Our kids range from 3 to 16 years old and of course when we told them we were considering moving to Ireland, their first questions were about the schools. I've done extensive research and I am thrilled with what I have learned. Irish schools are very high quality and no nonsense. Less busywork and silliness with poster-board and crosswords and more traditional learning.
Here are the largest differences between American and Irish Schools:
- In my small town in Michigan, there's a daycare on every corner. Not so in Ireland. There are very few daycare centers outside of the few major cities and the few that exist are commonly full with long waiting lists. If you're lucky enough to find a spot in a good daycare for your pre-schooler or infant the prices are exorbitant by American standards. Our youngest will be 4 by the time we move so this really isn't an issue for us as she'll be old enough to start primary school.
- What Americans call Kindergarten is "Junior Infants" and starts at age 4 or 5. Junior Infants is affectionately called "Babies." What we'd call 1st grade is called "Senior Infants" followed by 1st through 6th class, followed by Secondary school. Elementary school is called primary school. Secondary school starts from age 12 or 13 through age 18 (comparable to American middle and high schools).
- There is no prohibition against teaching religion in public schools and almost all primary schools are affiliated with the Catholic Church while the rest are associated with the Church of Ireland and other Christian denominations. There are also state funded Jewish and Muslim schools. The curriculum, aside from a few standard classes on religion, is totally out of the hands of the church. I'm relieved to learn that includes science and there's no silliness about creationism etc. They teach real science.
- The Department of Education is responsible for setting curriculum. The curriculum is set by committees of teachers, textbook publishers and Department Inspectors who used to be teachers.
- Wearing a uniform to school is the norm in Ireland. My teenage daughter isn't thrilled but my teen son doesn't mind at all, and our youngest will never know the difference.
- At the end of secondary school, Irish students take a series of college entrance examinations in six to eight subjects. The result of these exams determine their college opportunities and are called the Leaving Certificate Examinations.
- It's called "going to university" not "going to college". Irish students don't apply to individual colleges. Instead they submit just one application to the Central Applications Office for college admission. Admission to university is determined solely upon the number of points accumulated on Leaving Cert exams.
- The Leaving Certs are given in June and take a little over 2 weeks. Test results are released in mid-August so Irish students have to wait until August to find out where they will be attending college.
- I'm thrilled to report that the Irish government pays tuition fees at Irish colleges for Irish citizens. Woot! My kids will be eligible to apply for Irish citizenship once we life there for 2/3 years which means at least 2 of the 4 kids will be eligible for a top notch college education in Ireland at a fraction of the cost (there are still registration fees) of attending and American college.
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