The German School System

I was just reading an article on the state school system in Germany on Spiegel.de, which linked to this wonderful video: Das verrückte Schul-Labyrinth (The crazy school maze)

It shows what happens when education is “Ländersache” (a state affair). In Germany, education is dealt with by the different states (Bundesländer). It is well known that education in Bavaria is more demanding and apparently better than education in Northrhine-Westphalia, where is it supposed to be more liberal. But what the video makes very clear: Different standards make mobility a problem. When parents move with their children, it can change their lives a lot.

Before I go into details here, let me explain the school system in Germany in a few words. All children attend primary school. There are no differences in primary schools. In most states, primary school ends with year 4, but in some states, e.g. Berlin, primary school ends with year 6.
This is where it gets difficult. Students have to choose a secondary school. There are usually four choices (in most states, though Bavaria does not have the Gesamtschule):

  1. Gymnasium: This is the prestigious school and requires a lot of academic work. Students usually have to be recommended to go to the Gymnasium. It is the “entrance school” to university education, at least people still see it that way. In  Bavaria, you need to have extremely good grades in Math, German, and social/home studies to be able to go to the Gymnasium. It leads to the Abitur, which is equivalent to A-levels and the German university-entrance qualification.
  2. Realschule: This is the second best. It leads to the “Realschulabschluss”, probably comparable to GCSEs in the UK. It is a job/vocational training entrance qualification. If your grades are good enough, you may apply to study at the Gymnasium for the Abitur.
  3. Hauptschule: Considered the worst of schools. They differ considerably from state to state and since the introduction of the 4th type of school, the Gesamtschule, a proper comprehensive school, it is often seen as the school without a future. The school leads to the “Hauptschulabschluss” and the “Realschulabschluss”, but the Hauptschulabschluss is considered useless in most cases now. This might be different in Bavaria, where the comprehensive schools don’t exist.
  4. Gesamtschule: A proper “General” school. Students at these schools can complete as many years as they like… finish after 9th grade and you have the “Hauptschulabschluss”, finish after 10th grade and you have the “Realschulabschluss” and finish after 12th/13th grade and you might have the Abitur.

As you can see, it is already VERY complicated.

The examples in the video are:

  1. Valerie: She goes to school in Hessen and after graduating from primary school, she gets to go to the prestigious Gymnasium. Her grades after 4 years of primary school are okay, a grade point average of 2.67, which is satisfactory in Germany. But then she moved to Munich, in Bavaria. A different state, and different rules apply. To attend the Gymnasium there, she needs a GPA of 2.33. Valerie doesn’t even qualify to go to the Realschule, because the law suggests that students go to the Hauptschule with a GPA of 2.67.
  2. Peter: He just started to learn English in 3rd grade in Cologne. But then he moved to Stuttgart, where students start learning English in first grade. Ouch!
  3. Paul: He attends the Gymnasium in Lower Saxony and is in 5th grade. When he moves to Berlin, he has to go back to primary school, as the Gymnasium usually starts at 7th grade in Berlin. (Though, I have to add here that there are quite a few Gymnasiums in Berlin that start at 5th grade!!!)

As you can see, it is difficult to move. This isn’t where it ends though…. even higher education is fundamentally different in the different states. And so is teacher education. In fact, a teacher trained in Northrhine-Westphalia or Berlin, might be asked to take a few more classes in Bavaria!

Not sure what to make of it….

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2 thoughts on “The German School System

  1. I am exhuasted already only aftre reading this…!
    very interesting how different school’s systems wrok.. 🙂

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