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What takes place when human beings learn something, often from others but sometimes for themselves. It may happen during the day in specially constructed buildings with qualified teachers following structured, approved courses based on books, equipment, or activities, or more informally away from institutions in homes, streets, or meeting places.
It is not confined to traditional school subjects such as mathematics or history, though these will usually constitute an important part of it, nor is it offered only by paid teachers, for parents and elder brothers and sisters may well play a central part in it. Increasingly, education is seen as something which should develop the whole person, not just as a narrow academic training.
Thus in a vast variety of locations around the world, from lavishly equipped buildings with the latest laboratory equipment to simple huts in poorer countries, children and adults are learning the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, developing qualities which will be valuable in adult life whether at home or work, and in many cases taking retraining courses because the job for which they originally prepared has been transformed.
There is considerable variety in educational provision. In some countries the curriculum is prescribed from the centre, with content, books, and even teaching styles laid down in the capital city; in others, with a less centralized curriculum, such decisions are delegated to regional or even individual school level.
Most countries operate a primary phase for children up to 11 or 12, a secondary stage for those up to 15, 16, 17, or 18, and then further and higher education for anyone wishing to study beyond the minimum school-leaving age.
Education is learning something new. It is not limited to children but is something that is done everyday by everyone. To function in our world, our children must learn the skills they will need to become productive members of our society. In some cultures, this may be basic agriculture skills and things such as where the best grazing land is and the most reliable source of drinkable water. In other cultures, this may include computer usage as well as reading and mathematics. How we go about teaching the children varies as well, from formal curriculums defined by the countries' leaders to parents teaching their own children.
Education is the process through which people endeavor to pass along to their children their hard-won wisdom and their aspirations for a better world. This process begins shortly after birth, as parents seek to train the infant to behave as their culture demands. They soon, for instance, teach the child how to turn babbling sounds into language and, through example and precept, they try to instill in the child the attitudes, values, skills, and knowledge that will govern their offspring's behavior throughout later life.
Formal education is a conscious effort by human society to impart the skills and modes of thought considered essential for social functioning. Experiences are deliberately planned and utilized to help young people learn what adults consider important for them to know and to help teach them how they should respond to choices. Techniques of instruction often reflect the attitudes of society, i.e., authoritarian groups typically sponsor dogmatic methods, while democratic systems may emphasize freedom of thought.
During much of history, formal education was only for the upper classes. The children of most families often had only a few years of schooling. The idea of education for everyone didn't become accepted until the 1700s.
Most modern political systems recognize the importance of universal education. One of the first efforts of the former Soviet Union was to establish a comprehensive national school system. In the United States education has traditionally been under state and local control, although the Federal government has been playing a larger role during the latter half of the 20th century.
Today, most American children start school with preschool or Kindergarten. Preschool is an educational group experience for children who have not yet entered the first grade. It usually refers to the education of boys and girls from ages three to six or seven, depending on the admission requirements of schools in the area.
They then move on through elementary school, middle school, and high school.
K12 is the earliest program of formal education for children, in the USA, usually beginning at the age of five or six and lasting from six to eight years. Elementary school introduces children to the skills, information, and attitudes necessary for adjusting to society. The subjects taught are reading, writing, spelling, mathematics, social studies, science, art, music, physical education, and handicrafts which are often supplemented with other subjects.
Four out of five students finish high school, and many continue with vocational or college studies. Some go on from college to graduate school. This period of specialized study usually follows the completion of secondary education, lasting from four to seven or more years, with the purpose of qualifying the individual for higher positions in business or a professional activity. The institution may be either a college, university or professional school. In the United States, a college may be affiliated with a university or may be independent.
Most U.S. schools are public schools (in England, 'public' schools are private). They are funded by taxes and students attend them for free. About 10% of U.S. students go to private elementary or secondary schools. They (or their parents, probably) pay tuition to attend. Although their programs differ, public and private schools teach the same core subjects - languagearts, mathematics, social studies, and science.
Another option is home schooling, with the parents acting as tutors or teachers. Home schooling (or home educating) is growing in popularity; but home school students are still just a small fraction of the more than 50 million elementary and secondary school students in the USA.