Primary education is the first stage of compulsory education. It is preceded by pre-school or nursery education and is followed by secondary education. In North America this stage of education is usually known as elementary education and is generally followed by middle school.
In most countries, it is compulsory for children to receive primary education, though in many jurisdictions it is permissible for parents to provide it. The transition to secondary school or high school is somewhat arbitrary, but it generally occurs at about eleven or twelve years of age. Some educational systems have separate middle schools with the transition to the final stage of education taking place at around the age of fourteen.
The major goals of primary education are achieving basic literacy and numeracy amongst all pupils, as well as establishing foundations in science, geography, history, math, and other social sciences. The relative priority of various areas, and the methods used to teach them, are an area of considerable political debate.
Typically, primary education is provided in schools, where the child will stay in steadily advancing classes until they complete it and move on to high school/secondary school. Children are usually placed in classes with one teacher who will be primarily responsible for their education and welfare for that year. This teacher may be assisted to varying degrees by specialist teachers in certain subject areas, often music or physical education. The continuity with a single teacher and the opportunity to build up a close relationship with the class is a notable feature of the primary education system.
Traditionally, various forms of corporal punishment have been an integral part of early education. Recently this practice has come under attack, and in many cases been outlawed, especially in Western countries.