What Are the Differences between a Primary and Secondary Education?

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  • Written By: Renee Booker
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 24 February 2020
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Throughout the world's education systems, education is generally divided into primary and secondary education with an option for students to also pursue post-secondary education in many systems. The border between each type of education will vary among educational systems. In most cases, primary education encompasses the first six to eight years of a child's education with secondary education comprising the adolescent years.

Many educational systems throughout the world require that a child receive at least a primary level of education. Some systems also make secondary education mandatory. Within the United States, for example, most states require a child to receive both a primary and secondary education. In the developing nations of the world, although primary education may be available, it is often unrealistic for children to attend for reasons such as transportation and the need to help the family earn money or take care of the home. Many international organizations, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are leading the push to ensure that all children receive at least a basic primary level of education.


The line between primary and secondary education can vary among systems, with some educational systems also using a middle school or junior high designation as a transitional period between primary and secondary education. In most systems, primary education begins around the age of five or six and continues until the child enters adolescence at around the age of 12 or 13. Secondary education takes up the next two to four years in most educational systems.

In the United States, for instance, primary education starts at the age of five or six and continues until completion of the sixth grade, in most systems. Middle school then lasts for the next two or three years, and then the student enters secondary education. A student's compulsory education ends when the student successfully completes four years of secondary education. In other countries, such as Mexico, a student's secondary education ends closer to the age of 15 or 16, at which time the child may choose to enter a technical school, pursue a college level degree, or seek employment.

After completion of secondary school, most educational systems afford students the option to pursue higher education by applying for entrance into a post-secondary educational institution, frequently referred to as a college or university. In most systems, acceptance into a college or university is competitive. Post-secondary education may result in the student receiving a bachelor's degree, master's degree, or doctorate degree.


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Post 4

@post no. 2: The poster said he/she personally thinks that kids should be taught practical skills from primary school up, rather than just theory, but doesn't think they should lose the theory either.

I have a similar thought, although a bit different. I think that kids under a certain age, lets say it's arbitrarily set at 12, should receive a "general" type of education, in the sense that they learn how to read, speak and write English enough as to get by, plus enough knowledge in math (to the extent that they know how to do basic stuff like addition, subtraction, multiplication and so on). For kids older than 12, they will be assessed in their capabilities. Those who are

smart/have the potential to excel in scholarly pursuits, will be grouped in one class. Those who are dimwitted will be put in another group. Those who are in between will be placed in a third group, where trade-related stuff will be taught.

This way, we don't waste resources on pupils who are, for a lack of better word, too dumb to learn. We also won't be tormenting these students with things that they will never understand, or desire to learn. We will be able to "save" our efforts for those who exhibit genuine capabilities in learning. It will save a lot of money and resources, and it will make life less miserable for all students involved.

Post 3

Primary teaching is so much more difficult than teaching secondary. You have to know so much more and you have to develop deep relationships with a group of students that you can't escape from. If you don't get on with a student in a secondary class, you've only got to interact with them for a few hours each week. But, with a primary class you have to work with them all day, every day, so you need to be almost superhuman in your ability to cope with that.

I've spent some time in primary school classrooms and I know I could never do it. It might seem like a very simple task to teach someone the alphabet, but everything they

do is actually very complicated and the teacher is constantly having to think on her feet.

Not to mention the fact that the class sizes are huge these days. Having 30 teenagers is one thing, but having 30 seven year olds, when half of them need you to tie their shoes before every lunch time is a special kind of punishment.

Post 2

@MrsPramm - There have been all kinds of theories about how to reorganize the school system. It was one of those things that kind of grew organically over the years and we are now kind of stuck with it.

I've heard people say that there should be two kinds of secondary education. Some that teach trades and some that teach theory. Personally, I think that kids should be taught practical skills from primary school up, rather than just theory, but I don't think they should lose the theory either.

Post 1
I heard an interesting argument recently that high school should be extended until the students are closer to 20, rather than arbitrarily cut off at around 17-18.

This would free up some more jobs for older people, as well as giving students a little bit more time to consolidate their learning. I think the theory is that they would be able to spend more time in their earlier years, even in primary school education, on particular subjects, rather than spending more time on them later.

I don't think this is actually going to happen any time soon, but I kind of wish it would.

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