EDUCATION INDICATORS: An International Perspective
In order to define levels of education uniformly across all countries, this publication uses terms that were developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and have been agreed upon by all participating countries, but which might be unfamiliar to readers from the United States. These levels, called the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) levels, are used to compile internationally comparable statistics on education.
The classification distinguishes between seven levels of education ranging from preprimary to tertiary. International definitions of preprimary, primary, and tertiary education are similar to the definitions used in the United States; however, lower and upper secondary education have slightly different meanings.
Preprimary education (level 0), also called early childhood education, usually includes education for children aged 3-5, although in some countries, it starts as early as age 2 and in others continues through age 6. In the United States, preprimary education includes kindergarten. Primary education (level 1) runs from about ages 6-11, or about first through sixth grades in the United States. Specialization rarely occurs in any country before secondary education.
Secondary education covers ages 11 or 12 through 18 or 19 and is divided into two levels: lower and upper secondary (levels 2 and 3). For the purposes of statistical comparability, the United States has defined lower secondary education as grades 7 through 9 and upper secondary as grades 10 through 12. In the United States, lower secondary education is the loose equivalent of intermediate school, middle school, or junior high school; however, in many other countries lower secondary education ends with an examination and constitutes the completion of compulsory education. Upper secondary education immediately follows lower secondary education and includes general (academic), technical, and vocational education, or any combination thereof, depending on the country. An upper secondary attainment level is roughly equivalent to a U.S. high school diploma.
Higher education, also referred to as tertiary education, includes three
ISCED levels and is the equivalent of postsecondary education in the United
States. Nonuniversity higher education includes education beyond the secondary
school level involving programs (e.g., vocational, community
NOTE: For the attainment indicators, a person is classified in the highest level for which they completed the last grade or degree for the level. For example, a U.S. student must complete grade 9 in order to attain a lower secondary education and 2 years of higher education (associate's degree) in order to attain a nonuniversity higher education.
college, and junior college programs) that terminate in less than a 4-year degree. This type of education is at ISCED level 5. ISCED level 6 comprises education programs that lead to a 4-year undergraduate degree. These programs are typically located in universities and other 4-year institutions. The highest level, ISCED level 7, includes graduate and professional degree programs.
ISCED level Definition U.S. equivalent 0 Preprimary Kindergarten and below 1 Primary 1st-6th grades 2 Lower secondary 7th-9th grades 3 Upper secondary 10th-12th grades or first 3 years of vocational education 5 Higher education Community or junior colleges or vocational technical institutes (non-university) leading to an associate's degree 6 Higher education University or other 4-year education institution (university) leading to a bachelor's degree 7 Higher education A University or professional institute leading to (university) leading to a master's or doctor's degree
*Early childhood education includes both preprimary and primary education, since there are variations in the definition of preprimary education among countries.