Education systems

Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand are renowned for their high-quality education. The universities of these countries are in the top 100 of the world’s best universities, and diplomas are recognised internationally. The educational systems of English-speaking countries are generally similar, but they also have their own features. This article will compare the education systems in Australia, Canada, the UK and New Zealand and identify their similarities and differences.

In total, there are five levels of education in English-speaking countries:

  • Preschool education
  • Primary school
  • Secondary school
  • Vocational education
  • Higher education

Preschool education

Preschool education is usually not compulsory. It is provided by kindergartens and childcare centres. Kindergartens accept children from 3 to 5 years old, and some childcare centres accept children even from 6 months old. There are also home-based kindergartens which are also registered as preschool institutions. The educators in these kindergartens also have the necessary early childhood qualifications, and the number of children in such kindergartens is limited to 3-5.

Children mostly spend their days in kindergarten playing and having fun, exploring the world under the careful supervision of the educators. They also prepare for entry to school, learning to read and count. This early learning is done through games without any pressure on the child.

Preschool education is paid in all countries and is quite expensive. Fortunately, in the UK and New Zealand parents of children aged 3 to 4 (5) may qualify for subsidies covering 15-20 hours of kindergarten attendance per week. In Ireland, the state provides free ECCE pre-school education for all children aged 3-5, but this is only 3 hours a day from Monday to Friday for two years. Australia also has subsidies, but you have to be a resident or citizen of this country to receive them. Also, there may be problems finding a kindergarten in some countries, as there may be long waiting lists for public kindergartens. Private kindergartens are easier to enter, but they are more expensive.

Primary School

Children usually start going to school from 5-6 years old. The primary school stage lasts up to 11 years old in the UK, and up to 12-13 years old in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. It’s up to 12 or 14 years old in Canada, depending on the province or territory. In primary (or elementary) school, attention is paid to the comprehensive development of children. In addition to compulsory subjects, pupils are engaged in creativity, playing musical instruments, and participating in theatrical performances. Sports occupy an important place in the weekly timetable and in addition schools have a variety of sports clubs.

Secondary school

Students transfer to secondary school at the age of 12 in Australia, the UK, Ireland and some Canadian provinces. In New Zealand, secondary school is divided into Intermediate school – from grades 7 to 8 (13-14 years old) and Secondary school – from grades 9 to 13 (14-18 years old). In Ireland, high school is divided into three parts: Junior Cycle (Years 1, 2 and 3), Transition Year (Year 4) and Senior Cycle (Years 5 and 6). In the last two years of high school, children usually prepare for their final exams and choose subjects they want to focus on at university.

In Australia, you can leave school after grade 10, in New Zealand and the UK after grade 11. You can go to work or continue your studies in college, undertaking vocational education or mastering a trade qualification. However, to enter the university for a bachelor’s degree, you need to study at school for another two years: grades 12-13 in New Zealand and the UK, grades 11-12 in Australia and Canada.

Vocational education

It is usually very hands-on and involves applied learning, where students gain the skills they need for work. Often such training takes place directly in the workplace (apprenticeship). High school graduates can pursue careers in construction, manufacturing, transportation, beauty services, cooking, early childhood education, and even some business and information technology qualifications.

In different countries, this level of education has its own features and names:

In Australia and New Zealand, it is Vocational Education and Training (VET). It includes certificates and diplomas from level 1 to 6. You can undertake VET education in colleges and institutes. Some universities also have VET programs.

In the UK and Ireland, it is called Further Education. Students can continue studies in Further Education at the same school after the 11th grade; in this case it is simply the 12th and 13th grades of high school, after which you can enter university. Alternatively, you can go to a special college to get a vocational qualification.

In Canada, vocational education can be obtained in vocational colleges, technical schools, or career colleges. In Ontario, you can work towards a work qualification while you are still at high school. At the end of the training the graduate receives both a high school diploma and industry certification. British Columbia also has a similar program based on the 11th and 12th grades. In Quebec province, vocational education can be divided into university preparation programs (2 years of study), where students are prepared to enter a university, and technical programs (3 years of study), where one can acquire a work qualification.

Higher education

All qualifications from a bachelor’s degree up are considered higher education. There are three stages of higher education in Canada:

  • Bachelor’s degree (3-4 years of study)
  • Master’s degree (1-3 years of study)
  • Doctorate (3 years of research or more)

In the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, the higher education system is divided into levels and includes not only the above three degrees, but also intermediate level certificates and diplomas lasting from 6 months to 1 year, which can be obtained on the basis of a bachelor’s degree. This system is very convenient for local students who can upgrade their qualifications gradually alongside their work experience. It also benefits international students since they don’t have to retrain from the beginning if they already have a higher education qualification from their home country. Based on an existing higher education, you can get a local diploma in just 1-2 years.

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