09/11/2012 10:35 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2012

Back to School Around the World


Like moms all over the United States, I'm in the midst of the back-to-school frenzy. My daughter is starting her final year of elementary school, so this is a watershed moment. I'm trying to savor every bit of it, from the 14-page registration packet I filled out last week to the search for the perfect backpack (still not found).

I have my concerns, too. Will she get along with her teacher and the other kids in class? Will she feel challenged and excited about her school work, and learn what's necessary to be successful in the future. Curious to find out how my back-to-school rituals compare with those of families around the world, I asked BabyCenter's international editors to weigh in. The differences, and similarities, are fascinating.

"School starts in Russia on the 1st of September. This day is also celebrated as Knowledge and Skills Day," says Irina Korabelnikova, editor of BabyCenter Russia. "Streets and towns are full of rosy-cheeked schoolchildren with flowers they bring to teachers on this day. Education is mostly free and we have always been very proud of the very good quality. But in the last two years there has been talk at the state level of offering basic subjects for free and making all the rest paid, which is of great concern to parents."

"In Brasil classes start in early February. Moms rush to buy school supplies and it affects monthly inflation figures for the whole country. Prices can vary more than 500 percent, depending on the store. In big cities such as Sao Paulo, the opening of schools is synonymous with big traffic jams and police officers frantically trying to stop the chaos." explains Fernanda Ravagnani, editor of BabyCenter Brasil.

"In most Arabic countries, back-to-school rituals are similar to those in the United States. But some educated and employed parents send their kids to private school. Among the school challenges are too few teachers and weak curriculums," says Randa Ozair, editor of BabyCenter Arabia.

"In Malaysia, school starts in January," explains Mei Leng Wong, editor of BabyCenter Malaysia. "Uniforms are required once children enter formal schooling at age 6. Similar to many other countries, parents hope that their children have a high-quality education. In Malaysia, parents are pushing for more critical thinking and less rote learning. Unfortunately, this can be challenging when class sizes are huge with 40 to 50 students in a class."

Despite living around the globe, it seems many of the world's moms share a blend of excitement and concern during back-to-school season. But moms in a few countries cite more serious challenges. "In India most families send their children to government schools. But the classes are big and teachers often don't show up for school. The level of education is inconsistent," says Diane Rai, editor of BabyCenter India.

And then there are countries like Afghanistan where many children, especially girls, never get the chance to go to school, and Tanzania where continuing education is such an economic hardship that students often quit during primary education. Although the gap is closing in primary school enrollment, 1 in 5 girls in the developing world never completes sixth grade.

Thankfully, many organizations are working to improve education around the world. Johnson & Johnson partners with several organizations, including Women Deliver, to advocate for improved girls education. Johnson & Johnson also supports programs such as the Girls Secondary Education Project in Guinea and Tanzania. This program provides thousands of scholarships so girls can go on to secondary education, and offers guidance to help those young women attain employment after their education is completed.

Outside of my work with BabyCenter, I personally support the Afghan Institute of Learning, an inspiring group dedicated to improving access to education and healthcare for Afghan girls and women. By giving women and girls around the world the opportunity for an education, we're investing in a brighter future where individuals, families, and countries can thrive. Every child deserves a chance to learn and by working together we can make it happen.

What do you think about education around the world? What we can do to make a difference?

BabyCenter is a proud member of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies.