Skip to main content

International Curricula

A number of countries have national curricula: France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom. Most States in the U.S. follow common guidelines for a core curriculum, although there is no national curriculum as such.

Around the world, there is general agreement that primary/elementary schools must cover the national language, mathematics, science, history, geography, and social studies/civics. Most countries agree that the arts, physical education, health, ethics, life skills should also be covered.

The most obvious source of variation between countries at the elementary/primary level lies in the teaching of languages other than the national language. (In those cases where there is more than one national language, it is generally the case that the student has the option of selecting their native language). Despite the fact that it is generally recognized that languages are best learned young, and that there is no evidence that learning a second language impairs understanding of the child's native language, few countries require their young children to learn a second language, or even offer them the chance to do so.

Below are details of some national curricula:

England France Iceland Japan New Zealand Spain


Compulsory education is divided into four key stages:

  • Key stage 1 covers ages 5-7 (primary school)
  • Key stage 2 covers ages 7+-11 (primary school)
  • Key stage 3 covers ages 11-14 (lower secondary)
  • Key stage 4 covers ages 14-16 (lower secondary)

Students take national tests called SATs or Key Stage tests at the end of the first 3 key stages (at 7, 11 and 14).

At primary level (Key Stages 1 and 2), students study:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Design and technology
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • History
  • Geography
  • Art and design
  • Music
  • Physical education
  • Religious education

Schools are advised to teach personal, social and health education, citizenship and at least one modern foreign language, but these are not compulsory. In the first phase of the lower secondary level (Key Stage 3), students study:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Design and technology
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • History
  • Geography
  • Modern foreign languages
  • Art and design
  • Music
  • Citizenship
  • Physical education
  • Religious education, Personal, social and health education (PSHE), Careers education (compulsory, but not part of the National Curriculum)

Opportunity for optional subjects begins at Key Stage 4. The compulsory subjects are:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
  • Physical education
  • Citizenship
  • Religious education, careers education and sex education (compulsory, but not part of the National Curriculum)

You can read more about the English National Curriculum at:


In France, primary schools cover the first 5 years of formal education. Primary education is divided into three "cours":

  • cours préparatoire (CP)
  • cours élementaire 1 and 2 (CEl/CE2)
  • cours moyen 1 and 2 (CM1/CM2)

The first two occur in the first three years; the cours moyen cover the last two years.

Secondary schooling is divided into two successive stages, known as cycles. Collège goes from form 6 (sixième) to form 3 (troisième), covering ages 11-15. This last year at collège is the first point at which students have a choice regarding some of the subjects they wish to study. After collège, students move onto a general, technical or vocational lycée.

The 1990 primary level curriculum alloted French and social studies between 10 and 13 hours weekly; mathematics, science, and technology 6 to 10 hours; and physical and artistic education 6 to 8 hours. At collège, the national curriculum prescribes French, mathematics, a foreign language, history/geography/economics, civics, biology, plastic arts, music, technology, and physical education; physics and chemistry are added in the last two years. There is a choice between Latin, Greek, a second foreign language and extra classes in the first foreign language. In the final two years, there is a choice between different branches of technology.

Although students attend differently oriented lycée, the core subjects remain the same for all students (French, mathematics, a foreign language, history/geography/economics, civics, biology, physics, chemistry, technology, and physical education).


Compulsory school is divided into ten grades. Usually, schools either include all ten grades, or they cover grades one to seven or grades eight to ten. All compulsory schools are co-educational. Grades 1-4 (6 to 9 years) have 30 lessons a week, Grades 5-7 (10-12 years) have 35 lessons, and Grades 8-10 (13-15) have 37 lessons.

The National Curriculum specifies that over the course of these ten years, school time should be divided among the subjects in the following approximate ratios:

  • Icelandic 19%
  • Mathematics 17%
  • Natural sciences 9%
  • Social and religious studies 10%
  • Physical education 10%
  • Arts and crafts 11%
  • Modern languages 11%
  • Home economics 4%
  • ICT 6%
  • Life skills 2%

The first five are subjects which all pupils study from grade 1 through grade 9. Instruction in other subjects starts later. Both Danish and English become compulsory at later levels. In the 10th and final grade all pupils study Icelandic, mathematics, English, Danish, natural sciences, social studies, life skills and physical education, while other subjects and electives vary.

Upper secondary schools (not compulsory) come in four types:

  • grammar schools that offer four-year academic programmes of study;
  • industrial-vocational schools, which offer theoretical and practical programmes of study in skilled and some non-skilled trades;
  • comprehensive schools that provide academic programmes comparable to those of the grammar schools and vocational programmes similar to those offered by the industrial-vocational schools, as well as other specialised vocational training programmes;
  • specialised vocational schools which offer programmes of study in preparation for specialised employment.

For a more detailed discussion of the Icelandic system:  [updated link]


The Japanese education system consists of three years of pre-compulsory education (Kindergarten) (3- to 6-year-olds), six years of primary (elementary) education (6-12 years), three years of lower secondary (junior high school) education (aged 12-15) and three years of upper secondary education (senior high school) (15- to 18-year-olds). Some schools are being introduced combining lower and upper secondary education within one institution.

For elementary and secondary schools, the Ministry specifies how many hours (an "hour" is a class period of 45 minutes) per week must be spent on each subject at each year level. This is the prescription for elementary schools:

  1st year 2nd year 3rd year 4th year 5th year 6th year


306 315 280 280 210 210
Social studies     105 105 105 105


136 175 175 175 175 175
Science     105 105 105 105

Life Environment studies

102 105        


68 70 70 70 70 70

Drawing & Handicrafts

68 70 70 70 70 70
Homemaking         70 70

Physical education

102 105 105 105 105 105

Moral education

34 35 35 35 35 35
Class/school activities 34 35 35 70 70 70


850 910 980 1015 1015 1015

Here is the prescription for lower secondary schools (note that an "hour" is now defined as a period of 50 minutes):

  1st year 2nd year 3rd year


175 140 140
Social studies 140 140 70-105


105 140 140
Science 105 105 105-140


70 35-70 35

Fine Arts

70 35-70 35

Health & Physical education

105 105 105-140
Industrial Arts & Homemaking 70 70 70-105
Moral education 35 35 35
Class/school activities 35-70 35-70 35-70
Elective subjects 105-140 105-210 140-280


1050 1050 1050

For more details on the Japanese educational system, go to:

New Zealand

The New Zealand school system is divided into primary and secondary. Primary schooling covers the years from 5 to 12 (the compulsory starting age is 6, but it is the custom for children to begin at 5); secondary from 13-18. There are also schools known as intermediates, which cover Year 7 and 8 students (11-12 years). Some primary schools finish at Year 6, and their students go on to an intermediate; other primaries go up to Year 8, but their students may choose to go to an intermediate.

The New Zealand curriculum for primary and secondary school students includes seven essential learning areas: Language and Languages, Mathematics, Science, Technology, Social Sciences, The Arts, Health and Physical Well-being. The New Zealand Curriculum Framework also includes eight groups of essential skills to be developed by all students across the whole curriculum: communication, numeracy, information, problem-solving, self-management, social, physical, and work and study.

You can find more about the New Zealand educational system at:


Three major sections comprise the compulsory Spanish curriculum - Infant education (0 to 6 years), Primary education (6 to 12 years), and Secondary education (12 to 16 years). Fifty-five percent of the curriculum is compulsory, and the remaining forty-five percent is the responsibility of the Spanish territories.

Primary Education (6-12 years) is organized into three two-year cycles (6-8, 8-10,10-12). The curriculum stipulates six compulsory areas of knowledge:

  • Spanish Language and Literature, and where appropriate, the Language and Literature in the respective Autonomous Community;
  • Mathematics;
  • Natural, Social and Cultural Environment (science, geography, history);
  • Artistic Education (art, music, drama);
  • Physical Education;
  • Foreign Languages (compulsory from age 8 -- the start of the second primary cycle).

The number of school hours per cycle is also stipulated:

  1st cycle 2nd & 3rd cycles
Spanish Language & Literature 350 275
Mathematics 175 170
Knowledge of the Environment 175 170
Artistic Education 140 105
Physical Education 140 105
Foreign language   170
Religion/Social-cultural activities 105 105


1085 1100

Lower secondary education (12-16 years) is organised into 2 two-year cycles.Each subject area is assigned a minimum number of class hours, which together must not account for over 55% of the school schedule in Autonomous Communities with a co-official language other than Spanish, or more than 65% in other areas.

  1st cycle 2nd cycle
Spanish Language & Literature 245 240
Foreign languages 210 240
Mathematics 175 160
Natural Science 140 90
Social Studies, Geography, History 140 160
Physical Education 70 70
Plastic & Visual Education 35 35
Music 35 35
Technology 125 70
Religion/Study Hall 105 105


1280 1205


More links

To find your national or State curriculum, or investigate others, go to EDinformatics

More details comparing different countries' educational systems including curriculum information can be found at:…;