Like almost every aspect of German social policy, the education system is facing a series of major changes. This follows the publication of a comparative international study of education that showed Germany’s educational standards have slipped in recent years sparking a major debate about the need for overhauling the country’s education system.
The way things stand at moment, the German education system is state-based with each of the German 16 states (Länder) operating their own school and educational system which differ in varying degrees from one another.
While German students are held to high academic standards and Germany and students regularly face oral examinations, the nation’s education is a far cry from the strict Prussian system that some expats fear they are launching their children into when they take up a posting in Germany. Often, however, the curriculum is very focused on academic pursuits rather than a range of more general interests such as photography or different kinds of music.
On average, children start school at the age of six. Some of the states have a cut-off date (such as 30 June). If the child is born after this date, they are considered a kann Kind (literally ‘can child’) as opposed to a muss Kind (‘must child’). This means that they can attend school if they pass a test but they are not obliged to start the following September.
The administrators generally try to discourage early admissions based on the assumption that even if the child is intellectually ready they may still be too socially and physically immature to begin school.
Prior to entering Grundschule (primary or elementary school), most children attend a so-called Kita (Kindertagesstätte) , which is a kind of pre-school. Daycare services are also provided at Kitas, which offer after-school and sometimes pre-school activities for children. The maximum age is about 11 or 12 with many Kitas offering facilities for young children. A fee is charged for children attending these very popular forms of daycare in Germany. There is currently a political discussion in Germany with the objective to provide free Kita ‘passes’ to families in the lower income brackets.
There are three types types of Kitas:
Kinderkrippe is specifically designed for children up to three years. It is not free and costs may vary according to region.
Kindergarten (for children between 3-6 years) is not a part of the regular public school system and is not required or free. Tuition is normally based on income. Space is often limited and even though it's not mandatory, the majority of three to six year olds attend them.
Daycare services are also provided at Kitas, which offer after-school and sometimes pre-school activities for children. The maximum age is about 11 or 12 with many Kitas offering facilities for quite young children. Once again a fee is charged for children attending for what are a very popular form of daycare in Germany.
Schulhort is designed for pupils of elementary school (Grundschule--up to 11-12 years) to provide daycare for pre and after school hours.
Kinderläden and Schülerläden
These are privately operated daycare services, which offer an alternative to the state-run Kitas. While Kinderläden offer activities for pre-schoolers, Schülerläden only offer after-school activities. Parents also have to pay a fee.
Children attend Grundschule for four years, with the exception of the states of Berlin and Brandenburg, where Grundschule lasts six years.
The school grade into which foreign pupils are placed when they arrive in Germany depends on how well they speak German.
In the last year of Grundschule (usually the fourth year), the decision is made as to whether pupils will attend the Hauptschule (firth to ninth year), Realschule (fifth to tenth year), Gymnasium (fifth to twelfth or thirteenth year). Gesamtschule is offered in some regions in Germany as an alternative. It combines these three types of high school and offers differentiation at a later stage, based on performance.
The system is quite rigid with the pupils placed into the different types of schools based entirely on their academic performance.
The school day starts at 8am and is generally over by 1pm with the schools tending not to offer anything much in the way of extracurricular activities.
German education system also includes vocational schools called Berufsschule or Berufskolleg, where students normally aged between 16 and 19 (but in some cases also up to 23 years) can undertake a range of work-directed studies such as economics and specific business studies. These studies are usually directly related to an apprenticeship.
Updated with the help of Marco Dilenge, Regional Marketing Manager of Crown Worldwide Group, the parent company of Crown Relocations
Interested in furthering you skills while living abroad? Gain a Master’s in business, international relations, or education through 2U’s online study programmes of degrees offered by leading American universities.
What you need to know about German schools and daycare.
Want to move to Germany but haven’t figured out the details? Check out Expatica’s overview of the German permit system.
In part one of our two part series, we cover the driving culture in Berlin, where to park and buy gas and, most importantly, the laws.
Our comprehensive guide includes information on how to find work, recruitment agencies, employment contracts and labour law.