Ontario

6-16

Northwest Territories

6-16

Québec

6-16

New Brunswick

5-18

Nova Scotia

6-16

Prince Edward Island

7-16

Newfoundland

6-16

Yukon

6yr8mth-16

[information taken from http://www.hslda.ca/provlaws.asp ]

School structure: Segregating by ability

This refers to the custom in some countries of having completely separate schools for students of different academic ability (generally an "academic" school versus a "vocational" or "technical" school), rather than to the practice of streaming within schools.

No country that I know of segregates children at primary level, but a number choose to do so at secondary level. Germany and Hungary do so at a younger age than most, although England, the Netherlands and Switzerland also offer the option of attending a school that caters only for academic or non-academic students (as opposed to enforced segregation). The practice of separate schools is a little more common at upper secondary level: France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Switzerland join the ranks of those enforcing a choice, and Spain provides the option. Australia, Canada, Ireland, Wales, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United States don't have the practice of having separate schools for those of different ability, although Canada did to some extent, and some of these schools still exist.

School structure: Progression between classes

There is no strong majority in favor of either allowing students to automatically move on to the next class or requiring them to reach a certain standard. Australia, England, Ireland, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and Wales automatically move their students on, Canada does at the primary level and sometimes does at the secondary level, and Italy generally does at the primary level but mostly doesn't at the secondary level. France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Switzerland require their students to reach a certain standard. And Sweden and the United States sometimes do and sometimes don't.

Textbook selection

There's an interesting range among countries as regards school textbooks. In some cases, it's entirely up to the teacher. In other cases, school boards or other official bodies determine what will be used. Some Governments supply a list of "approved" textbooks, from which texts must be chosen.

Teachers have free choice in Australia, Canada, England & Wales, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and some American States. Recommended lists are provided in Canada, Hungary, Spain, and Switzerland. An official list of approved texts is provided in France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and in about half of American States.

Resources

More details comparing different countries' educational systems can be found at:

http://www.ibe.unesco.org/international/ICE/46english/46natrape.htm

http://www.inca.org.uk/pdf/comparative.pdf [note this a pdf file]

http://www.eurydice.org/