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Elementary education or Primary education consists of the first years of formal, structured education that occurs during childhood. In most countries, it is compulsory for children to receive primary education (though in many jurisdictions it is permissible for parents to provide it) and is generally privued in elementary schools. Primary education generally begins when children are four to seven years of age. The division between primary and secondary education is somewhat arbitrary, but it generally occurs at about twelve years of age (adolescence); some educational systems have separate middle schools for that period. Primary and secondary education together are sometimes (in particular, in Canada and the United States) referred to as "K-12" education, (K is for kindergarten, 12 is for twelfth grade), while in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia schools teaching primary education are referred to only as primary schools.
Typically, primary education is provided in schools, where (in the absence of parental movement or other intervening factors) the child will stay, in steadily advancing classes, until they complete it and move on to secondary schooling. 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. Over the past few decades, schools have been testing various arrangements which break from the one-teacher, one-class mould. Multi-age programs, where children in different years/grades (e.g. Reception/Kindergarten through to year three/second grade) share the same classroom and teachers, is one increasingly popular alternative to traditional elementary instruction. An alternative is that children might have a main class and go to another teacher's room for one subject, such as science, while the science teacher's main class will go to the other teacher's room for another subject, such as social studies. This could be called a two-teacher, two-class mould, or a rotation, similar to the concept of teams in middle school. Another method is to have the children have one set of classroom teachers in the first half of the year, and a different set of classroom teachers in the second half of the year.
The major goals of primary education are achieving basic literacy and numeracy amongst all their students, as well as establishing foundations in science, geography, history and other social sciences. The relative priority of various areas, and the methods used to teach them, are an area of considerable political debate.
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.