There are regional/national differences in the use of some words, which can cause confusion. In the US, a 'course' is a single graded item on a transcript, it could be a week long or a term / semester. (Sometimes this is called a 'class', but that can also refer to a cohort or 'year' in school.) Other people mean a course of study. This might also be called a 'subject', but some people use that to mean class (in any sense) and so on. Similar issues exist with seemingly innocuous words like 'undergraduate' and the infamous "public / private school".

This thread will try to disambiguate some of this and offer advice to members posing questions.

Regional Education Systems (sorted alphabetically):

The answers below are a collaborative effort; feel free to edit or add an entry for your own country.

  • $\begingroup$ I'll just put this here. $\endgroup$
    – ItamarG3
    Jul 23, 2017 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ If we are from an other country, are we encourage to answer this question? $\endgroup$ Aug 9, 2017 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Kenny yes, please! $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Aug 9, 2017 at 20:08

6 Answers 6


Education in the UK

The general structure of formal UK education is as follows:

  • Infant School (ages 4–7; Reception, Year 1 and Year 2)

    • Key Stage 1 is studied at this level. There is generally little Computing content, although the use of computers may be introduced.
  • Primary School (ages 7–11; Year 3–6)

    • Key Stage 2 is studied this level, including some study of Computing.
  • Secondary school (ages 11–16; Year 7–11)

    • Key Stage 3 (ages 11–14; Year 7–9) — students study a broad curriculum of around 15 subjects. No qualification at the end of KS3; students are assessed internally by teachers on progress. Computer Science and Information Technology are often taught as one combined subject, although more rigour is being introduced at this level to focus on CS concepts.
    • Key Stage 4 (ages 14–16; Year 10–11) — students study for external examinations known as GCSEs. These are now graded 9–1 (with 9 being the top grade) from 2017; previously graded A*–G (with A* being the top grade). Core subjects such as English, Mathematics and Science subjects are mandatory; many other subjects—particularly Computer Science—are optional.
  • Post-16 Education

    • Key Stage 5: Sixth Forms (ages 16–18; Year 12–13) — generally attached to secondary schools; offer A-Level qualifications. Generally only 3 or 4 subjects are studied at this level in much greater depth.

      "Sixth Form" gets the name "form" before the year numbering system changed: It used to go 1, 2 (same as current system, but no reception), then 1, 2, 3, 4 (now 3-6), then 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (now 7-11), then 6th form (not year, as it covered 2 years).

    • Colleges are separate institutions from schools and often offer A-Level qualifications as well.
    • Other students not pursuing an academic qualification generally take apprenticeships, as it is legally required that students are in education until the age of 18.
  • University (note that these are never called colleges)

    • Generally, one subject is studied at University. Unlike the US, you generally do not major or minor in a subject, because you only ever study one subject (or, in the case of a Joint Honours degree, two subjects). A CS student would never be required to study and History or English, for example.
    • To make things more confusing, universities aren't colleges, but many of the older universities are collegiate and consist of smaller organisations (called colleges, but not the same colleges as the post-16 colleges).

The IB is occasionally offered at some Sixth Forms and colleges, but is very rare compared to A-Levels.

Note that even qualifications such as Computer Science have subtle variations as multiple awarding bodies offer them. The main exam boards are AQA, Edexcel, OCR and WJEC, and all publish specifications for their version of qualifications (e.g. see AQA GCSE Computer Science)

  • $\begingroup$ In the US, the word infant refers to a helpless neonate. And it just diverges from there... Might as well be a different language. Don't get me started on the word 'gymnasium'! $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 20, 2017 at 0:46
  • $\begingroup$ There was a subject and qualification called ICT, but it is being phased out. There just remains a few ICT qualifications they seem to be ones that could be relabelled IT under the new system. $\endgroup$ Jul 30, 2017 at 16:53

A modest proposal:
Course (US) - a course(US) is a unit of teaching that typically lasts one academic term, is led by one or more instructors (teachers or professors), and has a fixed roster of students. Usually weeks to months in length. A sequence of sessions on a given topic.

Course (UK and elsewhere) - a course(UK) is a collection of term length sequence of sessions. Synonym for Program(US). A Course(UK) may result in a certificate or qualification.

Program of Study, Program(US) - the collection of courses(US) to teach a subject. Possibly years in total length. Synonym for Course(UK)

Class (US) - a single meeting of a Course(US). Usually an hour or so.

Class Period - Synonym for Class(US).

Session - Synonym for Class(US).

Note that this is primarily US and UK usage. Note the conflicts between US and UK usage. World wide UK usage is probably more common. The question writer is encouraged to give some context when using these terms; especially Course.

Another point of confusion between US and UK usage is the meaning of "public" v "private" school. In the US a public school means one funded by public (tax) dollars - primarily property taxes. Students pay no tuition. A private school has other funding; either tuition or interested donors. Usually they are (very) expensive for the student's family.

In the UK, "public" schools are generally older schools funded primarily by endowments, perhaps first arising around the time of Henry VIII. Universities, on the other hand, get funded largely by taxes and tuition fees. Some universities and the colleges within them often have large endowments as well.

Schools run by the government are called state schools. Most have converted to academy status which is independent of local government control; instead running autonomously with funding from the central government.

In the US free post-secondary education is now very rare. Fifty years ago scholarships could get a student through college with no debt, but no longer. Even publicly funded "State" universities require tuition payments. Students often graduate with crushing debt. It is as if some politicians want a stupid populace. (Sorry off into opinion land, there).

Until recently in the UK university was difficult to get in to, but was funded nationally, rather than by student tuition payments. Since 1998, tuition fees have been in place for Universities, which have risen from their introduction to the current price of £9,250 per year. Repayments are based on income after graduation; there are no fixed payments unlike in the US.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your milieu may vary. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 7, 2017 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ As a Portuguese, I must say that I get confused all the time... :( and some times I may try to make direct translations (curso = program) -> course. The words are similar, so... What do you call a group of students? A class? $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2017 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ @NunoGilFonseca Yes, it is unfortunate that many common words are used for very different things. 'Class' can refer to the group of students enrolled in a particular Class Period. When I teach about databases I always have to explain how naming things has some complexity - singular or plural names, a formal or informal name (Employee vs Person) etc. Words come to be used for things they are members of or represent... But we have to start somewhere. Perhaps if people from various regions and with various languages add to this, it will be more clear and correct. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 10, 2017 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ Please note that I wrote the first few sentences and the rest was added later. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 20, 2017 at 0:41



  • Discipline or Matière is a field taught in enseignement secondaire by a specific teacher : math, French, music are disciplines. History & Geography are generally considered as one discipline together because their are taught by the same teachers. In France, computer science is not currently considered a discipline.
  • Cours has a lot of meanings.
    • It can mean the content taught Le cours de M. Untel utilise très peu d'exemples : Mr. Untel's teaching uses very few examples ; Vous devez apprendre votre cours avant le TP You must learn the course before the lab session. By extension, a printed or digital document containing such content.
    • It can also mean the period or duration of teaching : J'ai 4 heures de cours aujourd'hui I have 4 hours of lessons today ; Les cours du 25 mai sont avancés au 12 mai Lessons for the 25th of May will take place on the 12th of May.
    • It can mean a lecture, in opposition to a lab session : Vous me rendrez vos comptes-rendus de TP lors du prochain cours You will hand me over your lab session reports at the next lecture. In universities, they say Cours magistral in this sense.
    • It used to also mean grade (as in 1st grade) but is not anymore used in this sense, except in frozen acronyms like CE1 (Cours élémentaire 1ère année).
  • Classe also has several meanings
    • A grade. La classe de 6è succède à la classe de CM2 The 6th grade comes after the CM2 grade.
    • A group of students following the same courses for one year. La classe de 6èA compte 24 élèves ; les 6èB sont 25 There are 24 pupils in 6èA; 25 are in 6èB. In this sense, the administration tends to use the word division.
    • In old administrative texts it has the same meaning as cours, especially the sentence Les vacances commencent les jours indiqués ci-dessous, après la classe Vacations begin on the dates mentioned below, after the lessons.
  • Programme is the official nationwide document mandating what should be taught in each discipline for a given classe.


School is not mandatory in France; there is only a duty for the parents to educate their children, which they can do buy sending them to the public school of their sector or a private school of their choice, or by educating them themselves (homeschooling), in which case inspectors of the Éducation nationale may verify from time to time their progress.

There is an École maternelle, usually from ages 3 to 5 (or 2 to 5, especially in regions of France where there has historically been an ideological tension between the public, secular schools and the private, religious schools).

Then you have two ordres d'enseignement : enseignement primaire and enseignement secondaire. Originally, these two orders were parallel : roughly speaking,

  • bourgeois children would go to enseignement secondaire from ages 6 to 17 or 18, ultimately to prepare the baccalauréat. Grades are numbered like quarters of final and so on : I think it started in the 12è (12th) then 11è, etc. until 1ère (1st) and then terminale, where you terminated your secondary curriculum by taking the baccalauréat exam. Each discipline is taught by a specialized teacher.
  • poorer children would go to enseignement primaire from ages 6 to 10, then 12 then 14 as the laws were revised. All courses are taught by the same teacher.

Nowadays, these ordre d'enseignement are in succession, which leads to a very bizarre numbering of the grades. Everybody goes to École primaire from ages 6 to 10 to follow enseignement primaire in grades CP, CE1, CE2, CM1, CM2. Then one goes to Collège from age 11 to 14 which is the beginning of the revised enseignement secondaire with the grades 6è, 5è, 4è and 3è. Then to Lycée from age 15 to 18 for 2nde, 1ère and terminale.

Then, students can enter higher education, which in France is dual. There is the Université with its european grades : Licence (3 years), Master (2 years) and Doctorat (3 years). Theoretically, anybody with baccalauréat can enter any Université ; in practice, due to an increase of students and budget cuts, there are not enough places everywhere; but since Université are not allowed to select their students, they pick them at random if there are too many candidates. There is also Classe préparatoires and Grandes Écoles, which on the contrary are selective curricula. The first part is a 2-year general preparation cycle, which are physically located within lycées, to national competitive exams (concours des Grandes Écoles) which allow students to enter one of these schools, where they usually remain for 3 years.

Computer science

As I said, CS is not a discipline in secondary school. This means that no professor is recruited to teach it and that it does not have a specific alloted time or a programme. In collège, since 2016, elements of computer science (using Scratch) have been added to the math programme.

The programmes for math in lycée are being revised to take this into account ; starting 2017, students of 2nde should be taught some Python, up to the notion of function. The problem is that math teacher sometimes have never learned anything about CS.

In classes préparatoires, a specific CS course was created in 2014 (2hr/week for 3 semesters out of the 4 that exist in the cycle), but most often it is taught by math, physics or engineering teachers. Some teachers with a specialization in CS have been recruited who only teach these courses, although officially their are still math or physics teachers.

Université are not subject to the disciplines of enseignement secondaire and there has been a specific section for CS in the Conseil national des universités for ages.


Education in the US

The first thing to understand about US education is that there is no national system at all. The Federal Government sets some rules and provides a bit of funding, but the bulk of funding and nearly all of the regulations come at the level of the individual States. Much of what is here might be invalid in a few places. From the education of infants through doctoral education, there are really two different system. One is State funded, with vast differences between states. Schools (including Colleges and Universities) funded in this way, at all levels, are called "Public". The other funding source is private funds, tuition, and endowments. These are called Private Schools, Colleges, and Universities. From pre-school and Kindergarten through Secondary School (High School), State funding is, for the most part from taxes on property - real estate and these vary from community to community. If you are from a poor area, your schools have less funding than otherwise. Federal funds compensate a bit for this, but there are still wide discrepancies. State funded colleges and universities get funding from (mostly) income taxes along with tuition from students, and grants that support research and some other specific programs.

  • Pre school In a few places education is provided to students less than about five years old. There are two forms of this with one intended to partly compensate for the difficulties of poorer students and give them a Head Start in the educational system. Head Start is a specific program, once very popular. The other form is largely utilized by wealthier families and may use innovative programs such as Montessori based education.

  • Kindergarden - 6th grade. Students aged about 5 years through about 11 or 12 are in Primary School aka Elementary School. Students take a wide variety of subjects from Math to Music. Schools at this level are also responsible for the general socialization of children. Teachers in public schools (i.e. publicly funded schools) are generally specially trained for this level and may have certifications in a topic area as well. In some states certification of teachers privately funded schools (private schools) is not as rigorous. Students here normally see only one or two teachers per day, with a specialist visiting their classroom as needed.

  • Junior High School. Students from about 11 through 15 may attend Junior High School, usually listed as grades 7 through 9. In some places, however, Primary school also includes grades 7 and 8 and then students go to High School (below) starting in 10th. There is a bit more specialization in Junior High. At this level teachers are more specialized and students spend time with each of several teachers for their subjects, math, history, ...

  • High School. Students start either in 9th (some places) or 10th (most places) in High School. There is more specialization of subjects here and the opportunity in many places for good students to earn University credit for some subjects through the Advanced Placement program. For the most part, teachers are credentialed to teach at this level and have topic specialties. Again, privately funded schools have looser regulations in some places but some are truly excellent, though expensive, with may teachers with doctorates in some specialty. A private high school education could easily cost over $100,000 in total. The funding of publicly funded schools is again dependent on the wealth of the area in which they lie, and so varies. Many high schools provide both academic programs for those contemplating university/college education and vocational programs for those who do not. One "graduates" from high school with a Diploma.

  • College and University Above the age of about 18 a student may attend a college or university. In the US a University normally includes many specialized programs (medicine, law, agriculture) as well as more traditional academic programs. Often the subdivisions of a University are called Colleges, but there is little standardization. The term College, however, is often used for smaller institutions with a mission to give a general education. These are sometimes called "Liberal Arts Colleges" and the education there covers the main topics that define a Scholar as known in Europe since the Middle Ages. Some colleges are affiliated with a particular church and most students and professors may be members of that church. Students in a college or university study many things as determined by the regulations, set by the faculty, or State regularity bodies. It isn't until post baccalaureate education that a student studies only one subject. Students at college or university have a Major, or Major Concentration, with is one subject studied intensively, but will also study many other subjects as well. A Mathematics Major will also study (lesser amounts of) history, philosophy, etc. Some students also have a Minor Concentration with a chosen set of courses in a given topic. One graduates from this level with a Degree, often a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) or a B.S (Science), thought there are many possibilities.

Colleges and Universities in the US are normally "accredited" by one or more of several quasi-public agencies that are themselves accredited by the Federal Government. Secondary Schools may also be similarly accredited. The main agencies are regional (e.g. North-Central) and the accreditation is conducted by faculty from other institutions in the region. There are also specialty accreditation agencies, say for a religious denomination.

  • Post Graduate. Having earned a Bachelor's degree (or sometimes not) a student may join a Master's level or Doctoral level program at the same university from which they earned the first degree or another. Most (not all) post graduate education is carried on in Universities with their greater funding to support research. There are many degrees awarded at this level. Many students first earn a Master's degree and then move up to a Doctoral program, but that is not usually a requirement. A Master's degree normally takes two years or so of full time study, but many students stretch this out over a longer period. Doctoral programs can range from an additional 3 years up to, well, forever. Seven years is not uncommon. Some programs at this level have a rigidly defined set of requirements, dependent on the major, and others permit the student to tailor a program through consultation with a faculty advisor. Most degrees at this level require a Thesis (MS level) or a Research Dissertation (Doctoral). Here it is not terribly different from the European experience. At the doctoral level the only requirements may be to successfully pass a set of "Qualifying Examinations" covering the field of study, and write and defend a Dissertation acceptable to a faculty committee. Some, however, require additional published work for a Doctorate.
  • $\begingroup$ US law requires children to be schooled up to their 16th birthday, but then they can walk away and never go back. Also, historically, many famous people never attended fully past 8th grade, such as Abraham Lincoln. This leads to the widely held sense that schooling can be inessential or even a waste of time and money. It vies with Health Care as a major drain on public and personal funding. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 20, 2017 at 0:53

As far as terminology goes, Israel uses a system very similar to the one outlined here.

A curriculum is supplied by the ministry. It's open for anyone to read (provided you can read Hebrew). Here's a translation of the core points.

Education in Israel

Primary School (ages 6 to 12):

Introduction to various aspects of Computer Science through simplification, algorithmic problem solving and its implementation.

Students have hands on experience here. The document goes into very detailed explanation here, which I omitted. It's cumbersome here.

Middle School (ages 13 to 15):

For reasons I won't go in to, anything taught in primary school is assumed to never have been taught (except in 2 subjects).

The ministry-supplied guide is a bit more structured here. There are 2 options. One of them is using Scratch to learn what I wrote in the previous section, and the other is, to use annotations, @Deprecated.

In Scratch, the students learn user input\output, data types ("whole number is not the same as fraction", "this can either have yes or no" etc.)

High School (ages 16 to 18):

From here students choose whether to learn Computer Science or not. They major in subjects and one of the options is Computer science.

In the CS major, students are taught either Java, C# or C++. The language is chosen by the school (AFAIK; it's possibly chosen by the municipality, but I am not sure either way).

They learn either

  1. Object Oriented Programming.
  2. Introduction to Operations Research.
  3. Assembly.

As well as common datastructures (List, Binary Tree, Stack and Queue).


Each subject in the educational system (subjects: Math, English, CS, Hebrew, History etc.) has a number, called units. The number of units a student has is accumulated as they complete matriculation tests. Some subjects are more units than others. This is somewhat similar to Credit Hours in University.

Computer Science is 5 units. (English can also be 5, and so can Math).

1It's not so clear which languages and no specific details are given in the document. It's probably for the school to choose.


Education in India

Stage 1 - LKG and UKG (2 years)

This is Kindergarten (I hope I got the spelling right), Lower and Higher.

Stage 2 - Standard I to X (10 years)

This is called by many names, primary school (I to IV), middle school (V to VII), high school (VIII to X).

Stage 3 - PUC I and II (2 years)

This is neither school nor is it university education. It's called Pre-University Course.

Stage 4 - University (3 years, 4 years, 5 years)

3 years is usually non-engineering degrees which are also (for some reason) called non-professional courses. These have names like BSc, BCom and so on.

4 years is specifically referred to professional course in Engineering called as B.E or B.Tech.

5 years refers to Medical Sciences going by the name of MBBS.

Under normal circumstances, almost any kid is assumed to have gone from Stage 1 to Stage 3, and most of the subjects taught are almost the same across the country with some minor variations.


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