Sunday, August 21, 2011

German Education System

Sadly, I didn't take any pictures of the University so here is a picture of our German Culture Today teacher taking us on a tour through Landau.

The education system in Germany differs greatly from that in the United States as well as in other countries. The discussion of education often came up among our international group within the first few months of the semester, which led to interesting comparisons and contrasts. Before I elaborate on some of the international discussions, I'll give a little overview of the German system.

Children in Germany can attend a Kindergarten from ages three to six, which is more of a preschool than the "Kindergarten" class that we tie in with elementary school. Each state differs slightly, but most elementary schools run from first to fourth grade. Secondary school is then divided into three different tracks: Hauptschule, Realschule, and Gymnasium. Hauptschule typically ends after the ninth grade and is designed for students seeking vocational work. Realschule is an intermediate school, ending after the tenth grade. And finally, Gymnasium is the school system designed for students moving on to University after they pass a final test in the 12th or 13th year, called the Abitur. (I might also mention Förderschule or Sonderschule, which is a separate school for children with special needs.) In order to determine which school students will enter, a test is administered in fourth grade. However, once a student is placed in a specific tract, they do have the opportunity to move to a different school but I am not sure on the specifics of how or how often that occurs.

Now this system may be a little shocking to Americans, who are used to a basically one-size-fits-all public education. In some ways I do see having a separate vocational and intermediate school as a positive, since some students in high school tend to drop out because they are just not interested in sitting in a classroom learning subjects that might not pertain to their future area of work. (Although I do believe a basic high school education to be very important for everyone. Drop out rates occur for many different reasons, including a lack of vocational training possibilities). But, on the other side I believe separating the students after the fourth grade is much too early. Many students don't settle into their intellectual capabilities or interests until much later. And by the time they are slotted to a school, it seems very unlikely for them to move up due in part to stigma assigned by others, and by themselves. It may also take an intellectual toll on the immigrant community. If a child has recently moved to Germany, or has not yet had enough time to perfect their German because they come from a bilingual household, they may be at a disadvantage to getting into the Gymnasium track which leads them to college. Realschule students who decide they would like to go to University will first have to take one or two years of prep classes in order to do so, which means there are opportunities for them if they choose.

Most Universities in Germany are public, costing students from around 90 to 500 euros a semester depending on the state. Many students take a year or two off in between to travel or work, meaning that most of the students you will see are slightly older than your typical American university 18-22 year olds. And some students may even wait several years to get a place in their choice university. It is difficult to explain the average number of years spent studying because each subject varies slightly. Landau had a large population of students studying to become teachers, who needed about the equivalent of a masters in order to teach. This took about five-six years.

Moving on and opinions aside, here are some of the interesting international tidbits I picked up:
Universities in Greece are on sovereign land that cannot by policed. This leads to many runs for safety and drug sales on campus. At times, rocks and other dangerous items are also thrown at police waiting on the outside. Private schools in the Czech Republic and Slovakia are not seen as being of high quality, since in many cases students and parents believe they don't have to work or be taught if they have paid for their education--it is thought that the students are just handed their degrees.

There will always be debates on how to best educate our children and which systems work better, but our German teacher at Coe always emphasized that sometimes you cannot always define something as better or worse, just different.

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