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What Is Secondary Education?

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Everything You Need to Know About Secondary Education

Levels of education differ from one country to another, which is why it can sometimes be confusing when you try to understand the differences between each of them. For that reason, we will explain these differences and focus mostly on secondary education.

Levels of Education

According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) reviewed and revised in 2011, the following levels of education exist today:

  • Level 0 — Early childhood education/Pre-primary education
  • Level 1 — Primary education
  • Level 2 — Lower secondary education
  • Level 3 — Upper secondary education
  • Level 4 — Post-secondary non-tertiary education
  • Level 5 — Short-cycle tertiary education
  • Level 6 — Bachelor education
  • Level 7 — Master education
  • Level 8 — Doctoral Education

Basic education consists of primary and lower secondary education. Depending on the government’s decision, levels 2 through 4 are considered secondary education (although in some cases it only consists of levels 2 and 3). Tertiary education consists of levels 5 through 8.

What You Need to Know About Secondary Education

Secondary education in the US encompasses grades 9 through 12 and is also referred to as high school. In some districts, however, grades 6-9 might also be included in the secondary education program. The most common institution type for this level of education is a public high school, but private high schools are also popular.

Unlike in elementary schools where students are assigned one teacher and one classroom for the whole year, high school students typically attend each class in a different classroom. Different teachers conduct each class, with the lesson time varying from 30 minutes up to 90 minutes. 

Secondary education schools teach general subjects such as math, science, languages, social studies and elective courses. Students can take elective classes that can be technological, artistic, or vocational.

In order to graduate, students need to acquire a set amount of credits given to them throughout the year for passing the classes. Extra credits can also be awarded to students who participate in various activities and competitions. 

In addition to public high schools, there are other institutions that provide secondary education. Schools of this type provide general education as well but are more focused on specific academic fields. 

Examples of these schools include technical or vocational schools, art schools, religion-based institutions, college prep schools, and alternative schools. In technical schools, for example, students learn practical skills and have specialized classes, while in art schools they have more classes dedicated to that particular academic field.

Secondary education is compulsory in most countries. Once they graduate, students can move on to pursue vocational education, higher education, or employment.

Differences Between Secondary and Higher Education

As mentioned before, secondary education directly precedes higher education. This level of education is also known as tertiary education and is usually taught in colleges, academies, universities, and institutes of technology. Unlike secondary education, tertiary education is optional.

The content taught during higher education is more practical, specifically tied to an occupation, and in turn more complex as it serves to prepare the student for employment. Higher education ends with a Bachelor, Master, or Doctoral degree. 

Since a degree of higher education often correlates to well-paid jobs, higher education entrance exams are highly competitive and the number of accepted applicants lower. Higher education includes textbook learning but focuses more on applied work and research for the duration of the studies.

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