America’s education system is far from perfect. Common Core math and cafeteria fries being classified as a vegetable aren’t exactly helping our reputation. But in order to get the full perspective on how your kid’s school day stacks up, you need to compare it to students’ experiences in other countries. School days around the world are, as one might expect, drastically different, and each country has its own specific rituals and educational norms. How many hours are in the school day? What classes do they prioritize? How much homework do they give? Here’s a quick look at how seven countries around the world handle everything from classroom instruction to homework and those seemingly endless teacher-planning days.
Finland: What Homework?
The country with the most heavy metal bands per capita is also home to one of the world’s best school systems. Finland not only has some of the world’s brightest children, they have some of the luckiest. On average, Finnish kids receive no more than three hours of homework a week. Plus there are no exams and no grades. How are their parents supposed to be quantifiably disappointed in them?
France: Wednesday Isn’t Just Hump Day
The French are a sophisticated bunch. Fine cheeses and 19th-century art movements are all well and good, but a day off in the middle of the week is their best contribution to society since mayonnaise. For years, the French have kept Wednesdays semi-sacred — older kids get Wednesdays off, but may have school lessons on Saturdays. Even with the midweek break, French students are still in class for eight hours every other day, with a 90-minute lunch break. Because the French are very French when it comes to their cafeteria food.
Costa Rica: More Money, More Literacy
Everyone loves Costa Rica. You can zipline. You can surf in two oceans. They score high on the happiness index. And, they’re winning at literacy, because 98 percent of people age 15 to 24 can read. Is it something in the bananas? Not exactly. It’s because the country spends a whopping 8 percent of their GDP on education. (We spend about 6.4 percent, by comparison). Since Costa Rica has no formal military they can devote that cash to young minds. But how would they defend themselves if a neighboring country wanted those bananas? Surf off, probably.
Singapore: The Smartest Kids on Earth
In order to be at the top, you have to put in the work. Singapore ranks high both in the world’s smartest kids category and most hours spent on homework (nearly 9.5 hours a week). The country has spent the past 40 years transforming their economy from a blue-collar-based job market to a tech-based, white-collar one. It all started with changing their education system, which they overhauled in the past decade.
Chile: Greatest Amount of Class Time
Chile has the highest average amount instructional hours worldwide for primary school students. These Chileans spend 1,007 hours a year behind a desk. That’s equivalent to the time you spent catching up on Netflix originals last year. Chile is at the top of Latin American countries in reading and math, so there is a payoff to all that instructional time. The country is also looking to make university education free across the nation — mostly so they can throw it in Argentina’s face.
Japan: Minimum Homework, Maximum Results
You’d think with what you’ve heard about the rigors of Japanese schools, they would have the most homework. Untrue. Japanese kids average just 3.8 hours a week, but still manage to be on the higher end of worldwide math scores. The reason for the limited homework isn’t because they have it easy, it’s because most kids have school after school or “gakudo.” These school programs serve more as a daycare for kids, but since they’re at school, there’s still learnin’ to be done.
Russia: Least Amount of Class Time
The typical Russian school day isn’t short. The Russian school year, at least in terms of instructional time, is. These kids average just 470 hours a year (the average among 33 developed nations is 790 hours). Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean students are getting a lesser education, because Russia’s literacy rate is high. It just means their methods are different. Who would have thought a country that’s led by a shirtless, horse-riding president would be unconventional?