The main differences between the German Education system and the North American and Anglo-Saxon systems, are at the level of high school.
Although all children start school at the age of 6 and attend the elementary school called Grundschule in German, by the age of 10 they are separated into 4 different kinds of what we will call secondary school.
Therefore, German children spent only the first 4 years together in the German education system. Afterwards, they, with their family, must decide the type of secondary school that they will attend. It seems incredibly young to have to make such a choice and so, it is usually the parents that decide the direction of the child's education.
There is talk in Germany to abandon such a system, but nothing as been done yet.
Depending on the academic talent of the child and the wishes of the parents; s/he will attend:
Hauptschule (grade 5 to 9, some schools have also grade 10). For the "manually" inclined they receive the same basic education as at the other secondary school, but at a slower pace and with "hands-on" experience. This usually leads to Vocational training, either full time or part-time, until the age of 18.
Realscule (grade 5 to 10 in most states). This school too leads to full time or part-time Vacational training, but also to higher vocational training at a Berufschule. It is now possible for high achieving students to switch to the Gymnasium after completing grade 10.
Gymnasium (grade 5 to 13 in most states). This is the school for academically-minded children. It leads to University, or to a combination of academic courses and vocational credits. There are also different fields of education in the Gymnasium, mainly: math and natural science, classical languages and modern languages.
There is a fourth kind of secondary school in some states of Germany:
Gesamtschule (grade 5 to 9 or 10). It is a combination of Hauptschule and Realschule, and, depending if the child finishes in grade 9 or in grade 10, he or she will receive either the Hauptschule or the Realschule certificate respectively.
Every child in Germany must complete at least 9 years of education. Those who drop out of Gymnasium must enroll either in the Hauptschule or in the Realschule. After what, it is either work, more education in the Berufschule, the Fachoberschule or the preparatory classes for University or college.
By the age of 18, all students should have finished their secondary school. There are now no more obligatory Army service for young men in Germany.
Another very important point: German children attend school ONLY in the morning and therefore, there is no lunch and usually no after-school services either. So, if both parents work, the child has to go to a sitter for the afternoon. Other points: there is a lot more homework and very few after-school activities.
BUT, things are changing in education in Germany and new laws are being introduced. So, now, in some Lands (states), school hours have been extended and your kid's school might be open from early in the morning to 5pm in the afternoon! No more freebies for the students!
The school system is free at all levels, except at the University level, where a small fee (about 500 euros per semester) is now required. See below for more details on Universities.
For the very young ones, from three to six years of age, there are Kindergartens; some are public, some are religious and others are private. Most of them are similar to North American Kindergartens but once again, most are open only during morning hours, from around 7H30 am to 2H00 pm (some earlier, some later).
Another type of Kindergarten offered in Germany is the Waldkindergarten or forest Kindergarten. There are about 700 of them throughout Germany and they are becoming more and more popular.
In these Waldkindergartens, the children spent their whole morning (usually from 9H00 am to 1H00 pm) in the forest, outside, discovering their surroundings in a natural setting. There is of course a trailer or a small house on site for the extreme weather, but most of the time they are outside, rain or shine.
It has been shown that the kids attending these pre-schools are less aggressive, have more imagination, are better at concentrating and communicating. They are also more aware of their natural surrounding, more connected to what some may see as to the "real" world. In this age of computer and rising number of juvenile obesity, these pre-schools offer a more physically active alternative to the common ones of indoor seating. And some are being open out-side of Germany and the Scandinavian countries, such as in USA and Scotland. In fact, they are becoming more popular among parents who are environmentally conscious and worried about their kids not doing enough physical activities in the "normal"indoor pre-school programs.
As in anything, there are a few minor draw backs to these pre-schools. Although the kids in general are in better health (less prone to sickness) than their indoor counterparts, there is the possibility of bugs and ticks bites and they seem to have less developed writing skills. I should point out here though, that even in the "normal" German pre-schools, the kids spent at least one morning per week in nature and that they are not completely free of bug bites either. A good anti-bug spray should do the trick.
Of course, all courses in these schools and pre-schools that are part of the German Education system are in German, which could be a fantastic experience for a young child. But, for later years, you might want to send your child in an English speaking school.
There are quite a few of these schools, but, they are private and far from free. Such school as the International Schools offer good programs and the courses are in English or other languages. Some of them also offer classes during the whole day, which makes it much easier for working parents arriving in a new country.
You can find private schools in about every major cities in Germany and their size and cost vary from one to the next, but you should count on paying tens of thousands of dollars for an international school.
For more info about international school in Germany, you can go to the web site of the European Council on International Schools or to the Association of German International Schools
German Universities and Fachhochschulen (Applied Science Universities) have sites on the web with all the facts, from their enrollment forms to the list of their many departments. Unfortunately, very few of the 300 or so listed, have any info. in English.
In fact, apart from a very few, you must have a better than good understanding of German to be accepted in a University or a Fachhochschule.
Here are a few web-sites where you can find info., in English, about the many Universities and Fachhochschulen in Germany:
Educational Testing Service in United States of America and in other countries through the world
Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (German Academic Exchange Service)
has a ranking of the German Universities in many disciplines.
The Site on Higher Education in Germany will give you a good overview of the German system.
A last site that is very informative about everything regarding studies is Germany and that is in four languages (German, English, French and Spanish) is the Studien & Berufswahl site.
While previously the level of Master degree was the lowest you could obtain in the German Education system at the University level, it is now possible to obtain a Bachelor`s degree, as well.
The Fachhochschulen are more or less like Universities but they offer shorter and more hands-on programs, such as Engineering and College of Art and Music. They usually stop at the level of bachelor but some offer also master's degrees.
Another kind of University is the "Open" or "Virtual" Universities. These offer courses on-line and are very flexible. Some of these are based in UK but there are some Germany-based as well.
As I mentioned earlier, most have all their courses in German only, but a few offer courses or whole programs in English. These are mainly British and Americans Institutions but a few German International Universities offer programs in English as well, mainly in the Business sector such as MBAs.
There is now possibility for foreign students to study ''free of charge'' in German Universities! For more info, please visit this web-site:
However, Baden-Württemberg is re-introducing a fee...
If you would like to know what it's like to live in Germany before moving here, go see "A year in Germany" . It is an eBook made from entries I made in my travelog during our first year in Germany. "A year in Germany" for fun and adventures!