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How to understand the German school education system

How to understand the German school education system.

Life in Germany. For parents in Germany understanding the school system can cause a bit of confusion. Here are some tips about it help you better integrate into your new life in Germany;

Once your children are six years old, they are required to go to school, since school attendance is compulsory in Germany. Most German schools are run by the state and there is no charge for your children to attend. In addition, there are private and international schools which charge fees.  

The individual states are responsible for education policy. This means that the school system will to some extent depend on the region where you and your family are living. Children do not always have the same curriculum in every state, and textbooks may differ as well. Individual states also have different types of schools. Generally, the German school system is structured as follows:  

Kindergarten (Kita)

In Germany, education starts with Kindergarten or Kita. It’s a non-compulsory pre-school program for children aged 3 to 6. Kindergartens focus on socialising, early learning, and play-based activities.

READ ALSO: What parents in Germany need to know about Language Kindergarten (Sprach-Kitas)

Grundschule (Primary School)

At around 6 years old, children enter Grundschule, which is compulsory for all kids. It usually lasts for four years (grades 1-4) and provides a broad educational foundation in subjects like math, German, science, arts, and physical education.

Only in Berlin and Brandenburg does primary school continue up to sixth grade. At the end of primary school, you and your child’s teachers will decide which secondary school your child will attend, considering your child’s academic performance.

Further Education

After Grundschule, students are placed in one of three different types of schools based on their abilities and interests:

a) Hauptschule:

This type of school prepares students for vocational training and focuses on practical skills.

b) Realschule:

Realschule offers a more comprehensive education, combining practical and theoretical subjects. Graduates have the option to pursue vocational training or continue their education. Young people who have successfully completed the Hauptschule or Realschule are eligible for vocational training, or can transfer to the Sekundarstufe II/Oberstufe (≈ sixth form) at a Gymnasium or Gesamtschule

c) Gymnasium:

At the end of the 12th or 13th grade, students take examinations known as the Abitur and if successful graduate from secondary school with a certificate of advanced secondary education, entitling them to study at a university or at a university of applied sciences. However, they may also choose to undergo vocational training and enter the job market directly.

d) Gesamtschule

comprehensive school for grades 5 through 12 or 13. It also combines the HauptschuleRealschule and Gymnasium and offers an alternative to the tripartite school system. 

Secondary Education:

Upon completing the appropriate school type, students receive different qualifications:

a) Hauptschulabschluss:

This certificate enables students to enter vocational training programs.

b) Realschulabschluss:

This certificate qualifies students for various vocational training options or continuing education at a higher level.

c) Abitur:

Students with the Abitur can directly apply for university or other higher education institutions.

Point to note:

  • School hours vary, but generally, expect a shorter school day compared to some other countries.
  • Education is usually free, but parents may need to cover costs for materials, excursions, and optional activities.
  • German schools focus on fostering independence, self-discipline, and critical thinking skills.

School enrolment for children and teenagers from abroad

If your children are of school age when entering Germany, you will no doubt be wondering how they can find a place in a school. This is decided by the school management in consultation with the local education authority.

As a general rule, children who have recently entered the country are not able to attend regular school lessons and will be offered special trial lessons instead due to their lack of German skills – The goal is to integrate them as soon as possible into regular school classes.

How to recognise a good school

As a rule, you are free to decide which school your child should attend. It is therefore a good idea to take a look at a few schools.

According to Make it in Germany: One sign of a good school is that it not only provides high-quality instruction, but also offers extracurricular activities such as theatre, sports, language and music clubs, and school trips.

A good school also encourages parent involvement. In addition to finding out whether the school has a place for your child, you should also ask about extracurricular options.

If your children are not yet fluent in German, make sure that the school offers German classes, usually referred to as Deutsch als Zweitsprache (German as a foreign language). Here the teachers will make sure that your child understands the lessons and can keep up with the curriculum.

Source: Make it in Germany