School Days Around the World

I believe the value a society or a nation places on education is related to the success of that nation. On the left is a chart of countries and the number of school days.

I have collected this information from several disconnected sources and established the table. It does not show all nations, and the numbers are also not 100% accurate. For instance, some countries, like Belgium and Germany, have different states that actually have numbers that vary slightly up or down.

I have tried to be as accurate as possible and include all of the more influential nations today.

Look at the chart and correlate where children spend a lot of  time in school and  where the nation has a lot of influence.

Japan was the Wunderkind of the 1980 and 1990ies and it transformed the world in technology, computer and automobile output. Toyota, Sony, Honda, Mitsubishi.

Germany is the financing arm of Europe today. Airbus, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Zeiss, SAP.

China – just about everything manufactured in the world, and 80% of what is sold at Wal-Mart, is made in China. Need I say more?

The United States are toward the bottom of the list. If the United States wants to hold on to its edge in the world it needs to fund education more seriously. It needs to send its kids to school more days. This starts with early education and preschool. It goes through K-12 and on with universities. Right now, many other countries are gaining an edge over the United States simply by expending more effort on education of all categories. The United States still has the world’s most desired universities. In the past decades, students came to the United States to study, and often they stayed. More and more, they go home after they are done, to India, to China, to Russia and all other countries.

This edge in university education will not last forever. There are, right now, 360 colleges under construction in China. I believe that in another 20 years, students from all over the world will go to China for an education, because that’s where the opportunities will be. That’s where unfettered access to information will sponsor science without shackles. Scientists that want to learn about cloning, genetics and other research dependent on simple things like stem cells will have to go to China.

Education, not oil pipelines, not birth control restrictions, not the stock market, not capitalism, holds our future. The education of our children will either save this nation’s glory, or it will destroy it.

Unfortunately, education is like a 30-year-mortgage. It takes an entire generation of investing and paying before the debt is paid off and the investment comes to fruition. I am old enough that I will not see the result. Will America pull out of it? Or will we be an intellectual and financial debtor nation to China?

Many readers have commented that mere attendance in school does not necessarily make a good education, but it’s rather just extended babysitting. Quality of education is much more important than quantity, I am sure. Furthermore, the length of the school day also matters, so a chart of HOURS in school, rather than days, would be helpful. I agree with all those comments. It is not my intent here to argue what a good education is in general. There are many more qualified people to do that than I. I simply collected a chart – how many days are kids going to school. Then I argue that education is important, no matter what defines “good,” as a critical factor of success of a country.

32 thoughts on “School Days Around the World

  1. Eric Petrie

    This seems to me to be a misleading statistic. The U.S. is not significantly different on this list than 18 of the 28 countries listed, and is the same as Sweden, one of the models of the world.

    Then when you consider that Zimbabwe is among the top countries, a country in complete collapse (and by the way, what percentage of the population there gets to benefit from this extended day-care, oh, I mean classroom education), the list seems to me to imply the wrong thing.

    It is not the number of days in the classroom, it is the quality of the instruction. Perhaps the average instruction in a place like China is high, but I would like to see how you measure such a thing. And insofar as the instruction is mediocre, days in a classroom are like bad public baby-sitting.

    1. I am sure quality education is affected by dozens of factors. However, days in the classroom, if lower, all other things equal, are known to have a big effect. American kids simply don’t spend enough time in and on school to be competitive with the Japanese, Germans, and (coming up) Chinese.

      I realize I am picking a fight with a professional educator….

  2. pam P.

    Like Germany, the length of the school year varies in the United States. Maine only requires 175 days. The state of Michigan requires a minimum of 170 days for their students. The school year allows for six snow days, which do not need to be made up. The schools in northern Michigan often use all of their snow days, which means they are only in class 170 days a year.

  3. Corlijn

    Actually the minimum amount of schooldays in belgium is 180 with a maximum of 184 🙂
    Also, what matters much more than the amount of days in a school year is the amount of hours pupils spend at school. The amount of school hours contained in a school day is different in many countries! 😀
    Furthermore, you don’t specify whether your statistics are for primary or secondary education 🙂

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  6. Anonymous

    Gaining weight is easy; being healthy is more complicated. More days might help, but it is not as easy as that and should not be our greatest priority. If our nation is healthy, learning extends beyond the school day and the school year. America’s issues are bigger than what is happening in our schools. If anything, the schools are a last bastion. We have lost so much in the last few decades in the area of national pride, work ethic, commitment to family, community involvement, ability to focus, craftsmanship, altruism, etc. Learning occurs when we are attentive and committed. If we can have attentive and committed students AND teachers AND families AND communities, then increasing school days may indeed may help us. My guess it would happen naturally. Like any good athlete, however, we should be careful not to resort to steroids and Botox to make us look good. Nor should we try to defeat our fellow man by clubbing his shin bone — Harding vs. Kerrigan. Going to school 365 days does not increase individual commitment. Learning is not competition, it is personal growth. Living isn’t a race. Instead, we should work hard with every day we have been given. We are wired to learn, but current societal conditions are leading us astray. Adding days or hours is a placebo at best . . . which isn’t all bad, I realize.

  7. Ken

    Well this should put a rest to the myth that more days in school equates to better educated kids. Case in point: where the hell are Sweden, Finland, and Norway?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ken.

      Sweden and Finland are both on the lower side of the list. Norway isn’t on it. I did not try to find a complete list of all countries in the world. Some people have also, in comments here, disputed some of the numbers.

      I would agree that number of days does not equate to better educated kids. Crappy education will be crappy, even if there is a lot of it. That’s just common sense.

      However, what it does tell me is that China, Japan and Korea, the nations that are sucking our manufacturing away from us, are hauling hard. And I would say that their kids are better educated than ours.

      I am purposely leaving Germany out of that value statement, since that’s the culture where I got my own education.

    1. It has occurred to me that this would make more sense. It’s not days in school, it’s hours of instructions. But it’s also quality and the credentials of the teachers, etc. Next thing, it requires a full dissertation, which was not the point of my post here.

      As it turns out, however, this post of mine has become very popular. It’s at the top of Google results for this question. So perhaps I should research and write more about it.

      My main thought was simply – look at the apparent correlation of time in school and results.

      I have come to the conclusion that I could find many other correlations, too.

      Thanks for your input. I really appreciate it.

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  9. Gaiwa

    I am not soo sure about these numbers. Germany with 240 school days for example: The year has 365 days and ~260 work days (-~104 saturdays and sundays). So the difference between German school days and “possible school days” is just 20 days. How is that even possible with a 6 week summer vacation alone, that equals 30 work days (6×5)?

    In Japan, the summer vacation is from July to September, so too long for 243 school days as well (and again… it’s just one vacation).

    I went to highschool in some of these countries and well, it was not even close to these number.

    Somebody mentioned/quoted this:
    “What about time spent in school: “Traditionally, the German school day has started at 8:00 a.m. and finished at 1:00 or 2:00 p.m”. ”

    We had usually between 6 and 10 hours a day in Germany, so school from 7:40 until 17:00 and later was not not that uncommon.

    I think the main problem of the US school system is in the standarts of the education itself, not soo much the hours. High school just doesn’t prepare you for college at all, if you don’t want to be prepared, short: AP courses for example. I’ve seen countless students whose whole college curriculum and major was based on “no math and no foreign language skills needed”.

    The difference between Germany, Japan and the US, in one way – as I see it – is the fact, that bad grades and performance have a deeper impact. If you fail classes in Germany, you have to repeat the whole year (so basically, you lose one year of your life.. just because you messed up 2 tests in one subject for example). And even more important: The “final secondary-school examinations” are not just scores from the final year or one single test (ala SAT), but the average of the last 3 years (!). So you have to give 100% all the time, and not just for the SAT. In Japan it is a mixture between social pressure (being good in school was never “uncool” there, but the way to go for everybody) and the pressure of getting into a good college.

    Well, I don’t want to bore you with a small novel… but the US school system…. I’m shocked every other day by the humongous lack of knowledge and differences between states and schools. There are soo many people who have never heard of some countries for example, are unable to do pretty basic math (and “never heard of” some of it), don’t speak a second language and don’t want to learn one, and even guys who “don’t believe in science” (often based on religion).

    By the way… in Europe US AP classes are considered “normal curriculum”, and most people I know who studied in the EU and the US don’t even think US college is comparable to EU/German college/university. Many first and second year courses are more like high school curriculum here. And that is weird, because on the other hand, there are many high schools and colleges in the US that have far higher standarts – even far higher than here or japan (the ivy league as the most famous example). A question from me… it seems that the quality of high school and college education, if you don’t have the money for private schools, mostly depends on luck: The state and the school (district). Is that true?

  10. Megan

    I would venture to say that quality over quantity applies here as well. Some of the things they waste time teaching our kids these days…truly it’s no wonder kids have NO idea how to spell.

  11. Ira Kutsar

    The statistics seem wrong. I will say about Russia because I know that system. School starts September 1 and ends May 31. Final exams are held in the first week of June. They have almost 3 months summer break, and 4 weeks of vacation in between 4 terms that comprise the school year. School starts at 8 am and ends in 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Breaks between classes can be as long as 15 minutes. In order to compare days in school, all the other information should be comparable. Try to figure out who is in classroom longer: Russian kids or American kids? Need to compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I didn’t try to compare hours a child spends on a school bench. I am not sure that’s possible to collect on such a large scale. I simply counted days and looked for a pattern.

      So how many days of school DOES Russia have? I’d be glad to substitute your number if you provide it.

  12. This is definitely interesting. This is why I don’t stress when American schools compare poorly against other countries. We put more value on non-traditional schooling than what’s learned between four walls.

  13. I am a ‘school turnaround specialist’ in South Africa, and this issue is crucial to get our country going. However, based on previous comments, you have to make a distinction between (i) school days – these are legislative days as per country policy documents, which will be different for teachers and students, (ii) school teaching and learning days – these will be reflected in the curriculum design policy documents, and (iii) actual teaching and learning days – these are the actual days spent by teachers in teaching, facilitating learning and formative assessments. In South Africa the school days are around 200 (197 for 2015 but 199 for 2016 for students, however 4 more for teachers). However, the last research on this topic (done in 2005) indicated that students are only taught for an average of 82 days. Therefore it is important that countries ‘get deeper’ into the numbers rather than superficially ‘believing’ that their children are really getting the days they deserve. For average and below-average students, these days are crucial, while above average and gifted students are not really affected by the ‘lost’ of these teaching and learning time. And this primary will take place in under-performing schools and countries where the student achievement is low, like South Africa.

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    1. Sorry, I did this 6 years ago and do not remember the details. I spent an hour googling, found a number of tables and stats, and only used those stats where two or more sources agreed. I did not use any controversial ones. You can also scan the comments below this post for further input. Overall, I would be cautious with my information since it’s now 6 years old already. I would do a new search before I would republish this chart – at this time.

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