The German School System

In my German class recently we’ve been studying the German school system. Its quite an interesting topic, because its different to the English system. For my oral exam (which will take place in April), I’ve chosen the school system as my topic… well the other alternative was Health & Fitness and that’s a bit boring.

Anyway… For the benefit of those who don’t know anything about Germany, here is a basic explanation of their school system. Most of you will see this as completely useless information… but I like useless info. (Did you know (for example), that the name “Gatwick” stems from old English words with the basic meaning of “goat farm”? It says so on Wikipedia)!

German children start school at 6 or 7 years – you must have completed your 6th birthday, so I’d guess that means its the school year in which you turn 7. Children go to primary school for 4 years – except in Berlin, where its 6. Germans wear no school uniform. Most schools begin between 7 or 8am. By German law, you have to have some form of education until the age of 18.

School holidays vary dramatically from state to state – that’s to stop 80 million Germans all taking to the motorway at the same time, quite important when you consider that people from all the neighbouring countries use them also.

But basically, this is how it works:

  • October half term: 1-2 weeks
  • Christmas holidays: 1-2 weeks
  • February half term: 3 days-1 week (some states get nothing)
  • Easter holidays: 2-3 weeks
  • Summer holidays: 6 weeks, taken at any time between mid July to mid September

There are 3 types of school in Germany (excluding comprehensives, which weren’t very popular):

  • Hauptschule (Secondary Modern School – by the end of it you’d get somthing equivilant to GCSE C-E)
  • Realschule (Secondary Technical School – by the end of it you’d get something equivilant to GCSE A*-C)
  • Gymnasium (Grammar School – by the end of it you’d get an “Abitur”, equivilant to A level.

Like in the UK, you can continue after school to get the next qualification. For example, Aufbaugymnasiums allow those who have done their Realschulabschluss exams to get Abitur.

Abitur is equivilant to A level. Unlike in England though, people do lots of different subjects. Abitur is considered the qualification for bright people, and to be bright in Germany means that you have to do subjects you don’t like. The normal Abitur selection of subjects would be:

  • Maths
  • German (in the same way we do English over here)
  • Sport
  • A foreign language (English, French, Latin)
  • A Science (biology, chemisty, physics)
  • A humanity (history, geography, politics, relgion)
  • Art or Music

And the grades… you get a number from 1 to 6. 1 being equivilant to A*, and 6 being called “double fail” when translated into English! If you get below a 4, you have to do sitzen blieben – resitting a year. In Gymnasium, if you have to resit a year twice you have to leave and go to Realschule. And if you get a 5 in one subject, you have to get a 3 in another, to sort of balance it out.

In Germany, you go to university at the age of 18 or 19; you must have Abitur in order to go.

So Germany has a very demanding school system. If I had to do all those subjects, I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am now. I’d hate to have to do an exam in PE/sport!

Fred Hart

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