School Days Around the World

By Eric Myskowski, Assistant Reporter

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If you have ever complained about the length of the school day or school year, you have a point……maybe. Of the OECD countries (China does not release statistics outside a few major cities), the United States performs in the middle on average test scores. The United States* has a school day around the fifth longest in the OECD countries and with China included it would drop down to around sixth. Students in the United States spend on average 9,360 hours in school through the end of first secondary education (eighth grade). The length of school is different in every country around the world.

In China, students, no matter if they live in cities or not, spend substantial more time in school than American students. According to Yao Zhang, the co-founder of a company that coordinates study abroad for rural Chinese students, in elementary school the amount of time spent in classrooms is one hour longer than classroom time in America. There is a two-hour lunch break in between though. In Chinese “middle school”, the school day is ten hours of classroom time with two two-hour breaks in between. In Chinese “high school”, the school day is twelve hours of class time with two two-hour breaks in between. On top of this very long day, entry into high school and college necessitates that a student does well enough on a single test to get into college. This is like the SAT counting for college admission alone with only one chance. This leads to many Chinese students using all of their free time after elementary school studying. This strategy may work though because in Shanghai, the one city in China that releases test scores, falls in the top five in countries around the world. On the other hand, smaller cities and more rural areas, due to a variety of reasons, are thought to have much lower test scores.

Finland on the other hand has a very short school day yet scores in the top five countries globally in test scores. According to Tim Walker, the husband of a Finnish teacher, in Finland, a student in elementary school spends about three hours of class time in school with another hour for lunch and recess. In “middle school”, a person spends another hour in the class than in elementary school. In high school, a person spends about five or six hours total in school, still less than the time Americans spend in high school. Both Finland and China though have a longer school day in high school than elementary school while the United States has both the same length.
Around the world, the school years are different for virtually every country. In primary (elementary) school on average in the United States, the school day is 6.5 hours long with one hour of that lunch, recess and transition periods. This school day, combined with a 180-day school year, leads to a student pending about 990 hours in school per year. Finland has about a 650 hours school year. Russia has the least amount of instruction time at school compared to OECD countries with 450 hours. Chile has the most among OECD nations over 1000 hrs. In Asia, Japan has a 750-hour school year with Saturday half-days, and South Korea has a 650 hour one. In Mexico, there is an 800-hour school year and in Canada there is a 900 hour one. According to the European Commission, most school years in Europe have a few less hours than the hours in the United States per year with a similar setup. England and Germany have very short summer breaks leading them to have shorter school days while most countries have breaks the length of America’s

In reality, the test scores of students have less to do with length of a school day as they have to with the quality of it. The length of a school day can be sort of compared to taxes. A country cannot keep raising taxes to get out of problems like how a school day cannot be increased and increased to have higher test scores. To sum it up, according to the Chicago Tribune students from the Chicago school system do less well than students from the suburbs even though the length of the school days are very similar. This has to do with the fact that Chicago has less funding and much more corruption in its school districts than the districts of most of its suburbs.

*The United States has school days and years set by the individual states so even though they are
similar, an average is being used.



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School Days Around the World