In School In Germany: The German School System


As we talked a bit about the American education system briefly in the last entry, this entry will focus on Germany’s education system in general, comparing it to the American counterpart, and looking at the changes it has been facing over the past decade.  Schooling in Germany is a complex process, as it is based on a selection process that is sometimes arbitrary and has been the focus of criticism by international organizations like the Organization for Economic Developing Countries and PISA. Like the American system with its flaws, the German education system is the focus of several reforms that are slow but undergoing.
As mentioned in the previous article, the American system focuses on uniformity. This means that regardless of social, ethnical, or intellectual background, all students are treated equally in grades kindergarten through 12th grade- a span of 13 years- receiving the equal share of the core requirements of reading, math, social sciences (consisting of history, politics and sociology), writing, and fine arts all the way through school.  This applies for the elementary level, which focuses on grades kindergarten through fifth grade, junior high level (grades six through eight) and the senior high level, which features grades nine through twelve.  Elective courses are usually introduced when students enter junior high (or middle) school, which includes (graphic) arts, music, foreign languages, forensics and the like. Physical education classes usually run through the 10th grade, stressing the importance of fitness and health. Students graduate at the end of 12th grade and go their separate ways afterwards, with the majority going to college to further their education. A fraction of them enlist in the military while others enter the job market right away.
The German system features a three-tiered system that determines the fate of the pupil at an early age. After spending the first 5-6 years of their lives in a Kindergarten, pupils enter the elementary stage and remain together for the first four years in school before being separated into the three phases of schooling:
Hauptschule- where basic education and vocational training for the job is provided through the 10th grade. Students there then enter a job training program supported by the Job Service Agency with the goal of doing a apprenticeship and later obtaining a job in the field of industry. Most of these students end up working blue-collar jobs, but opportunities for work exist in the field of technology and even sales.

Realschule- The structure here is similar to the Hauptschule, but further education including classes in the area of business, (engineering) technology and even foreign languages is offered to this particular group with the goal of providing opportunities of further employment either through the University of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschule), the Technical University, or other institutions.  Varying based on state, these students graduate after the 12th grade year.

Gymnasium (where I’m doing my student teaching)- This is the uppermost level of education, designed to prepare students for the university. As a general rule, classes in the fields of liberal arts, science and technology, sports, and other fields are offered here for students up to grade 12.  In the final year of school, students prepare for their Abitur, where their best grades in their key subjects enable them to enter academia to pursue their careers in high-paying professions, such as professorship, scientist, businessman, legal counselor and the like.

While this traditional form of education serves as a guidance for students to decide on their lives, it has become a focus of discussion as opponents consider this system and its selective process rather arbitrary. Furthermore, as industry jobs are disappearing, the distinction between the Hauptschule and Realschule has disappeared bit by bit, with attempts to merge the two schools being attempted in some of the German states already. Furthermore, as reports of stress and psychological issues caused by too high of a workload has increased over the past 3-4 years, there has been talk of including the 13th grade, enabling students to take an extra year to complete their work with high quality, while pursuing their interest at the same time. This is partly due to the fact that many students have left Gymnasium to finish their education in the Realschule.  And lastly, Germany has not able to integrate the students with special needs as much as they should. This has led to criticism from inside the country by researchers, educators and reformists to double the efforts creatively and away from the traditional process, as well as outside the country by international organizations to replace the three-tiered system with a uniformed system  providing heterogeneity in the classroom.

Already reform schools and Gesamtschule, which provide education for students up to grade 10 or 12 are being introduced, but there are only a few to be found, and it will take many years for these schools to counter and even replace the three-tiered system. This is due to the fact that alternative forms of education have to be accepted as a whole by the general public, whose reactions have been mixed, pending on region.

Despite the criticism of the system, my question about the German system is how heterogene is the school and how are students handling their workload without having to be overwrought with too much with too little time to take for themselves. Furthermore, is the three-tiered system really effective, esp. when I look at the Gymnasium (where I’m working) in comparison to the other two institutions, let alone the American school system. And how is the daily student schedule in Germany versus the one in the States?

These questions will be answered as my practical training proceeds in the German Gymnasium. I have a few theories in connection with the system in Germany. It’s just a question of whether they are true or false. Only way to find out is to go back to the classroom for the next session, and prepare for the next entry….

Click here for more info on the German Education system in more detail (including its history), but please feel free to add your thoughts about the German school system in comparison to the American counterpart. 🙂

2 thoughts on “In School In Germany: The German School System”

  1. Hi, I know you are not at the elementary level, but in my search of Flensburg schools information I keep running into your blog, which is quite good. Im wondering if you can put me in a more appropriate direction. We may be relocating from Massachusetts. I am a 1-6 grade teacher and we have two boys 5 and 8. Im looking for elementary schools that also have English or have an English based curriculum or international schools, the tuition.. anything.. how it works… and what the teacher job market looks like for a non German speaking person.
    I know this isnt your topic focus, but Im grasping at straws 🙂
    Thanks for any help!!

    1. Keep following the Files for more info, as what you just mentioned in your comment came to my attention a few days ago and I’m doing some inquiring about them. According to some teachers at the Gymnasium (where I’m doing my student teaching at the moment), there are some ways to teach in Germany without having to go through the Lehramt-Program at the university. As soon as I have it, I’ll proceed with the article on that topic. The Files are on facebook and twitter, but you can subscribe via RSS to keep up to date.

      More later. 🙂

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