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Monday, May 18, 2015

Part 1 of my Rant on the German Educational System

Today, I'm going to start my rant. This is something I don't do often, but now, with my oldest son's graduation, all the memories have bubbled back to the surface.

Since this concerns the German education system, and most of you won't be familiar with the system, I'm going to start out with a general run-down and go into my rant Wednesday. Below describes the educational system as we experienced it in Baden Wurttemberg up until we moved from the area about a year and a half ago.

(There will be an awesome author interview with a very special woman tomorrow - so don't miss Tuesday either!)

Sorry, this first part is dry. . .but I really couldn't run  into the rest until I laid down this basic stuff. So, please, grab a tea...or a wine...or a beer...and put on that thinking cap.

Basic Information  (*applause*....maybe not)

Children start attending Kindergarten with the age of three. (In the last couple of years, several States have slid this age down to two). Unlike the Kindergartens here in the U.S., most facilities do not offer any form of education during this time. Kids are there for social reasons and do not start reading, writing, math or anything. Just social skills. Fun. Friendship. Being a kid.  (There are, of course, exceptions to this, but most follow this system still.)

When the kids move into the 1st grade, their education kicks into high gear. Immediately, with homework and everything even on the first day. Many kids will be reading sentences by Christmas vacation, and writing them too. It's amazing how fast they move. But there's a reason for this. By the end of the fourth grade, children are divided into three levels according to their grades:

1) Hochschule - the lowest group. Here, the children are on a path to enter apprenticeships for careers such as cooks, painters, carpenters, and such. This lasts nine years, and then continues either at a vocational school and/or apprenticeship. (This level is currently being phased out in some states)

2) Realschule - the middle group. The children are thought to enter such careers as travel agents, sales, secretarial work and such. This lasts ten years with usually a move into a trade college and/or apprenticeship.

3) Gymnasium - the highest level. Here, the intention is to get those kids ready for college. It lasts twelve years.

The second the kids walk through that 1st grade door, the teachers make it clear what's at stake - their entire future. The stress levels are high, and the expectation as well. If the kids want to have a shot at college, they must prove their worth by the end of the fourth year. (Here, it's important to note that there are ways of sliding into the other levels later on or working to achieve more later. However, this usually adds not only a couple years onto the individual's graduation age (can even lead up into the twenties to get a diploma), but also is difficult to do. Only the determined pull it off.)

If a child's grade fall below a certain average for more than one semester, they are forced to fall back into another level.

To make things more difficult, the school days are short. The average school day for those first four years goes from around 7:45 am until 12:00. During the last years, third and fourth graders have an added one or two afternoons with about two extra hours as well, since it became clear that teachers could no longer bring across the needed content within such a short time frame. Even with the extra hours, it's obvious that time is tight. Teachers, therefore, often do not see their responsibility in really teaching the kids, but more in presenting the content to them - it's all they have time for. The children themselves (even in the 1st grade) are responsible for understanding and practicing the information. Kids are sent home with 2-3 hours of homework every night (1st grade starts with 30 mins-1 hour), and most have tutors by the 2nd grade.

There are only three subjects which are considered important: Reading (incl. grammar, writing, phonics), Math, and English. (Bet you didn't see that one coming.) Although the other subjects exist and influence the overall GPA,  it is these three subjects which determine which level a child advances to. These three subjects also are the only ones tested at the end of the entire school career (before graduation, children receive a standardized final exam. This exam is over 6-8 hours long, and only tests the three subjects mentioned. The final grades (graduation grades) of the children are determined by these tests. . .not so much the running grades throughout the years.) It is also not known what is on these tests, so teachers cannot really help the kids study for them. The children just have to hope they have learned and remember everything from their entire school career for these exams. Simply said - it's stress pure.

And that's the basics. There are private schools, which offer different educational possibilities as well as 'entire day' schools, but the information above reflects the basic framework and even these private schools are still bound to general things such as the school levels (although they can help these levels slide more easily into each other) as well as the generalized testing before graduation.

(edited and added this next little part)

Now, I won't say that this system doesn't have it's 'benefits'. By breaking down the students at an earlier age, the teachers are able to bring across more information to the kids at the higher levels without worrying about the ones lagging behind. My children all noticed that there was a difference in what they learned in Germany and what the students in the same grades are learning here. The U.S. kids are behind (Well, at least compared to Gymnasium and the first four grades. My son, who went through the lower end, finds the level comparable). But, on the same hand, my children no longer have massive amounts of homework and can ask the teacher for help if they don't understand something without knowing they'll get their head bit off and probably denied.

I guess, summed up, the kids in Germany receive more information and are taught on a more advanced level (in so far as the higher German school levels), but this is only by cutting out the 'weak' learners. Granted, all of this is also based on the major subjects, math and reading. (I'll leave English out here, since that obviously can't be compared). And the actual learning in Germany is often thanks to tutors, active parents or simply the smarter kids themselves. In the U.S., all kids have the right to learn the same material, and the material is taught, not just presented.  Plus, special honors/advance placement programs or extra help sessions (on the other end) are also available.

Now, wasn't that dry?

As said, this is just the basic set-up to get ready for Wednesday's rant. (which won't be as dry)

So brew more tea, stock up on chips, and be ready!


  1. Wow, Tonja--that sounds truly horrible! Honestly, I'm kind of confused about why anyone would school-age children would even live in Germany. What about science? Sports? The arts? All they seem to have is a feeder into a class system. I'm so glad your family got out when they did. Now, your children can choose their OWN futures--yay!!! :-D

  2. Wow. Okay, now I understand your comments about my rant last week.
    Categorized and labeled by fourth grade -- based on material presented at a ridiculously fast pace in half a school day. Did I get that right? Sounds like a dystopian novel.

  3. That sounds tough.
    I don't know - have you read Dianne's last few posts on why she is glad she no longer teaches here in the USA? Man, is it screwed up.
    I wonder what happened to the school systems?

  4. Not dry at all, actually. I can see where their might be some benefits, but it sounds like they're outweighed by everything else. I don't do well with stress at all. But I did do really well in elementary school grade-wise. Sounds to me like the entire world just needs to reset and redo their entire schooling system. Life just shouldn't be this stressful. I can't imagine being told at 10 that I wasn't smart enough to go college. At TEN!! That's just crazy. Crazy isn't even a strong enough word.

  5. Many good teachers have left the system here. Their biggest complaint is, less time for teaching, but plenty of time for testing.


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