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I thought this would be interesting: What are schools like in your country/area of said country?

I went to a (religious) preschool until I was 5, then started elementary school with kindergarten. I don't remember a whole lot about elementary school except that we always had Field Day at the end of the year - a series of physical contests like Tug - o - war - and that we started learning about the Holocaust in 5th grade. We had to read Number the Stars and watch The Devil's Arithmetic (the latter of which made me bawl).

In middle school, we really started buckling down and learning stuff. We mostly read American literature - The Red Badge of Courage, Edgar Allan Poe's short stories, and The Pearl, for instance. We were taught Roman and Greek history in 6th, and general US History in 7th and 8th. Math had several tracks based on your performance, and I ended up a year "behind" because I wasn't very good in math. Science was mostly just simple biology and genetics stuff - except when we made appleless apple pie in 6th grade.

High school was diverse. Many people I saw every day in middle school I only saw at lunch or before school because of the classes we chose. I had to take 2 classes of Phys Ed, which I despised. I took 2 languages - Latin and French - but I was probably one of quite a few, as I only took French because I had nothing else with which to fill my schedule. We read loads of Shakespeare (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, and Midsummer Night's Dream), but 11th grade was all American Lit - it was the first time I'd read The Scarlett Letter or Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. 12th grade was a nightmare for lit - Crime and Punishment, The Sound and the Fury, Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison, not the science fiction one!), Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, and The Importance of Being Earnest - and that's a cursory remembrance!

We could choose our sciences after taking Biology and Chemistry I, so I took Biology II - at least I was sure of making a passing grade in that!  :P My Economics teacher was atrocious, but I ended up learning something about the free market system - despite his wanting to show us the entirety of Last of the Mohicans 80 billion times. My AP* European History teacher, though, was amazing - he made history fun again for me, and even gave us all pencils "blessed" by Otto von Bismarck before the AP test.

Sex ed started in 5th grade and was along the lines of "This is how your body works; use feminine products" and "AIDS is a very scary disease and you get it by having sex" to the girls - I have no idea what they said to the guys at that age. Then in middle and high school, we were taught things together and we had to take care of an egg and pretend it was a real human baby  ??? We also had to watch a VERY graphic birthing video that almost made the guys puke.

So, how's about it, my ehellions?  ;D

*AP: Advanced Placement; it's a kind of class that will give you college credit if you make a certain grade on the test - but how much credit at what level is up to the college to which you apply.

Oookay.  Get ready for another long one.

Pour your beverage of choice and sit down with a nice snack.

My schooling was a little odd for several reasons. 

I was a child of a very conservative Catholic family in the 1950s.  I should have been sent to the local parochial school.  I also read very early and my parents wanted me to go to Kindergarten.  The local Catholic school didn't have that.  I went to public school.

My early schooling was also odd because my class was always being experimented with and moved around.

When I started school, the building was a 19th century beauty.  It had eight rooms on two floors for classes and the Kindergarten was tucked into a bright, little room on the upper floor.  A few months into my education the school board decided that the Kindergarten room would be converted into a library for the whole school.  The Kindergarten was moved to the basement.  This wasn't too bad.  The large room served as a combination gym and auditorium.  The Kindergarten area was cordoned off by racks of folding chairs.

In first and second grade we moved back into the school proper.  It was sort of fun but it wasn't to last.

The opening of the New York State Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge meant that our rural area was attractive to people who wanted to leave NYC.  Areas that had been fields around our house blossomed into housing developments.  The little school was no longer adequate to meet the demand. 

Trailers went up in a vacant lot across from the school.  Guess who were the first students moved into that area?  My class was there for third and fourth grade.  In fifth grade we were moved back into the original school building because the trailers were filling up with younger kids. 

It was decided by the powers that be that the upper grades would benefit from having different teachers for different subjects.  However, we didn't move from class to class.  The teachers moved from class to class. 

At the beginning of eighth grade (age 13) another change was made.  Eighth grade students would now attend classes at the local High School.  For some reason the school board decided these things during the school year.  As a result we attended classes in our old school one week and were in the High School the following week.  We were moved the week before Thanksgiving. 

High School was interesting but a bit scary.  At last we had access to a real school library and a real cafeteria.  It's true that we were somewhat sequestered from the general school population.  At the time the girls did tend to wear eye make-up that my mother referred to as resembling, 'Two holes burnt in a blanket' and many of the boys would have made the Fonz look like the Prince of Wales. 

My parents did not want me to go to that school.  I took the entrance exam for an Archdiocesan High School and got it.  It was wonderful. 

It was my first experience with a Catholic education.  The school was run by a Dominican order.  For those who don't know, the Dominicans are rigorously intellectual.  We were pushed to the limit and loved it.

I remember an assignment from the religious instruction course in my Sophomore year (age 15).   

'Because God is all just we know that Hell exists.  Because God is all merciful we don't know if there's anybody in it.  Discuss.  I expect an essay of at least three paragraphs in my office box before our next meeting.'   

Not quite what you expect when you hear the words 'Catholic School' is it?





This is my experience with Finnish schools, from 1987 to  1999.

School starts at 7 years old. There is preschool but not every does it and you aren't expected to know pretty much anything before it, though I could read. First language starts in third grade, most often it's English but it's possible to have other choices. These days it's also possible to have another language start in fifth grade, but we didn't have the choice. You usually have the same teacher throughout the primary school, though our teacher changed in second grade. Apart from English we had biology and geology (which wasn't so nice in the early 90's when we had to memorize all the new countries and their capitals), music, gym, Finnish and probably other things I can't remember. There was also religious education, or in my case an alternative to it that's supposed to be about ethics and living well but tends to be notoriously badly taught, we had a new teacher every year and all I did was to draw in my notebook. We had a prayer before lunch every day, which feels kind of strange when about four of the students weren't Christians but we don't have a separation of church and state. Our teacher liked to experiment so in the last years of primary school we had independent study. She would give us tasks to do, like make a spread in your notebook about the moose, with pictures. I liked it, because if you finished fast you could read the rest of the time, whatever you wanted.

Middle school started at 13 and we moved to another school. Now we had different teachers for different subjects and some completely new subjects, like chemistry, physics and Swedish. Finland is officially bilingual so you have to study both Finnish and Swedish and if you don't start Swedish at third grade you have to do it in seventh. Some subjects ended after seventh grade, though you could choose them as electives, like music and crafts (which started in third grade, you could choose wood or textiles). My electives were German and crafts, I also had a little typing, home economics (which was compulsory in seventh grade) and a few weeks of Spanish and Russian. We still had a new teacher every year for the alternative to religious education and it was still awful, the worst teacher would warn us of imaginary Satan worshippers and ask us about Finnish laws concerning abortion in exams (my sister had him when she was 13, they were asked about Freudian classification of mental illnesses or something like that). Our middle school was in a lovely and advanced building, we had teachers visit us from all over the world because it was so great. We even had a computer in every class room, even though we never used them.

Compulsory schooling ends at 16 but most people continue to vocational schools or to high school, which is what I did. You have to apply to the schools and they usually take the ones with highest grades. You also don't have to attend high school in your home town which can mean that if your grades aren't good enough you might have to go to a less popular school in another town which can get expensive. We had to buy our books but lunches were still free for everyone.

My high school was supposed to be good and we did have good teachers and a lot of choice. High school was made up of courses, some compulsory but you could make a lot of choices about what you studied and when and with which teacher. Most of what our studied was preparation for school leaving exam, which has some effect on getting into university (but not that much as they have entrance exams). So in Finnish class we wrote essays and learned about grammar and argumentation, not that much about literature (we read some excerpts and poems but I had to read three whole books during my entire school career and we could choose them with some limits so I read Pride and Prejudice, Picture of Dorian Gray and a Finnish classic in which pretty much nothing happened). In languages (two were compulsory, I had three and it was possible to take one or two more in high school) we did mostly grammar. In German I was very good with dative but remember actually speaking it once. I did advanced math, it was fun though I wasn't too good at it and never could figure our vectors. I disliked chemistry and physics and only did the compulsory  courses in them. I liked biology and geography (now I realize that I called it goelogy before but I'm on my phone and can't go back so please pretend that I knew what I was talking about :)) so I took extra courses in them, things like ecology, identifying birds, urban geograhy and things that threaten us (I did my presentation on comets and asteroids and things like that). We also had history, a lot more comprehensive that in earlier grades, though very Euro-centric. I did take an extracourse on African history. You had to take three Arts courses, one music and two fine arts or the other way around. I didn't like music but liked to draw so that suited me. My choices were maybe a little random, but actually served me well. I knew people who wanted to be engineers so they had maths and sciences and there was one girl who took six languages who's a language teacher these days but I knew that I wanted to study in an art school and they don't take grades into account at all, so what I studied didn't really matter though I was a decent student. So I just chose things that interested me.

I liked high school and I also liked the final exams, I did well enough in them but not brilliantly. They're organized a bit differently these days but in my days you had to take at least four exams to graduate and you had to choose them, in addition to Finnish, from maths, sciences, Swedish and first foreign language. You could also take extra exams, your other languages and the exam you didn't choose as compulsory. I did Finnish, Swedish, English and maths and German as extra. I was given a bit of grief for not taking sciences but it was the most difficult one given my study choices (there were two types of non-compulsory courses based on if they could be asked about in the final exams) so I skipped it preferring to spend my study time on Swedish. The exams are held every spring and autumn and you can take part in three successive exams. In my case I took German in the autumn of my third year of high school (because it was so individual you could do high school in two and half to four years) and the rest in the spring and if I failed I could retaken the exams the next autumn. If you fail to complete the compulsory  exams in three tries you have to start in the beginning (it's possible to take the exams even if you're not in high school). Most people do it the way I did, concentrate the exams on the spring of third year because regular school stops for third year students in February and you have a month's study leave to get ready. The first exams were language listening comprehension tests, before the leave. Then there were two Finnish tests (that's changed in recent years) and the others. The exams are national and held at the same time everywhere and very official, the grades are given by a panel in Helsinki, not your own teachers. It's possible to leave high school without the exam and get into university but you haven't really graduated then and for some people becoming a ylioppilas (a "over student") is a big deal, there parties and you have the right to wear a white hat, though actually anyone can buy them and they're only really used in May Day celebrations. The hat is a remnant from times when students had to wear uniforms, in 19th century.     

T'Mar of Vulcan:
I went to (public/state) school in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the '70s and '80s. Back when I went, it was not common for children to go to nursery school (kindergarten). I could read, write a bit, and knew all my identifying information when I went, but there were some children who couldn't spell or write their name, didn't know what their parents' names were, and had no idea where they lived. But this was considered normal. Schools used different systems back in the '70s. The school I went to used to stream the children (put them in classes according to ability.) You'd be in one class for two weeks while the teacher worked out your ability and then were streamed into your class for the year.

I was put in the 'A' (bright; advanced) class where you were taught to spell, read, etc. using the correct alphabet and spelling. The children in the 'C' class were not so lucky - supposedly the school used ITA (International Teaching Alphabet) but actually all they did was teach children to spell phonetically, so the word "said" would be spelt "sed". I knew kids who were taught on that system and they couldn't even spell properly in high school! There was no system of transition, so one day they were just expected to start spelling correctly. But not all schools used that system, or at least it had been phased out by the time my brother went to school three years later.

Primary school here lasts from Grade 1 to Grade 7 (they started using grades exclusively in the late '90s - before then it was Grade 1, Gr 2 and Standard 1 to 10 - Std 10/Gr 12 here is known as Matric). High school is from Grade 8 to 12. The public (state) schools here were segregated by colour. The 'white' schools were good; the others, not so much. However, in the '90s schools were all made part of one education department and desegregated.

I hated high school. HATED it. The school I went to was not considered a good school and although the pass rate was (and still is) very high - 98% or something - it was difficult to learn because a lot of the pupils just weren't interested and they were so disruptive you couldn't concentrate. All my Std 8 (Gr 10) science notes, for example, were crinkled becaused the boys would sit at the back desks by the sinks and squirt water at the kids in front. I begged my mother to let me go to another school but she had gone there (in the 1940s!!!) and kept saying, "It's a good school." It wasn't.

You had two years (Gr 8 and 9) of 14 subjects (English, Afrikaans, Maths, Science, Biology, History, Geography, Accountancy, Art, a third language - I took German, a fourth language - we had Zulu, Media Centre, P.E., and Guidance). Then in Grade 10 you could choose six main subjects - well, actually four, because you had to take English and Afrikaans. I took Maths, Geography, Science and Biology. You could also take the subjects on Lower, Standard or Higher Grade. (I took all mine on Higher Grade.) Those have since been dropped and now there's just one grade of subjects.

Back then you had to get points to get into university. For law you needed like 30 points. For a professional teaching degree (you could do a diploma but I did the degree) you needed, I think, 22 points. Subjects on higher grade were worth more points than subjects on standard grade. (I was accepted to Wits - the University of the Witwatersrand - with points to spare.) Universities have since amalgamated with colleges and I think there is no longer a diploma (college)/degree (university) disparity.

Schools are very different now. These days it's pretty much expected that a child will have gone to kindergarten, and most schools offer Grade 0/R before Grade 1. There are 9 subjects (now called Learning Areas) in primary school, and in high school children are expected to take Maths (either Mathematics or Mathematical Literacy) until Matric. But the education department keeps changing the way things are done, how the subjects are arranged, etc. Next year they are implementing yet another curriculum change - this will be the third in something like 12 years. They are implementing it in Grades 1 to 3 next year, and in Grades 4 to 7 in 2013.

Overall I'm pretty happy with the education I got. I just wish I'd fought harder to go to the high school I wanted to as I have no good memories at all from high school.

Preschool: From ages 3-4 I went to the preschool run by the teaching program at the local university. I have very few memories of that, and they all involve playing in the big yard that belonged to the school, so I have no idea what they taught us, if anything. Not all kids in my area went to preschool, but I think the majority did. In my case I suspect I went at least partially so my mom could go back to work part-time.

Elementary school: Kindergarten-5th grade is elementary school here. Kindergarten is half-day, one class in the morning and another in the afternoon, and then you start full days in first grade. We were taught to read and write and things like basic math in first and second grade (addition and subtraction with dried beans as counters, as I recall) and learned lots of educational songs. I remember one about Native American tribes and another about Harriet Tubman.

My third grade class was pretty bizarre, as the teacher had some extremely odd ideas about education and discipline. She felt that she didn't need to have a set curriculum, because the students would tell her what they were interested in, and we'd all learn about it together. Also, disciplining a misbehaving child in any way would do irreversible harm to his or her fragile spirit, so the only form of discipline was the teacher taking the miscreant aside and telling him or her, "You're making me very sad." According to my parents, who still shake their heads at that class, most of the parents were totally on board with this method. The class was about one step away from Lord of the Flies at all times. I spent that grade hiding in a corner, reading and trying to be as unobtrusive as humanly possible so as not to attract the attention of the budding juvenile delinquents flourishing in the classroom. My fourth and fifth grade teacher (same guy for both grades), was great and enjoyed doing science experiments. You went to the upstairs wing of the school for fourth and fifth grade, which made us feel very grown up. Unfortunately, the roof leaked, so when it rains (as it does rather frequently in the Pacific Northwest), we'd have to put buckets and pie tins all around the classroom.

Middle school is 6th-8th grades, and for the first time we had more than one teacher, usually two or three for various subjects, with one being our "homeroom". I cannot possibly overstate my hatred for middle school. My school district was of the opinion that "everyone is gifted" (which makes absolutely no logical sense) and thus refused to have any gifted programs. This meant that the teachers had to teach to the lowest common denominator, student ability-wise. Now, I'm not very good at math, but I was always several years above my grade in reading level, and therefore spent most of middle school bored out of my mind. I remember studying the Civil War (at least twice), some world history, Greek mythology, learning all the countries and capitals in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America (though oddly we never learned all the US states), and being forced in 7th and 8th grades to read books I'd read when I was in 3rd and 4th grade.

High school is grades 9-12. The high school also didn't have a gifted stream, but after 9th grade you were allowed to pick from several different English, history and science courses, meaning that you could pick classes that were known to be more or less challenging depending on your interests. We had to take at least 3 years of math (4 for the college-bound), 2 of science, 4 of Social Studies which included one year of World History and one year of American History, and 2 of foreign language (Spanish, French, Japanese and German were offered). I took 4 years of both Spanish and French, which was apparently very unusual as I had to persuade the administration to let me register for both languages.

Again, I spent a fair amount of time being bored,  but I also took some fantastic English courses (two Shakespeare classes, a Utopian Literature class, and one on Tolkien, which a lot of kids took thinking it would be an easy A, a idea promptly squashed by the teacher, who announced on the first day of class that, in addition to The Lord of the Rings, we'd be reading Beowulf, several Norse myths, excerpts from The Silmarillion, and some of Tolkien's correspondence. That was a great class.) Again, the school district had no money (which was why the roof of the elementary school leaked), so we were often using hopelessly out-of-date materials, such as world history textbooks that discussed the Soviet Union as if it was still in existence. I went to high school from 2001-2005.

I went to public school for all of my education since the only private school was the Catholic school two towns over, and our public schools are reasonably good. Overall, I think I got a decent education, at least in high school. Because I've always been a big reader, I don't really know what I learned in school and what I learned on my own time, but I did get a good grounding in French and Spanish, which was good since I went on to get a BA in those languages.

edited because it's just too ironic to have misspellings in a post about education.


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