American Education System:

The American education system is set up so that students attend elementary school starting in Kindergarten at age 5 or 6 and going till 5th or 6th grade (the elementary levels are often split up between elementary K-3 or K-2 and intermediate 3-5 or 4-6). Students attend middle school till 8th grade and high school till 12th grade (age 17 or 18), which is the grade of graduation. When students go through this system, they finish with a high school diploma which allows them to go to college or immediately into the work force.

The biggest difference between the German and American educational systems is that German students are essentially put on a career path at the age of 10, when they complete Grundschule and determine which secondary school they will attend. During secondary school, students receive education that is more focused towards their area of study.

German Education System:

  • Responsibility is given to each state with the federal government playing a very little role.
  • Kindergarten is provided for students 2-6 years old.
  • Most German children attend Grundschule from ages 6-10 years old.
  • From the age of 10, students attend secondary school.
    • There are five types of secondary school:
      • Gymnasium: prepare pupils’ education
      • Realschule: broader range for intermediate students
      • Hauptschule: prepare students for vocation
      • Gesamtschule: combines top three
      • Forderschulen/sonderschulen: about 1/20 students
    • These schools end in exams to determine next steps
  • Higher Education
    • To get into higher education, by law, students must take an abitur (exam).
    • The qualifications are more strict depending on the difficulty and rigor of the program.

Typical habits of the German education system:

  • Each lesson is exactly 45 minutes with consecutive courses.
  • School typically starts around 7:30a.m. and is finished by 12p.m.
  • Students usually sit at tables rather than desks which encourages cooperative learning.

Sabine’s Experience as a German student –

Sabine: What is taught in schools, it’s sometimes hard if you start school in one state and then your parents move and you have to continue in a different state. You have to go to school at least for eight years, I think. And there’s like an elementary school everybody goes to and you decide whether you want to go to gymnasium do you A levels after 12 or 13 years depending on the federal state you live in and after that you can choose if you want to study or you go to what we call ________ where you can finish after 10 years and then you can train to do a job afterwards but not study. (This is study you make at 12-15, or sometimes even earlier, sometimes 10). Your track is determined very early and it depends on your grades, whether you have good grades or not.

Dr. Brown: Do you think it’s more efficient?

Sabine: You can always change later if you change your mind you can still go to the other school but it is pretty difficult especially if you start and you decide you only want to do 10 years and then you change to 12 years, the level is going to be higher there and it’s harder to change schools. But if you study, we have this European system of Bachelors and Masters degrees. Bachelor’s degree is usually 3 years and then a Masters degree is 1 or 2 years. You don’t have to pay to go to college. Actually depending on how much money you and your parents have, the state will lend you money which afterwards you have to pay back, of course. But that’s a good thing and I only have to pay 300 euro per semester but that does include a ticket for the s-bahn and u-bahn and things like this.

Dr. Brown: Can you explain the numerous ______?

Sabine: For some subjects you can study, for example medicine or physics, you have to have a certain grade in your a-levels to get in to be able to study it. For medicine, it’s probably going to be 1.something. For grades, 1 is the highest and 6 is the lowest, 6 means you failed.

Dr. Brown: So, you would need a very high grade to study those subjects.

Sabine: Certain universities are associated with certain subjects. There are technical universities where you can go to study technical subjects. But I went to a technical university to study linguistics so you don’t necessarily have to do that. There are different gymnasiums also like one is more focused on a technical education or one is more focused on languages, these kinds of gymnasiums exist. Most people go to public schools but there are some private schools you can go to where you have to pay for.

Dr. Brown: You and your sister went to different gymnasiums, didn’t you? Sabine went to study linguistics and literature and her sister went to study for the medical field. And all of this happened when you were 10 or 12?

Sabine: When we were 10. Yes, it’s early and people criticize it because it is very early. It’s basically your parents who decide where you should go because you can’t make up your mind. And then if you parents have a higher level of education they tend to send you to gymnasium and if they have a lower level of education they may just send you to the _______.

Click here to see the sources of information for the German education system.