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Education in five European countries

The school systems of Poland, Great Britain, Germany, France, and Spain

Each country in Europe has a different education system and curriculum. And these have evolved over the centuries, based mainly on changing economic, cultural, social, and political conditions. So what does the education system look like in Poland today? And how is this different from that of England, Germany, France, and Spain?  continue reading...

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Education in Europe

In the European Union, there’s no uniform educational policy. No higher institution intervenes or imposes specific requirements regarding education in these countries. Each country is entirely responsible for its education system and curriculum.

Thus, education can look completely different in these countries. Although the European Union supports education, even with subsidies for projects or trips of gifted students, it doesn’t interfere with the education system itself. In addition, the development of teaching is undertaken by UNESCO, the Council of Europe, as well as the United Nations (especially the sector of Education, Science, and Culture).

Education in Poland

Polish educational law clearly states that the core curriculum must contain teaching content and skills tailored to specific stages of education. Based on this, school evaluation criteria and examination requirements are created. The curriculum itself, however, is selected by specific teachers, based on approval by the principal. However, the Ministry of Education determines which subjects are taught in Polish schools.

The latest regulation came into force at the end of 2017.

The first, early school stage consists of eight classes: primary school. The timetable contains about twenty hours of classes per week. It includes Polish, mathematical, technical, artistic, and music classes.

From the fourth grade, a specific division into subjects, i.e., Polish, physical education, or geography, is introduced. Pupils finish school with an eight-grade exam aimed at assessing the knowledge acquired at this stage of education.

Secondary education covers general high schools, as well as technical and vocational schools. Students can choose some of the subjects they will take. At the end of high school, they must pass the matriculation examination. This is one of the most important stages of education—obtaining positive results in high school facilitates further education at universities and colleges.

Recently, the Polish education system has undergone major changes, i.e., in 2019, junior high schools—three-year schools, intended for students aged 12 to 14—were eliminated. In 2019, as part of the 2017 educational system reform in Poland, they disappeared completely from the Polish school system, which is currently two-tier—primary school and high school. The process of closing down junior high schools took place gradually.

Education in Great Britain

The compulsory education system in Great Britain consists of four stages: primary school, secondary school (equivalent to already closed junior high schools), high school, and higher education. Children start learning at the age of five.

Primary school consists of two levels: Key Stage 1 and 2. The program itself includes English, math, nature, history, and physical education, among other subjects. The subjects are thus similar to those in the Polish education system.

At this stage, there aren’t specific grades—parents only receive a description showing the strengths and weaknesses of the student, along with data on their learning progress. Students take standardized exams, but regardless of the results, move on to the next level of education.

From ages of 11 to 14, children attend secondary school. Here, they start to get graded. Unlike Polish schools, the UK has a letter system. "A" means the highest rating, "F" the lowest. This stage ends with an obligatory state exam.

The last level of compulsory British education is high school. The curriculum already includes fewer subjects, and the focus is mainly on the classes with which students want to pursue further education in colleges. Education ends with an exam comparable to the Polish Matura, called the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education).

Education in Germany

Education in Germany, like most European countries, starts in primary school—Grundschule. Children under the age of six start school. The main aim of this stage of teaching is for students to begin to master writing and reading, as well as basic math. After completing this level, children receive a teacher's recommendation based on their learning and skills. This helps parents choose the right high school for their child.

After completing primary school in Germany, students can choose from further education in three institutions:

Education in France

Education in France is divided into three compulsory levels: l'école élémentaire, le collège, and le lycee. French Children who are at least six years old go to primary school. It consists of two stages: initial teaching and skill development. Students acquire elementary skills in writing, reading, and counting. After graduation, they automatically move to another level of education.

The second stage of study involves le college. This curriculum consists of specific subjects. At the end, students must pass the state le brevet exam, but this has no impact on the further promotion of the child.

At this level of education, students have a choice of two schools: a three-year high school (lycee) or a vocational school (lycee professional). The high school is completed with a hl diploma (baccalaureate) enabling further studies in higher education. Vocational school prepares students for a specific profession, but they can take the matriculation exam even at this stage— they just have to complete an additional two years of education.

Education in Spain

Education in Spain has two basic levels: educación primaria (primary school) and educación secundaria (secondary school). The first stage of education is divided into three cycles: lower, medium, and higher. During each of them, one teacher supervises the students, and teaches the basic principles of social coexistence.

After completing the first level of education, the student automatically goes to high school (secondary school). The first stage of educación secundaria obligatoria mainly includes lessons on elementary subjects, a foreign language, as well as general vocational education.

Students are assessed using points collected from tests and activity in the classroom. The number of points determines the final assessment at the end of the year. A school-leaving certificate at this phase enables further education in a high school (bachillerato) or a vocational school (ciclos formativos).

Bachillerato is designed to prepare students to study at university or college. The main focus here is on lessons related to young people's interests or future career plans. Education ends with passing the matriculation exam. The final grade for the matura exam consists of the results of the exam and an average of all a student’s high school grades.

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