As a mother of three, I’ve always taken a great interest in education systems around the globe, especially Australian. After all, it is the country where I’m raising my kids. I’m pleased to say that Australian education system is one of the best in the world, but it can be even better. The centralized system of Australian public schools is run by the Department of Education within each state, but it is similar across all countries. So, if you’re interested in enrolling your child into one of the schools Down Under, I’ll gladly share some basic information about the course of the school year and other things you might find of importance.
The school education division
Before we go to the most important part of the story: How do kids cope with the school year, we should go through some basics, in case you’re not familiarized with Australian education system. School education in Australia is compulsory between the ages of six and sixteen. Essentially, it lasts for 13 years, from preparatory stage to senior secondary school, with secondary school in between.
Types of schools
I’ve already mentioned public schooling in Australia, but that is not the only type of school there is. Types of schools also include non-government schools (private schools and faith-based schools such as Catholic or Islamic schools) and institutions based on educational philosophies such as Montessori and Steiner. There are around 3,000 private and independent schools throughout the country, but the government-funded educational institutions are still educating about half the Australian kids.
The differences between Australian and American education systems
Different education systems are affected by different cultural traditions and other factors, so it is perfectly normal that every country or region has its own take on schooling practices. While Australia and the US have a similar level of development, their education systems are quite different. Firstly, the education system in Australia is rather centralized, while the American schools function more on a local level, but this is not the only difference between the two. The education in the US is divided on early childhood education, primary (elementary) school, middle (junior high) and high school.
The school year in Australia begins in late January or early February, and in the US in early September. Down Under, there are four semesters (usually called terms), while in America, depending on the institutions themselves there are three (fall, winter and spring) or two semesters (fall and spring).
As for the thing our little ones are the most interesting in – the homework, here in Australia there are various forms of homework. The policy of many schools is that the kids shouldn’t devote more than 30 minutes a day to homework so that they could have a more balanced life. There are even fun and practical types of homework, such as “help mom cook lunch” or “make a paper plane”. As I learned from some American sources, like the American Journal of Family Therapy, students in American schools have significantly more homework than it is recommended by education leaders.
Surviving the school year Down Under
Now, let me get to the most important part of the story: how does a school year in Australia actually look?
The school year here ties in with the calendar year. It is broken into 4 semesters or 3 longer ones in Tasmania. Each semester has approximately 10 weeks and there are about 2 weeks of break between them. The best thing about this timing is that all kids’ and teachers’ obligations end in December, just before Christmas. At this time, we enjoy our summer holiday – usually about 5 or 6 weeks.
While in classes, kids have the opportunity to learn a lot of new things, and there is a strong accent on gaining new knowledge, both theoretical and practical. I find the Australian teaching curriculum very interesting and useful. For example, the Arts subjects include drama, dance, media arts, visual arts and music. If the students get interested in one of them during their primary school, they can even specialize in it from the beginning of secondary education.
Health and physical education play an important role in kids’ development, because they help them master skills that contribute to their wellbeing and self-confidence. I’m very satisfied with this subject, since it really teaches kids how to make wise decisions about their health in the future.
Don’t let these subjects fool you, there is a lot of attention devoted to science, math and languages too. History, for example, encompasses Australian and world history, but it is taught in a very wide context.
For my kids, as for the many other kids around the world, the most problematic subject is mathematics, which includes algebra, geometry, measurements, statistics and probability. Fortunately, the afterschool tutoring programs in Australia are more than enough to help them figure things out and do better on tests.
Just as the US, Australia is a country of many different cultures, and that’s why it is imperative for the children to get to know and understand them. One of the ways they are achieving that is through learning second languages. Some of the languages approved by the Australian curriculum are French, Arabic, Chinese, German, Italian, Spanish, Korean and Modern Greek. One of the things that I think the education system in the US doesn’t have, and I’m proud to say my kids have the opportunity to learn Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages. After all, those are original languages of this country, and learning them fills kids with a sense of pride and understanding.
Finally, the children at Australian schools have the opportunity to use and learn about the traditional, modern and emerging technologies that shape the world in which we live.
There is an ongoing debate about whether the schools are “killing” the creativity of our kids. I think that, although there’s room for improvement, Australian schools are doing a really great job in nurturing creativity, while still instilling knowledge and curiosity into our little ones’ minds. The school year, as it is, is sometimes difficult, but with proper guidance from both teachers and parents, the kids manage to master it just fine.