What do kids learn by age 10 in cities around the world?. Image 1.

Dena Levitz



The idea of schools didn’t really come into vogue until the industrial revolution replaced youngsters with machines, freeing up their days. Gradually, school became more than a way to kill time; it was a required pursuit, and so were the teachings within it. In cities the world over, ever-changing educational standards vary as widely as the colors on the flags hanging at the front of classrooms, or the languages spelled out on blackboards.

This week we broke down—as specifically as possible—the skills and teachings children must master by the time they reach the age of 10 in a host of different international cities. What do they learn within the core areas of math, science and reading/writing?

Note: In most cases, this meant looking at the public school curriculum for kindergarten to fourth grade, which is often referred to as primary schooling or some incarnation of the word. Almost always, private schools are left to their own devices to decide what’s most appropriate for their constituents to know. Many cities also boast magnet and other specialized schools that are either set aside for the academically gifted or concentrated in a single subject area, so those weren’t factored into this analysis.



New York City


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Previously, there was No Child Left Behind. Now, there’s Common Core Learning Standards. These initiatives are essentially national jumping-off points for U.S. schools, but individual states and cities interpret Common Core in their own ways. The city adopted Common Core five years ago with the understanding that it would adopt 15 percent more NYC-specific items than the national standards in literature and math.

READING & WRITING: Language arts is grouped into themes, such as the role of freshwater around the world, in order to learn a new subject and practice reading and writing. For instance, a prescribed 3rd-grade unit is centered on staging stories. 

MATH: Multi-digit whole numbers are a major thrust. Students master being able to round these numbers, understand their digits, add them, subtract them and solve multi-step word problems from diagrams and equations.

SCIENCE: For the first time since 2008, New York City’s science learning standards were just updated for this school year for kindergarteners through fifth graders. Key ideas that they now have to grasp in kindergarten through second grade include the differences between non-living and living things, that matter has properties that can be observed through the senses, and that organisms and species change over time.

OTHER: Social studies is not a subject in which younger students are tested in New York City. But, across New York State as a whole, there’s new social studies curriculum being rolled out that shines more of a spotlight on recent global events.





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England’s schools have a reputation for being wildly all over the place when it comes to quality. Depending on the area of London in which the school happens to sit, the level of instruction is said to vary from abysmal to amazing. However, this reputation is changing, and London’s schools, all of whom have to abide by national curriculum benchmarks, are beginning to see recognition across the nation and Europe. Technically, the curriculum is organized into blocks of years, known as key stages. At the end of each key stage, teachers formally assess the students' progress. Key stage one covers the first two years of instruction, generally from age 5 to 7, while key stage two goes from that age up to 10 or 11.

READING & WRITING: Some main areas of focus are: improving vocabulary knowledge of root words, learning to single out prefixes and suffixes, understanding conjunctions and other grammar conventions, and developing legible cursive handwriting.

MATH: Addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, fractions and geometry are main areas of study. That includes counting in multiples of 6, 7, 9, 25 and 1000, recognizing the place value of each digit in a four-digit number, and converting time between analog and digital by the end of the 4th grade.

SCIENCE: Science units in year 3 explore the properties of plants, animals, lights, rocks and magnets. Then, the following year's classes move on to exploring living things’ environments and habitats, as well as the parts of a food chain, basic human bodily systems, states of matter and properties of electricity.

OTHER: Knowing their physical place in the world is a topic instilled in London students earlier than most. Within their first few years of school, they’re asked to locate the world’s countries, both in Europe and the Americas, using maps to hone in on key cities and topography.





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Especially compared to its Western counterparts, Japan’s school system is incredibly centralized and fixed, with not much room for improv both at a school or classroom level. Primary school teachers spend most of their time at the front of the room lecturing, as opposed to giving individualized attention or instruction. From as young as six, students are also expected to get themselves to school on their own—whether that means walking or hopping on a train. This significant cultural difference and lesson in independence is considered nearly as key to their futures as reading, writing and arithmetic. Not to be left out of the education process, though, Tokyo parents communicate back and forth with their child’s teacher in a daily log or renrakuchō.

READING & WRITING: Students are expected to be able to grasp folktales or myths being read to them, and to then give presentations; they're also expected to write Japanese characters carefully while paying attention to posture, all while using the appropriate manner of holding writing utensils and manipulating the correct shape of characters. 

MATH: Students are taught to understand positive and negative numbers, division, decimal numbers, fractions and how to measure angles. Teachers try to get them to grasp the idea of big numbers like one hundred million (oku in Japanese).

SCIENCE: In grade 4 they are exposed to the functions of electricity, and learn to understand the properties of air and water, in addition to investigating the movement of the moon and stars in relation to seasons.

OTHER: Tokyo students start taking a foreign language in fifth and sixth grade, with English encouraged as the language choice. In grades 1 and 2, as one of the ways to fulfill the discipline called Living Environment Studies, teachers are encouraged to have their students raise animals and grow plants continuously.





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In Beijing, there are broad goals for what students should achieve within their first decade. Developed by a specialized Curriculum Development Committee, they include recognizing their responsibilities as part of their own families and in society, understanding their national identity, engaging in discussion confidently in English and Chinese, developing a habit of reading and mastering independent learning skills such as self-management.

READING & WRITING: Reading, in particular, has been stepped up since the last curriculum reform in China. Teachers are requested to move young students from learning to read to reading to learn. That means helping them connect with the characters and struggles in the stories they read and—along with reading physical texts—reviewing how they can access e-texts and use web navigation to search for information.

MATH: Math is seen as more than numbers in Beijing schools—it’s a tool to study other disciplines. Students learn how to graphically represent linear equations, view 3D shapes and construct data sets.

SCIENCE: Objectives for science are not overtly spelled out.

OTHER: A whole chapter of the curriculum is devoted to meaningful homework. Homework, it says, should help students develop interests in reading, run the gamut in terms of type and format, improve thinking skills, be linked to daily life and only require students to commit facts to memory occasionally. The approach boils down to quality over quantity.




South Africa

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In an effort to move away from its apartheid past, South Africa, for nearly 20 years now, has been formulating a national curriculum with approved subject areas and CAPS that the Ministry of Education insists “give expression to the knowledge, skills and values worth learning.” In Johannesburg, as in the rest of the nation, a lack of textbooks is a huge hurdle, especially with math instruction. Still, math is a major area of focus in the early elementary years. In the first three school grades, close to 60 percent of class time is supposed to be devoted to mathematics.

READING & WRITING: In their home language, this breaks down into 3 separate tasks: listening and speaking; reading and phonics; and practicing writing and handwriting. English is taught starting in first grade. By fourth grade, lessons are entirely in English.

MATH:  Johannesburg classes are taught to know numbers up to at least 1,000, as well as common fractions and how to use objects and symbols to create patterns. Other objectives include learning properties of 3D objects, comparing different quantities with terms like “taller” and “shorter,” and beginning to grasp units of measure like grams.

SCIENCE: Science isn’t its own subject, per se, but it falls in the bucket of Life Skills. Students learn what weather is, what it means for objects to float, why conservation and recycling are necessary, and the concept of the planets.

OTHER: Art activities are supposed to have a math emphasis while still exploring students’ creativities (for example, using shapes to form a collage.)





What do kids learn by age 10 in cities around the world?. Image 7.

It’s been a decade since Moscow schools enacted compulsory 11–year education. Most students kick off their academic years at age 6.5 or 7 in what’s called primary general education. There, a single teacher ideally teaches a class through all four elementary school grades in Russian.

READING & WRITING: The curriculum that classes follow stresses the need to express and accept different viewpoints. The Russian language is viewed as the basis for their Russian identity.

MATH: Computer science is lumped in with math as a way of emphasizing the need for students to be computer literate, even as elementary schoolers. Mathematically, they should know how to convert measurements, execute algorithms, solve word problems and estimate numerals.

SCIENCE: Early study of natural sciences covers biology, physics, astronomy, chemistry and ecology. More than that, though, it’s about starting to develop an understanding of the modern scientific picture of the world.

OTHER: The concept of having national pride in Russian achievements is peppered throughout the curriculum. Students also are encouraged to find affordable ways, like through family archives, to explore nature and society.


Photo: Mark Peterson/Redux.