Public education  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Public education is schooling mandated for or offered to all children by the government, whether national, regional, or local, provided by an institution of civil government, and paid for, in whole or in part, by taxes. The term is generally applied to basic education, including kindergarten to twelfth grade (K-12) education, also referred to as primary and secondary education. Public education can also be post-secondary education, advanced education, or universities, colleges, or technical schools funded and overseen by government rather than private entities.

Public education is inclusive, both in its treatment of students and in that enfranchisement for the government of public education is as broad as for government generally. Public education is often organized and operated to be a deliberate model of the civil community in which it functions.

Public education may be provided by a national, regional (province, state, territory, etc.), or local/municipal government, or a combination thereof. Where public education is provided by a state or a regional government, it is often referred to as "state education", a term which is rarely used when public education is provided by a local government.

Public education is typically provided to groups of students (classrooms; the "one-to-many" model of delivery), with a number of groups of students clustered in a school. However, the term "public education" is not synonymous with "public schooling". Public education can be provided in-home, employing visiting teachers, supervising teachers, and/or distance learning. It can also be provided in non-school, non-home settings, such as shopping mall space.

The term "public education" is not synonymous with the term "publicly funded education". Government may make a public policy decision that it wants to have some financial resources distributed in support of, and it may want to have some control over, the provision of education which is not public education. Grants-in-aid of private schools and voucher systems provide examples of publicly funded education which is not public education. Conversely, a public school (including one run by a school district) may rely heavily on non-public funding (such as high fees or private donations) and still be considered public by virtue of public ownership and control.

Public education often involves the following:

  1. compulsory student attendance (until a certain age or standard is achieved);
  2. certification of teachers and curricula, either by the government or by a teachers' organization;
  3. testing and standards provided by government.

The United Kingdom provides an anomalous use of the term "public school". In England and Wales the term "public school" refers to an elite of privately funded independent schools which had their origins in medieval schools funded by charity to provide education for the poor. (The anomaly points to one of the fundamentals of public education, which is inclusion: in times past the commitment to inclusion was demonstrated by reaching out through charity.)

Public education is generally available to all. In most countries, it is compulsory for children to attend school up to a certain age, but the option of attending private school is open to many. In the case of private schooling, schools operate independently of the state and generally defray their costs (or even make a profit) by charging students tuition fees. The funding for public schools, on the other hand, is provided by tax revenues, so that even individuals who do not attend school (or whose dependents do not attend school) help to ensure that society is educated. In poverty stricken societies, authorities are often lax on compulsory school attendance because the children there are valuable laborers. It is these same children whose income-securing labor cannot be forfeited to allow for school attendance.

In some countries, such as Germany, private associations or churches can operate schools according to their own principles, as long as they comply with certain state requirements. When these specific requirements are met, especially in the area of the school curriculum, the schools will qualify to receive state funding. They are then treated financially and for accreditation purposes as part of the public education system, even though they make decisions about hiring and school policy (not hiring atheists, for example), which the state might not make itself.

Proponents of public education assert it to be necessary because of the need in modern society for people who are capable of reading, writing, and doing basic mathematics. However, some libertarians argue that education is best left to the private sector; in addition, advocates of alternative forms of education such as unschooling argue that these same skills can be achieved without subjecting children to state-run compulsory schooling. In most industrialized countries or states, these views are distinctly in the minority.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Public education" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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