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Higher secondary education around the world: what’s different and what’s the same?

The stage of education known as higher secondary, encompassing years 11 and 12 in the UK, plays a significant role in the educational systems of various countries worldwide. Often referred to as ‘A’ Levels or pre-university foundation, it serves as a stepping stone towards further academic pursuits. This article aims to explore and compare the distinct characteristics of higher secondary education across different nations, while also highlighting the commonalities that exist.

United state

Higher Secondary education in our country can be both in high school and college, whereas in other countries it is either just in high school or only in college. Higher Secondary also goes by many other names such as Senior High School, Sixth Form College, or sometimes even A-Levels. There are also different words to describe students that study Higher Secondary: we call them high school students while others may call them seniors or Sixth formers. The most common time for Higher Secondary schooling is between ages 15 to 18. We do not have compulsory higher secondary education, but there are many courses and subjects you can take from Elementary school all the way up to college including English, mathematics, social studies (history), science (biology), arts (music), foreign languages, and physical education.


Higher secondary education in Germany, called Hauptschule, leads to two opportunities. Students can choose to go to a vocational school and earn a Mittlerer Schulabschluss or they can enter a general college to earn their Abitur. Both paths lead to higher education, but after Hauptschule you can only attend vocational schools. After finishing an apprenticeship at age 17, one may be accepted into a Fachhochschule. However, if you want to get into a university, it is necessary to graduate from higher secondary education first. Higher secondary education lasts four years and offers general studies with compulsory subjects such as mathematics, natural sciences, German language and literature, as well as languages other than German.

The students must achieve all core competencies for higher secondary education by passing standardized tests for each subject or diploma examination after 10th grade. The core curriculum provides knowledge that prepares students for entering higher-education institutions of their choice – whether it is higher vocational schools or universities – with a wide range of courses available in addition to mandatory courses

It also prepares them for working life through practical learning methods like apprenticeships


Higher secondary education in Russia is known as VGTS. This type of school is for students who are 16-18 years old. Schools usually offer courses in art, sciences, economics, and languages as well as more advanced mathematics and physics classes than a typical middle school offers. It is up to the student if he or she would like to focus on more vocational training such as cooking or nursing.

The content offered at Russian higher secondary schools varies depending on whether it is an academic or vocational program. In other words, someone might be studying programming while another person is pursuing a culinary degree. However, there are three core subjects that every student has to take which are Russian language and literature; history; a foreign language like English; natural sciences with either geography or biology


In Japan, higher secondary education is divided into two courses.

The first course lasts three years and includes subjects like mathematics, history, science, Japanese, art, and physical education.

After completing the lower course, students can choose the upper course and specialize in a science subject like mathematics, economics, or natural sciences if they plan to study it at the university level


In Canada, higher secondary schools are similar to high schools and are sometimes referred to as Secondary I, Secondary II, or Grades 10-12.

They offer courses in various fields, including trades, technology, and sciences.

There are publicly funded junior colleges (collegiates) and public universities that provide higher secondary education.

Both options have advantages and limited spaces, leading to competition.


Higher secondary education in Singapore, also known as the upper or second stage of schooling, focuses on equipping students with language skills, mathematics, sciences, humanities (literature and social studies), and promoting creativity. Students have a diverse range of courses to choose from, including subjects like English Literature, Computer Science, and Data Communication.

The Higher School Certificate (HSC) includes core curriculum subjects such as History, Mathematics I, and Chemistry I for students who opt to study them. The aim of higher secondary education in Singapore is to provide students with a well-rounded education and prepare them for their future endeavors

New Zealand

In New Zealand, there are a variety of high school subjects students can choose from. There are subjects such as English, Mathematics, Science, Health Education, Technology, or Design. Although there is no mandatory subject requirement to progress to University level courses after completing NCEA Level 3, the most common pathway for many students is Bachelor’s degree in law, business, and sciences. At this point, international qualifications are required. Countries with similar systems of higher secondary education include Argentina (Collegiate Education), Norway (Vestadgangsskule), and Denmark (Stx).


In conclusion, higher secondary education provides different opportunities for students to gain knowledge and skills. The choice of school depends on individual preferences. It is important to ensure that all students have access to higher education, as it can have a significant impact on their future



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