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Public schools can be very different types of educational institutions, depending on the country being discussed. In most of the world, a public school is an educational institution run and funded by the government, usually through taxes. In the United Kingdom and related commonwealths, public schools are actually independent or private institutions that are run by organizations other than the government.
With the exception of the UK model, public schools are a result of the concept that a government has some responsibility for the education of its citizens. In consequence, most public schools are free to attend, or charge only a small materials fee. Countries follow very different schooling models, yet most provide public education throughout childhood and into the later teenage years.
Some countries, such as Denmark, also provide free university education to students that are citizens, while many others have some sort of partially government-subsidized university program. In the United States, the government operates hundreds of state colleges, yet students are required to pay tuition and other fees. Although there are some government loan and financial aid programs available to US students, many experts believe that the failure to properly subsidize state-run universities will lead to a less-educated public as well as creating a large number of young adults with considerable loan debt.
In the United Kingdom, a public school is defined as the exact opposite form of institution. Public schools throughout the UK, Wales, Northern Ireland, and former UK territories such as India and Pakistan are privately-funded schools that often charge high tuition fees and set high admission standards. Tuition for UK model public schools often includes room and board, and many of the students live at the school during term. Many public schools in the UK feature impressive academic histories as well as a long tradition of family attendance over generations.
Australia features an interesting blended form of public schools, drawing from both British heritage and the more common concepts of public education. While schools are paid for by the government, academically advanced students can apply to accelerated programs called government selective schools. These institutions are comparable to college-prep schools and feature highly competitive atmospheres. For those unable or uninterested in accelerated education, the Australian government also operates general public schools as well.
In most countries where public education is common, schooling is compulsory to a certain age or grade level. To become a public school teacher, most countries require certain degrees from accredited universities, as well as good public standing. Governments often keep tabs on the public education system through the use of system-wide standardized tests. These tests, though highly controversial in determining intelligence or ability, do serve as an indication of basic skills such as literacy and simple mathematics.
The advantages of a public school system are evident in principle, if not always in practice. A country with an educated population is meant to increase skill level in the work force and improve public debate. Informed citizens may be more likely to make carefully thought out decisions regarding the future of the country. Whether most societies are actually achieving the lofty goals of public education is somewhat questionable, but nevertheless most experts agree that these goals are vital to the well-being of the state.