Similar to the United States, public education in Germany is the responsibility of each state (or Bundeslander). Unlike the United States, however, public education is the exclusive responsibility of the states; parliament and the federal government can only influence public education through financial aid to the states. As a result, the German school system and types of schools vary from state to state. One difference between the German and American educational systems is that Germany has compulsory school attendance rather than compulsory education for young people between the ages of 6 and 14. Because of this, home school is not permitted by law. School is attended in the morning with some schools ending as early as 12pm and there is no provision for serving lunch. Another difference is that there is heavy emphasis on the "three R's" (reading, writing and (a)rithmetic) with a lot of homework assigned and very few extracurricular activities. In Germany, public education is free, including university study (students must first qualify and do pay for books and living expenses).
For the first four years, German students usually attend a Grundschule. Kindergarten is not mandatory and is not part of the public school system. At age 10, students and their parents must decide the next step in the educational process.
- Gymnasium: designed to prepare students for university study and finishes with the final examination Abitur after grader 12 or 13 which qualifies one for university
- Reaslschule: a broader range of emphasis for intermediate pupils; finishes with the final examination Mittlere Reife after grade 10
- Hauptschule: prepares students for vocational education; finishes with with the final examination Hauptschulabschluss after grade 9 or 10 and the Realschulabschluss after grade 10; described as the "least academic"
- Gesamtschule: comprehensive school
Teachers give educational path recommendations based on scholastic achievements in the main subjects (mathematics, German, natural sciences, foreign language) and classroom behavior. In some German states, those hoping to apply to a Gymnasium or Reaslschule need a recommendation stating that the student will make a successful transition to that type of school; in other cases anyone may apply. In Berlin, a third of Gymnasium spots are allocated by lottery; in this case a student's performance in primary school is irrelevant.
English is compulsory throughout the states in secondary schools. In the Gymnasium, however, students are often required to learn Latin as their first foreign language. In some states, foreign language study begins in primary school and is studied for 5 years. Brandenburg, for example, starts with either English or Polish. French, Spanish, ancient Greek, and Latin are most frequently taken as a second and third language. Some schools even offer a fourth language.
Attending private schools in Germany does not seem that common as less than 10% of German children attend them. Ersatzschulen are primary or secondary schools run by private individuals, private organizations or religious groups. Despite not being completely state funded, they often lack the ability to operate completely outside of government control. Teachers at private schools are required to have the same qualifications as those at state schools. Private schools must have the same academic standards as state schools and must pay their teachers the same as well. Most private schools have low tuition, because, according to law, segregation based on the means of the parents is forbidden. Because fees are low, all Erastzschulen are subsidized with public funds.
Only 1 in 21 students attends a special school; most children with special needs attend a school called Forderschule or Sonderschule. Special schools in Germany have facilities comparable to other state schools and a favorable student-teacher ratio. Teachers at special schools are qualified professionals who specialized in special education in college. Some special needs children do not attend special schools but are mainstreamed into a Hauptschule or Gesamtschule and in rare cases a Realschule or Gymnasium.
Exams in Germany are usually essay based rather than multiple choice. Most German students never take a multiple choice exam.
The school year starts after summer break and usually includes 12 weeks of holidays in addition to public holidays. Exact dates vary by state but summer is usually 6 weeks long and Christmas break is 2 weeks. The other holidays are given in the spring around Easter and in the fall.
PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment)
- 16th in Math
- 13th in Science
- 20th in Reading