Imagine a world where every single child, regardless of their social background, religion, or financial status, has access to quality education. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, buckle up and get ready to explore the 4 pillars of the German school system—a wonderful example of an inclusive and equitable education system.
In Germany, education is taken very seriously, and providing equal opportunities to all students is a fundamental principle. The school system in Germany is categorized into public and private schools, which are further divided into different types and degrees.
It can be a bit overwhelming when moving to Germany to understand how everything works in regards to choosing the right school for your child(ren), but don’t worry—we will help you break down the basics and give you a few tips along the way to help you better prepare for transitioning your child(ren) into the German school system.
Homeschooling in Germany is not allowed. That’s right, in Germany, you cannot homeschool your child(ren), because it is believed to be more valuable for children to learn, grow, and interact in a learning setting together. Not saying that homeschooling can’t provide this experience when done correctly, but Germany has strict standards on education and socialization rights for children. The good news is that German schools are much safer than schools in the States, for example, where you have to worry about school shootings.
in Germany are notorious for their quality education and are open to everyone, independent of the social background or religious beliefs of the student. Parents are not required to pay tuition fees for these schools. Instead, the government provides funding for them. However, parents are responsible for providing their children with the necessary textbooks and school materials.
When your child moves to Germany, they are given 2 years to integrate into public schools. This gives them a little leeway with how they will be scored or graded, as they will be immersed in German-speaking classrooms and will have to learn German if they do not already know it. When you know you are moving to Germany, start learning the language with your child(ren) to help them better integrate and follow along in the classroom.
There are various types of schools in Germany catering to different age groups and levels of education, such as Grundschule (primary school), Gymnasium, (high school/preparatory school), Realschule, Hauptschule and Gesamtschule (comprehensive school). All of this can be a bit confusing from an expat’s perspective, so let’s briefly break it down.
Essentially, you have 4 pillars of education to navigate as your child gets older.
1. Grundschule (primary school) is the foundation of a child’s education journey in Germany. From ages 6 to 10, children attend this primary-level school, where they learn and grow in a nurturing and stimulating environment. Teachers in Grundschule focus on academic subjects, as well as prioritizing social and emotional learning. The classroom environment is inclusive, welcoming children from diverse backgrounds, and accommodating their learning needs.
2. Weiterführende Schulen (secondary schools) This is when you might start to feel a bit overwhelmed with what type of school to choose for your child– the most common types are:
Hauptschule (secondary general school for grades 5 through 9 or 10)
Realschule (more practical secondary school for grades 5 through 10)
Gymnasium (more academic secondary school for grades 5 through 12 or 13)
Gesamtschule (comprehensive school for grades 5 through 12 or 13)
Realschule and Hauptschule are types of schools that provide more of a vocational education and are designed to equip students with practical skills for the workforce. Gesamtschule provides a mixture of academic and vocational education.
The Gymnasium is one of the most prestigious schools in Germany known for their emphasis on academic excellence. Students at a Gymnasium are required to take a challenging curriculum and sit for exams to earn the Abitur, which is the equivalent of a high school diploma or qualifying exam for university studies. The Abitur is highly regarded in Germany and can open up many doors for students in terms of employment opportunities. To be more precise: Many employers make it a requirement for employees that they have passed the Abitur.
After finishing your formal school education, you can go to another school, called the Berufsschule. These schools aim to provide the theoretical part of vocational training, which is quite unique. Berufsschule provides students with the theoretical knowledge needed for their apprenticeship. Some areas of study include (but are not limited to) engineering, animal studies, sport & fitness, hotels & tourism, management, economics, theatre & dance, languages, and social science.
4. University or Vocational Training
If students do not go to university after school, they often start vocational training that takes between 2 and 3 years. This training teaches them the practical aspects of the chosen profession, mixed with theoretical knowledge.
Private schools are an option for those who want to give their children a more specialized education or a religious-based education but be prepared they come with a hefty price tag. These schools are funded by tuition fees paid by the students’ parents, or through private donations. Some private schools will calculate the tuition fees based on the income of the household.
There are certain private schools that teach according to certain teaching methods, such as Waldorf Schule and Montessori Schule.
Expats in Germany may also want to look into international schools. These schools are often found in bigger (and sometimes smaller) cities. They are usually private schools and are usually on the more expensive side, but they provide education in foreign languages such as English, French, Chinese, or other languages. International schools are often a great choice if you do not plan on staying in Germany, wish to continue with English as the primary language of your child’s education
The German school system is much more than just textbooks and exams. It’s a culture that prioritizes equal opportunities for every child. Private or public, vocational or academic, there is a school for everyone in Germany. And ultimately, the end goal is to provide students with an education that equips them with skills to succeed and contribute positively to society.