What the School Day Looks Like Across the Globe
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What the School Day Looks Like Across the Globe

In many communities around the world, going to school involves a lot more than rolling out of bed and catching a yellow school bus. In remote and impoverished regions, some teachers have had to use their determination and imagination to reach kids.

Among the more inventive ventures have been train platform schools in India and a large cave school in China. The make-shift learning spots in India were made where children gathered to beg for money. In China, the school in the impoverished village of Mao utilized the natural resources in the area, including the cave’s bats and lizards for biology lessons. But the Chinese government shut it down amid concerns it reflected badly on the nation.

Other educational projects in China and beyond though have done rather well. In fact, the advances in educational availability have been quite remarkable over the years. The number of people who are literate has exploded from a smaller privileged population to billions of people in all the corners of the planet. Overall today around 87% of the people around the globe can read.

Rustic Pathways students facilitate after school enrichment programs for local kids in Fiji.

Much of the progress has been made because of an international focus on primary school education. From 2000-2018, UNESCO reported that the number of elementary-age children who were not in school had declined by 41%.

Some of that progress has been hindered by the pandemic, but generally more children are getting an education. To keep that ball rolling, Rustic Pathways’ community partners often request help for service projects at schools. This has enabled Rustic students to often see how different schools are in other countries.

Getting to School

One big difference centers on how students get to school. While some American students walk to school, it’s much more common in other countries. When schools are in session, Rustic Pathways students frequently see children walking along the roadways in countries like Costa Rica.

Fortunately in this Central American nation, there’s a strong focus on education. Therefore, enough schools have been built to limit the amount of walking.

In other nations, things aren’t as easy. In many regions around the world schools are farther apart or there are natural barriers that make it difficult to get to school. In Tanzania some Rustic Pathways students like Megan Kahrs saw how determined students are to get an education.

“Many of the school kids would spend up to 5 hours walking, round trip, to get to school and back home,” Kahrs said. “From this, I learned so much that made me respect their culture. Education was so important to the families of Hayedesh that they would send their young, unsupervised children walking for hours in the dark, on dirt roads just to get to school and learn.”

Many students in Nepal have a similar level of determination and go to great lengths to cross rivers to get to school. For years, it’s been common practice for students to jump in open metal trolleys that are hanging on cables and pull themselves across the rivers.

Concerns about safety have led the country to launch a massive effort to build more bridges. They found school attendance increased by an average of 16% when they built a bridge.

In other regions of the world, kids endure even more dangerous trips to school. Near the Rio Negro in Colombia, there are children who ride a perilous zipline to school, reaching up to 45 miles per hour and using a branch to brake. And in the Atule’er village of China students use ladders to climb soaring cliffs to get to and from school.


Unlike public schools in the United States, uniforms are commonly worn in many countries. In fact, they’re required in most of the countries Rustic Pathways’ students visit.

Rustic Pathways students work with children in their classrooms in Tanzania where school uniforms are mandatory.

In some countries the uniform extends beyond what the students wear. In Thailand, there are rules about hairstyles with boys generally forbidden from having long hair. In some cases, girls are also not allowed to have long hair either.

On top of this, in Thailand students are required to wear scout uniforms once a week, usually on Wednesdays. This is currently being reconsidered because some parents have complained about the cost of buying these uniforms while the economy is suffering.

School Hours

A number of nations have a very different academic calendar than most of the schools in the United States. In Costa Rica, for example, the school year starts in February. The students get a break for a couple weeks in July and then they return for school until mid-December. Their school days are also split in two – with some students coming in the morning and some coming in the afternoon. Students will then alternate between coming in the morning and the afternoons during the week.

How long students spend in school on any given day varies tremendously across the globe. In countries like Finland, students spend about four hours on average in school each day. On the flip side, in nations like South Korea high schoolers often spend 12-14 hours a day in school.

School Subjects

The school subjects are similar in many schools across the world with lessons in subjects like math and science. Many countries outside the United States though give a greater emphasis to foreign language studies. In places like Costa Rica, most students learn English.

Rustic Pathways students work with children in Costa Rica.

Religion classes are also part of the standard curriculum in a number of countries. In Costa Rica, Catholicism is the state religion so lessons in this faith are included, though non-Catholics can opt out. Meanwhile, Buddhism is part of the curriculum in many Thai schools and the Muslim faith is taught in countries like Morocco.

There also are school systems that emphasize rather uncommon subjects. In Russia, chess has been part of the curriculum for decades. In Australia many students in coastal areas learn surfing while in school. Students in the Netherlands and Israel learn how to debate and in Japan students are taught nature appreciation.

Overall, students in many countries have a great love of learning. Alumna Margaret Skillman found that when she traveled to Thailand.

“One of the things that the Children’s Home students taught me that struck me and I’m still thinking about is their appreciation towards education and the opportunities that come with it,” Skillman said. “They all looked forward to school each day, valued their teacher’s time, and were eager to learn anything and everything.”

That’s certainly the goal of all teachers in all countries. To get that fire reignited, Rustic students can travel on programs where they’ll work on school projects. And maybe they can try enjoying rolling out of bed for school – okay, maybe!


About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer