Beyond the 12-Year Paradigm: A Journey through Extraordinary Secondary Systems

In October of 2019, I was fortunate to attend the TAICEP (The Association for International Credential Evaluation Professionals) conference in Vancouver, Canada. My colleague, Amy Kawa, and I presented on the topic of extraordinary secondary systems that may not fit the 12-year paradigm that we are familiar with in the United States.

We opened the presentation by presenting our own frame of reference: the 12-year system found commonly throughout the United States (and elsewhere across the world). A large portion of credential evaluators present at the conference were from countries that also see the use of a 12-year secondary school structure. Our aim was to explore some of the country systems that do not fit this mold and options for how to approach them for evaluation purposes.

I spoke in depth about the Lebanese secondary system, which includes several exceptions to be considered when evaluating secondary education. The main secondary credential, the GSEC or General Secondary Education Certificate (formerly known as the baccalaureate), is in fact a 12-year system, and students holding this certificate may progress to any Lebanese universities. There are some universities (known as American-style universities, however, that allow access without the GSEC. These students must complete a compulsory “freshman year” that the Ministry of Education and Higher Education considers equivalent to the GSEC. Students who have the GSEC or baccalaureate are exempt from this first year in these universities.

Our presentation covered several systems that have undergone reform. Amy covered the 10-year Philippine system and their gradual reform to a 12-year system beginning in 2012. I spoke in turn about how Brazil introduced another year to their junior secondary curriculum in 1996, which brought them to a 12-year system. With their reform came some name changes as well: Primeiro and segundo grau became ensino fundamental and ensino médio. Tajikistan and Ukraine underwent reform from an 11-year system to a 12-year system as well.

Two text boxes over arrow. First text box reads: Primeir Grau (Before 1996 Reform)-8 years. Second text box reads: Ensino Fundamental (Since 1996 Reform)- 9 years

Not every secondary system is undergoing program length reform. Colombia seems perfectly happy with their 11-year system as it stands. Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, and Togo remain at 13 years. Haiti used to issue two exams that led to two diplomas: Diplôme d'Études Secondaires Première Partie and Deuxième Partie (Secondary Education Diploma Part One and Part Two). In 2015 Haiti combined these examinations into what is known as the Bac Unique. This diploma looks the same as the Deuxième Partie diploma. In 2018 the name of the final 13-year diploma seems to have shifted to Diplôme de Fin d'Études Secondaires (Diploma of Completed Secondary Studies).

Finally, we covered some secondary systems that may have some credentials with confounding entry requirements to those unfamiliar with the country. In Uzbekistan, for example, there exists a credential called a Diploma of Professional College. Many students will submit this credential under the impression that it is undergraduate in level, similar to a U.S. associate’s degree. However, it is a 3-year program, and the admission requirement is 9 years of secondary school. You may want to take this into account when evaluating this credential’s level.

Ukraine has several programs called Junior Specialist programs that have varied entrance requirements and program lengths, which can make evaluating them very difficult. I went over how, in order to decide what level of study the holder of the diploma has, you must be aware of both. If you are aware of the entrance requirements and the program length, you can make an informed decision about how to evaluate the credentials. If the student completes study after the Junior Specialist, it is also helpful to check if any exemption was given for previous work, and if so, how much.

In conclusion, our presentation was carried out for between 40 and 50 TAICEP attendees, many of whom stuck around to chat about the content of the presentation with us. TAICEP is a fantastic conference for credential evaluators, and I was lucky to experience it firsthand. When you’re in a field this specific and unique, bonding is easy.


Nick Kelley has been an Evaluator at ECE since 2016. He specializes in Francophone Africa, Central Asia, and the United Kingdom. 


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