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A lesson in education

A lesson in education

In many parts of the world, September marks a time for back to school after a long summer break. But in southern hemisphere countries, the school year is not revving up but rather winding down. Such is the case in Australia, where students will soon begin studying for their final exams; having started their academic year in late January, the children will finish the year before Christmas and enjoy a six-week respite during the peak of their summer before starting anew. Then there are other countries, such as Japan, where school is essentially a year-round affair from one spring to the next, with several short breaks scattered in between.

As you can see, “back to school” means different things in different places. In this snapshot, we explore some school-related practices and traditions in various parts of the world.

School Clothes

One aspect of returning to school that some kids may look forward to is picking out a new outfit or two. Teenagers in particular will seek out the latest fashion trends and spend hours trying to decide what to wear on that crucial first day. However, this is a non-issue for students in some countries, such as Japan and the UAE. Conservative uniforms are generally required, even within the public school system.

Parents will want their kids to start the school year with a sturdy pair of shoes. In Japan, the term “school shoes” takes on a more literal meaning. When children enter primary school, parents are asked to purchase a pair of indoor shoes for their children to be worn only within the school building. Specifically, they must be canvas shoes with rubber soles. Children change into these shoes as soon as they arrive at school. In the school entrance hall there will be a series of shoe boxes set up like tiny lockers – one for each child. Each box is divided into two sections horizontally, the upper section being for “indoor shoes” and bottom part for “outdoor shoes”. Children change back into the outdoor shoes before returning home in the afternoon. This practice helps keep the school corridors clean and quiet.

School Supplies

Shopping for school supplies in France makes for a good exercise in following directions. Each year, French school teachers dictate very detailed and specific supply lists – even down to the colour of a notebook and the exact number of pages it must contain. Students are also asked to have certain pens, pencils, rulers, markers, paints, etc. – all according to the teacher’s specifications.

In Belgium, there is a rush to buy a sort of wrapping paper called kaft which is used for covering textbooks. As the start of a new school year approaches, all of the stationery shops and supermarkets stock up on loads of kaft with various motifs for kids to choose from. Historically, the book covering paper was stronger than ordinary wrapping paper. Cost-cutting measures and demand among children for special designs has had an affect on quality. These days, you often hear parents grumbling in early September about the thinness of the kaftpapier.

Picking out the right backpack can also be a big deal. Children in Japan traditionally carry a large, rectangular school bag made of sturdy leather called a randoseru (originally from the Dutch word “ransel”, meaning “satchel”), which is to be used throughout their primary school years. In the past, there were gender-specific colours for the randoseru – black for boys and red for girls – but now kids are often allowed to choose from a rainbow of options. Tiny first graders seem barely big enough to carry their randoseru but by sixth grade they grow into them.


The factors which seem to affect school schedules most are seasonal climate changes and religious traditions. In most countries IMPACT Group serves, children attend school from Monday through Friday, in conjunction with the standard work week. However, in many Moslem countries like the UAE, Friday is considered a day of rest. Therefore, the school (and work) week in many Middle Eastern countries runs from Sunday through Thursday or Saturday through Wednesday.

Our EMEA Coaches share that in some countries with large Catholic populations, such as France and Belgium, there is either no school at all or only half a day of school on Wednesdays. This originated because the Catholic Church wanted more children to attend Catechism. While some children do attend Catechism on Wednesdays, others use their free time for extracurricular activities, such as sports or music lessons.

Most school children around the world attend school six to eight hours per day, generally starting in the morning between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. and ending in the afternoon between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., with a lunch break of one to two hours in the middle of the day. Two hours may seem like a long time for lunch, but in many countries it is common for children to leave campus and go home for lunch.

The shortest school day seems to be in Latin America. Public schools in Argentina and many others in the region operate in two shifts, each only four hours in length. Half of the student body attends the morning shift and the other half attends the afternoon shift. However, private and international schools in these areas tend to offer a full-day curriculum for their students.

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