AS the demand for more training grows and the required levels of
qualification keep going up and up, Europe's schools have had to
take in a growing number of pupils for a greater number of years.
Today, compulsory schooling generally spans nine or 10 years,
and as many as 12 in Belgium and Germany. Southern Europe is slowly
bringing itself up to date: Although Turkey and Italy still have
only five and eight years of compulsory school attendance,
respectively, Portugal and Spain are catching up with their
northern neighbors: Portugal requires nine years of schooling, and
Spain, which currently requires eight years, will have 10 years of
compulsory schooling beginning in 1996.
With the creation of all sorts of educational centers and the
recognized importance of the education of young children, it is no
longer the law that determines at what age a child starts school.
Children start very young even though it is still optional (except
in Northern Ireland and Luxembourg): usually age 3 or 4, and
sometimes as young as age 2 or 3, as in France and Belgium.
Northern countries, on the other hand, where the role of the family
in the small child's life is greater, put off school until much
later (age 5 in Denmark and Norway, for example).
Even if they agree with the principle of early education, not
all southern European countries have the capacity to cater to the
young child. In the countryside, for example, preschool education
is often a luxury few can afford.
All the same, it is true to say that the majority of children
start school at least a year before they are obliged to by law. The
striking exceptions: Only 50 percent of Greek children, 40 percent
of Portuguese, and a mere 5 percent of Turks preempt their summons
Countries that require their young people to stay in school the
longest also turn out the most university students: On average 30
to 40 percent of their 18-to-24-year-olds go to university. Yet
some of these countries are so selective that university attendance
rates fall to the level of countries such as Turkey: fewer than 15
percent for England and the Swiss canton of Zurich. In the United
States, by contrast, more than half the 18-to-24-year-olds are in
Systems may differ, but European elementary-school classrooms
look much the same. Coeducation, an average class size of 20 to 22
pupils (except in Turkey, where it can reach 45), and one teacher
for all subjects per age-group (except in Scandinavia): All
Europe's primary schools are built on more or less the same
The choice of the basic subjects to be taught varies little:
reading and writing, mathematics, an introduction to the sciences,
sports, and art. One difference is in the importance given to
foreign languages. At first, only the Anglo-Saxon countries went
for it, but it is growing steadily throughout the European
As for the new technology, it has not found its way into all
European schools. France and Belgium allow only a minimum of
educational television programs, and Greece has just banned them
completely. Northern and central European countries have included
the ABC's of computers in their general educational aims
(especially at secondary level) and have equipped most schools.
Southern Europe, along with France and Belgium, uses the computer
simply as a teaching aid. …