The meaning's different. "School is always difficult" is speaking about schools in general, due to the zero article. "The school is always difficult" is speaking about a specific school.
The Spanish "la escuela" could translate either to the general noun "school" or to a specific school.
that is a problem for me. I am not sure that the correct translation into my native language allows me to speak correctly in the language I am trying to learn. It appears to hinder me more then help me. I am aware that the correct translation philosophy is not only used here but also it is used in academia.
You can't translate things literally sometimes. In Spanish we use the article (el/la) with a noun to indicate we're talking about something in general, as well as to indicate a specific item. So for example, "la manzana" means "the apple" and refers to a specific apple in front of us, but "las manzanas" can refer not just to a specific group of apples we're looking at, but can refer to "apples" as a general idea -- which is why we say "Me gustan las manzanas" to mean I generally like "apples", where in English we would just say "I like apples" without the article.
In the same way, while escuela means school, "la escuela" refers not to the particular building itself, but to the school as a system - the building, the teachers, the classrooms, the daily routine, etc. It's the "school" that we mean when we say "I like school", or "Johnny starts school next month", or "I didn't study hard in school" or "All children deserve to go to school". We don't use "the" in front of any of these, but in Spanish we say "la escuela".
You'll see similar usage, for example, with "la iglesia", which doesn't refer to a specific church, but "church" as an institution.