Guide to Educational Systems Abroad
In March of 2012 the College Board announced a collaboration with the University of Cambridge International Examinations to develop two new Advanced Placement programs combining the in-depth subject-matter study of AP courses with the interdisciplinary global curricula emphasis on research projects featured in the Cambridge program. Along with the increasing popularity of International Baccalaureate programs in US public and private schools, the new programs present further evidence of how well foreign educational systems can prepare students for entrance to American colleges and universities.
US students may attend private schools abroad because their parents work in foreign government or corporate offices, or simply to expand their cultural boundaries, and international schools enrolling significant numbers of American students exist in nearly every major city around the world. Read on for an introduction to the different types of independent schools abroad, followed by capsule guides to educational systems in a few key countries, and search detailed listings of 750 schools abroad in more than 150 countries on Private School Search.
TYPES OF SCHOOLS
Variety is one of the basic characteristics of independent schools abroad. Countless variables exist from country to country and from school to school. Nevertheless, to aid in gaining an overall perspective, most schools may be classified in one of three general groups.
The first group consists of privately operated American-sponsored schools, often referred to as "community schools." They have been founded by members of English-speaking business and diplomatic communities abroad in response to the need for an English-language school program for their children. Many such schools are missionary founded and sponsored; some are sponsored by corporations; others are operated by individuals of diverse backgrounds.
The American community school constitutes the nearest overseas parallel to a typical school in the United States. The curricula, teaching methods and materials are American, as are a substantial percentage of faculty members and students. The basic objective of the academic program is to facilitate transfer back to schools in the US and to provide preparation for the US College Boards, and curricula often include preparation for Advanced Placement examinations. Most of these schools offer courses in the language and culture of the host country and encourage enrollment from a variety of nationalities.
The second group of schools, variously referred to as binational, multinational or international, includes many American schools. They offer curricula adapted from more than one country's system of education and instruction is frequently in more than one language. Some schools offer a program leading to the International Baccalaureate, the first international university entrance examination, and/or Advanced Placement courses. At certain schools such as St. Stephen's School in Rome, students may choose from both IB and AP courses.
Most of these schools, however, provide different national sections or divisions (for example, English speaking, French speaking, German speaking) that fulfill curriculum and college preparation requirements of specific countries. Private schools in Switzerland probably best exemplify this kind of school, although schools of a multinational nature are located in many other parts of the world. American- and foreign-sponsored international schools may include as many as 20 to 30 nationalities among their students and often have at least half a dozen countries represented on the faculty.
The third category consists of schools native to the host country. Here is the greatest opportunity to enter thoroughly into another culture. There are, of course, many inherent obstacles to enrolling in an entirely native program, but the potential rewards are great.↑ back to top
Familiarization with the British system of education should help in understanding the concept of education elsewhere in Europe. The British influence, especially on the secondary level, is evident in many other parts of the world.
Although the two countries share a common heritage and language, the school systems of Great Britain and the US differ widely. In England, independent secondary schools are called "Public Schools" and are usually boarding programs. Also private, a "Preparatory School" prepares for Public School, not for college or university. The school year is traditionally divided into three terms that run from mid-September to mid-July, with a month's vacation in both winter and spring.
Grade Levels An essential difference in the structures of the two systems is the concept of grade levels. A four-year secondary program, found almost universally in the US, does not exist as such in England. Boys and girls in English schools do not progress automatically from grade to grade (the term "grade" is not part of the English school lexicon). Nor do pupils accumulate "credits" for having covered work at a certain grade level. Depending entirely on ability, a student may be placed in one of several basic "forms" and in different "sets" for mathematics and languages. Once ability has been demonstrated, a pupil may be promoted during the year, sometimes more than once. There is no automatic promotion at year's end.
The National Curriculum In 1989, England and Wales instituted a standardized national curriculum that was designed to result in a broader and more balanced program. The curriculum comprises four Key Stages: Key Stage 1 (ages 5-7; Years 1 and 2), Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11; Years 3, 4, 5 and 6), Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14; Years 7, 8 and 9) and Key Stage 4 (ages 14-16; Years 10 and 11). Changes to the National Curriculum are currently being effected at the secondary school level (Key Stages 3 and 4). This new curriculum had been completely implemented by September 2010. The changes were intended to provide both schools and teachers with more flexibility in regards to course content. In addition, additional support and career guidance is now available to pupils toward the end of Key Stage 4. Finally, the secondary curriculum now features elective programs addressing personal and financial well-being.
No legally prescribed national curriculum exists in Scotland, and Northern Ireland conducts a somewhat similar curriculum.
Examinations Required for admission to most Public Schools is successful passage of the Common Entrance Examinations (CEE), taken before age 14. After two to three years in a Public School, the student may begin taking the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), and later the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced (A) levels, the British equivalents of national examinations. Formerly called the Advanced Supplementary levels, the Advanced Subsidiary (AS) levels provide students with a less demanding course of study that has half the content of the corresponding A level subjects. Pupils may take all courses at A level, all at AS level or a combination of the two.
The GCSE, taken around age 16, usually covers eight to 10 subjects (with a maximum of 12) spread over several terms. Once these are behind him or her, the student moves into the Sixth Form to begin in-depth study and specialization in preparation for university entrance. Most work during the next two years is concentrated on a continuous course in two or three subjects, typically in the same general field. At the end of this period (ages 17 and 18), the student takes the GCE A levels in his or her chosen subjects only.
Students who go on to college usually stay another term or two and take University Scholarship Exams. Six GCSE and two GCE subjects are generally required for university entrance, but even further study may be necessary as competition for admission increases.
British schools do not hold graduation ceremonies. A student remains as long as necessary and then departs. The British use the term "leaver" to designate a graduate.
Age and Grade Equivalencies Passage of the British GCSE roughly corresponds to graduation from an American secondary school. By age 15 or 16, the average British student has covered the same ground as a 17- or 18-year-old in the US. British children, however, begin primary school at age five and have a slightly longer school year calendar. The American student who has graduated from a secondary school before going to England is usually fitted into a second-year Sixth Form with his own age group. Successful results in the GCE A levels are regarded as the equivalent of having completed at least the first year of an American college course.
College Preparation and Entry Only about one-third of the students who "leave" a British Public School go on to university. Several factors account for this. Until recently, the concept of a liberal arts college was unknown in Great Britain. Many young people choose higher education only if a degree is required for an intended career such as law or medicine. Often, firms and industries actually prefer to take students directly from school to conduct their own training.
The examination and selection procedures in British schools tend to screen university candidates rather thoroughly. Despite the "new universities" founded in recent years and a growing number of colleges of technology, commerce, business studies and the creative arts, competition for entrance is even keener than in the US because there are comparatively fewer places available.↑ back to top
As in the US, there is no single national plan of education in Canada. Rather, each of the ten provinces and three territories exercises autonomous control over its own public school system. Accordingly, each provincial system should be inspected on an individual basis. Private schools usually follow the same general curriculum as the public schools, preparing for university matriculation examinations. These exams are drawn up by faculty members of certain Canadian universities or by the provincial departments of education. Influences of British, American and French education practices are found in both public and private schools throughout the country.↑ back to top
Programming begins with maternelle (ages 3-6), which prepares children for elementary school. Ecole élémentaire (ages 6-11) emphasizes basic academic skills.
French secondary schools provide a seven-year course of study leading to the French Baccalaureate examination. The first four of these years are referred to as collège and commence with sixième, which is roughly equivalent to sixth or seventh grade in the US and consists of 11- and 12-year-olds. The cinquième, quatrième and troisième follow. At the end of troisième, pupils sit for the Brevet des collèges exam, which gauges aptitude over the course of about a week in French, civics, history/geography, science, math and foreign language. Lycèe, the final three secondary years, progresses from seconde to première to terminale. During the première (which is equivalent to 12th grade in the US), students 16 or older may prepare for the first part of the French Baccalaureate. The seventh secondary year, or terminale, is open to French students who have passed the first Baccalaureate exam or to foreign students of similar level. At the end of this final year, equivalent to the first year of college in the US, the second part of the Baccalaureate is required for admission to a French university.↑ back to top
The German curriculum follows the European model of free public education leading to various types of secondary school for academic or vocational training, rather than the US approach, in which pupils attend a single comprehensive high school. The federal government largely leaves educational responsibility up to the individual states. Compulsory elementary school attendance begins at age 6; optional preschool is available from age 3 on. Secondary classes commence in grade 5 and continue until grade 10, at which time students choose from vocational training, technical or business school, or an academically oriented course of studies that leads to the Abitur diploma (administered after grade 12 or 13) and subsequent college entrance.↑ back to top
Switzerland is well known for its many private boarding schools, which draw upon French, German, British, American and Swiss curricula and enroll children from all over the world. It is not uncommon for a school with 50 students to have 20 nationalities represented among those enrolled. Most Swiss children go to state schools, with private schools most often operated for foreign students.
The Swiss Matura, the national examination of Switzerland, corresponds to the French Baccalaureate. Examinations for the Matura consist of eight to 12 subjects and include at least two foreign languages. Preparation for the exam readies students for a broadly based college education, as well as the possibility of specializing in certain areas.↑ back to top