Home Classroom Culture Shock: 5 Surprising Things about Schools Abroad

Classroom Culture Shock: 5 Surprising Things about Schools Abroad

Posted by on September 11th, 2018.

Now that the summer is well and truly over, the ‘back to school’ season is upon us. If you took advantage of the holidays to make the move overseas then your children may be about to take their first steps in a new school.

Education systems around the world can vary massively, with the UK being in the minority of countries that have nationalised exams at the age of sixteen, for example.

Even discounting the different language used in the classroom there are a lot of less obvious variations in teaching style, mentality and technique that can have a massive impact on learning for your child.

With that in mind, we’re here to highlight five of the surprising differences you may find when your children start school abroad.

Learning by Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Some of us still remember the days of learning only through repetition, with facts and figures drilled into our memory by sheer force of writing or saying the same thing over and over again.

While British schools have abandoned the rote memorisation of facts in favour of a more student-led, organic style of learning, this isn’t the case in many Asian classrooms.

Countries such as China, Japan and South Korea all still favour this method of learning, with exams placing a greater emphasis on recall rather than critical thinking.

Some consider this to be the result of the more complex Asian writing systems which require learners to memorise hundreds, or even thousands, of unique characters in order to properly communicate.

However, while the rote memorisation method might be dull there’s no denying the results it can yield, with Asian countries consistently ranking highly in fields such as mathematics and the sciences.

Goodbye to the Shirt and Tie?

The majority of British schools still maintain a compulsory uniform policy, some of which can seem pretty strict – even specifying which shops you can buy the necessary tie or blazer from.

But while the shirt and tie is the standard for a British student the idea of what a school uniform should look like can change massively from one country to the next.

In the US, for example, it is much more common to send the kids to school wearing their own choice of clothes rather than a set uniform, although there are still certain guidelines in place.

And while girls in the UK can commonly choose between wearing a skirt or trousers, in some countries uniforms are much more gender specific.

Some stricter policies, such as those found in Japan, will even dictate the exact colour of a student’s socks, and so be sure to read up on any uniform policies well in advance of your child’s first day to avoid any faux pas.

No More Lie-Ins

While you might make the move abroad to escape your regular 9-5 job the daily school run isn’t something you can get away from quite so easily.

If you’re used to herding your kids out of the door in time for the 9am school bell you might find that your well-practiced routine has to change once they start at their new foreign school.

The Chinese school day, for example, begins bright and early at 7:30am and runs later into the evening. In fact, some children eat all three daily meals at school rather than at home.

In South Korea, additional lessons can mean that an older student won’t finish their day of study until nearly midnight!

At the other end of the scale, however, if you send your child to school in Brazil they could be home not long after midday, as lessons only generally last for the morning.

It may come as a disappointment for the kids to know that homework is unlikely to be something that disappears when crossing an international border, although they may still find themselves doing less than before.

Finland typically sets less than three hours of homework a week, but if you choose to settle in Italy the kids are unlikely to be impressed by the 8.7 average hours of homework they end up with.

Say Hello to Saturday School

It may seem strange but not every country has a Monday to Friday school week, which can be a bit of a culture shock for any teenagers used to kicking back and relaxing on a Saturday!

In Japan, to cite one example, students are expected to return to school on a Saturday morning to continue lessons for an extra half a day.

Meanwhile, as of this year, French schools now have the option to cut their school week down from 4.5 to just 4 days, eliminating Wednesdays entirely from the timetable.

So whether you want to plan more family time or figure out childcare arrangements for when you’re at work it might be work checking just what timetable your child’s new school operates on.

This variation can also carry over into the yearly timetable, with countries such as South Korea only having two long terms in contrast to the three shorter terms that we have here in the UK.

Depending on which country you end up in you could be seeing a lot more or a lot less of your children depending on how the local education system operates.

No Questions, Please, We’re not British

While British students are encouraged to engage in discussion with and probe their teachers this same behaviour is very much frowned upon in some other parts of the world.

In cultures that place a greater emphasis on children showing respect and deference to their elders a student is never expected to question their teacher.

Similarly, an unruly classroom is an almost unheard of occurrence in many Asian countries where respect for authority is ingrained and enforced from a young age.

Standing to attention when a teacher walks into the room is something that tends to be confined to private schools in the UK these days, whereas this type of behaviour is commonly expected of classes in Russia or Japan.

Although teachers may well be understanding of the difference in upbringing that an international student has, something that an unaware British student takes for granted could easily land them in trouble.

Moving away to a new country is already a lot of change for your children to adjust to, even without the added complications of a strange school system.

While education may not be the biggest factor in your search for a new overseas base make sure to look into how your chosen country’s system differs from what your family is used to.

Just don’t find yourself getting caught out if your kids start arriving home sooner than you might normally expect or if they suddenly seem to have a lot less homework to do!

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