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In Europe, universities emerged during the 12th century; here, scholasticism was an important tool, and the academicians were called schoolmen. During the Middle Ages and much of the Early Modern period, the main purpose of schools (as opposed to universities) was to teach the Latin language. This led to the term grammar school, which in the United States informally refers to a primary school, but in the United Kingdom means a school that selects entrants based on ability or aptitude. The school curriculum has gradually broadened to include literacy in the vernacular language and technical, artistic, scientific, and practical subjects.

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Obligatory school attendance became common in parts of Europe during the 18th century. In Denmark-Norway, this was introduced as early as in 1739 1741, the primary end being to increase the literacy of the almue, i.e., the "regular people". Many of the earlier public schools in the United States and elsewhere were one-room schools where a single teacher taught seven grades of boys and girls in the same classroom. Beginning in the 1920s, one-room schools were consolidated into multiple classroom facilities with transportation increasingly provided by kid hacks and school buses.

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Islam was another culture that developed a school system in the modern sense of the word. Emphasis was put on knowledge, which required a systematic way of teaching and spreading knowledge and purpose-built structures. At first, mosques combined religious performance and learning activities. However, by the 9th century, the madrassa was introduced, a school that was built independently from the mosque, such as al-Qarawiyyin, founded in 859 CE. They were also the first to make the Madrassa system a public domain under Caliph's control.

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In ancient India, schools were in the form of Gurukuls. Gurukuls were traditional Hindu residential learning schools, typically the teacher's house or a monastery. Schools today are commonly known by the Sanskrit terms Vidyashram, Vidyalayam, Vidya Mandir, Vidya Bhavan in India. In southern languages, it is known as Pallikoodam or PaadaSaalai. During the Mughal rule, Madrasahs were introduced in India to educate the children of Muslim parents. British records show that indigenous education was widespread in the 18th century, with a school for every temple, mosque, or village in most regions. The subjects taught included Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Theology, Law, Astronomy, Metaphysics, Ethics, Medical Science, and Religion.

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In the United Kingdom, the term school refers primarily to pre-university institutions, and these can, for the most part, be divided into pre-schools or nursery schools, primary schools (sometimes further divided into infant school and junior school), and secondary schools. Various types of secondary schools in England and Wales include grammar schools, comprehensives, secondary moderns, and city academies. While they may have different names in Scotland, there is only one type of secondary school. However, they may be funded either by the state or independently funded. Scotland's school performance is monitored by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education. Ofsted reports on performance in England and Estyn reports on performance in Wales.

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In the United Kingdom, most schools are publicly funded and known as state schools or maintained schools in which tuition is provided for free.[15] There are also private schools or private schools that charge fees. Some of the most selective and expensive private schools are known as public schools, a usage that can be confusing to speakers of North American English. In North American usage, a public school is publicly funded or run.

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Under British rule, Christian missionaries from England, the United States, and other countries established missionary and boarding schools in India.[19] Later as these schools gained popularity, more were started, and some gained prestige. These schools marked the beginning of modern schooling in India. The syllabus and calendar they followed became the benchmark for schools in modern India. Today most schools follow the missionary school model for tutoring, subject/syllabus, and governance, with minor changes.