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USA v Ireland: how the school systems compare

THERE ARE many differences between the educational system in Ireland and in America. Having lived in San Diego for a good portion of my childhood, I went to Preschool, Kindergarten and Elementary School in America. I have experienced going to school in both America and Ireland as I am currently attending Secondary School here in Wicklow. I have noticed a vast amount of differences between the schools in both countries.

To begin with, the schools are divided up differently in each country, and all the levels have different names. In America, Kindergarten and grades one to six are in Elementary School. Usually, Middle School holds grades seven and eight. Then there is High School, which has grades nine through twelve.

However, in Ireland, Junior and Senior Infants as well as classes one through six are in Primary School and years one through six are in Secondary School. This is one of the main differences I observed between the schools in America and Ireland.

Another variation between schools in these two countries is the subjects which are available to the pupils. Also, the amount of classes taken varies between the two. For example, in Middle School, six classes are taken with only three lessons a day. However, in the equivalent grade in Ireland, about thirteen classes are taken with nine lessons a day. Once in fifth year, students can then narrow down their subjects to the seven they will be assessed in for the Leaving Certificate. In my opinion, thirteen classes are too much because with fewer classes, you are able to spend more time and attention on each subject.

The length of the school days in both countries is very similar. They are both about seven hours long. However, the day in general starts earlier in America. Some schools start at 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning. This means that school ends around 3:00 in the afternoon. On the other hand, in Ireland school starts at about 9:00 and ends at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon.

The lunch period in both America and Ireland are roughly the same, lasting about fortyfive minutes. However, what food is served differs in each country. Most schools in America have a cafeteria which serves a choice of meals each day. Students use a lunch card which can be topped up with money accordingly. Meals range from popcorn chicken to pizza. Each meal is served with a side of salad, vegetables or fruit. Some schools also offer breakfast to students who are at school earlier.

In my school in Ireland, there is a canteen instead of a cafeteria. Our school is trying to serve healthy and fresh food, although some junk food is also served. Soup or instant noodles are also offered at lunch time. Most students bring lunch.

The methods of assessment are very different also. In America, each student is tested throughout the school year. The test scores combine throughout the students' school career to give them a grade point average or GPA. This encourages pupils to maintain and improve their GPA. This GPA influences what colleges they will get into. There are also government standardised tests as well as tests to assess IQ.

Here in Ireland, students are mainly tested twice in their school career with the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate. There are other tests throughout the school year also, but like the Junior Cert, they do not count towards college. A lot of pressure is put onto the students while taking the Leaving Cert because this is the main factor that will determine their college career.

Another aspect which contrasts between the schools in America and Ireland is the dress code. Schools in America give students the freedom and choice to wear their own clothes as long as they do not break the dress code. Some schools have a formal dress code where pupils are not allowed to wear casual clothes such as t-shirts. The only schools where students must wear uniforms are private schools. Yet, in Ireland, uniforms are the norm in the majority of schools to the dismay of many students. The reason why uniforms are standard in Ireland, in my opinion, is due to tradition. Uniforms have been worn to schools for years and many schools follow this custom.

In conclusion, the expanse of differences between the educational system in America and Ireland is vast and there are many aspects to compare.