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K-12 Education System

The responsibility of the Education System in Germany lies with the states while the federal government plays a minor role.  Kindergarten, i.e. nursery school education is optional and is offered for all children between two and six years of age, after which schooling is compulsory. The German education system proposes different career paths for students based on individual ability. At the age 6, children enter the Elementary School (Grundschule). It takes usually four years; the children are between six and ten years old. The education comprises of learning to read, write, basic math and general knowledge. In some schools, English, a first foreign language is introduced. Following the elementary school, students enter one of several school forms at the lower secondary level: 
  1. The Hauptschule: refers to secondary school from grades 5-9 in most states and leads to getting of the Hauptschule certificate and then to part-time enrollment in a vocational school combined with apprenticeship training until the age of 18.
  2. The Realschule: grades 5-10 in most states and leads to getting of the Realschule certificate and then to part-time vocational schools, higher vocational schools or continuation of study at a Gymnasium.
  3. The Gymnasium: refers to high school, i.e. grades 5-12 in most states and leads to the Abitur and prepares students for university study or for a dual academic and vocational credential.

  • Gymnasium: The Gymnasium provides students with a liberal education and traditionally leads to study at the university.
  • Realschule: The Realschule provides students with an education which combines both broad and practical education from the 5th through the 10th grade, but the accent is on liberal education.
  • Gesamtschule: Also, known as comprehensive schools take students of all ability levels in the 5th through the 10th grades.
  • Hauptschule: The Hauptschule provides basic instructions to the students. 

Levels of Schools and Lengths of Study

Primary Education

Germany offers free education for students between 6 to 18 years.
  • Kindergarten: Age 3 to 6       
  • Elementary school/ Grundschule: Grade 1 to 4 (mandatory level)

Secondary Education

Based on the recommendation of Elementary school teachers, academic ability of the students & parents choices, students attend one of the four different forms of secondary schools: 

Gymnasium (University- Preparatory General Secondary School)

  • Grades Covered: 5 to 13
  • Duration:  9 years
  • Age level:  10 to 18 years
  • Degree: Abitur
  • Gymnasium prepare students for university study or for a dual academic and vocational credential
The Gymnasium is designed to offer students with an education which will enable them to study at a German university or equivalent. The general academic curriculum is comprised of the following subjects: German, math, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history, politics, music, art, sports and religious education.

Realschule (General Secondary School)

  • Grades Covered: 5 to 10
  • Duration:  6 years
  • Age level:  10 to 15 years
  • Degree:  Mittlere Reife
  • Realschule guides to part-time and higher vocational schools
The Realschule gives children a broader general education. They also have a chance to learn a second foreign language usually French, in accession to the first compulsory language generally English.

Gesamtschule (Integrated Secondary School)

  • Grades Covered: 5 to 10
  • Duration:  6 years
  • Age level:  10 to 15 years
  • Degree: Hauptschulabschluss in the 9th grade/Mittlere Reife in the 10th grade
  • Gesamtschule guides to vocational study or University study.
The Gesamtschule, also known as the comprehensive school combines elements from the Hauptschule, the Realschule and the Gymnasium. There are two types of Gesamtschule: Cooperative Gesamtschulen where students are grouped according to the qualification to be taken, and Integrated Gesamtschulen where students are grouped together according to their level of proficiency for a number of core subjects, but study them together as a group for all other subjects.  

Hauptschule (Main Secondary School)

  • Grades Covered: 5 to 9 
  • Duration: 5 to 6 years
  • Age level:  10 to 15 years
  • Degree:  Hauptschul abschluss
  • Hauptschule leads to part-time enrollment in a vocational school combined with apprenticeship training until the age of 18
From the first year of Hauptschule, all children learn English. They are also taught German, math, physics / chemistry, biology, geography, history, religion (or a substitute subject), music, art, politics and sports, and are given an introduction to the careers available and employment related information.

Upper Secondary Education: Secondary Education Level II

Upper Secondary Education offers academic and vocational education in the following types of institutions/establishments:

Gymnasiale Oberstufe (Upper Level of Gymnasium)

It is a prolongation of the Gymnasium education in grades 11-13 (or 10-12) divided into one-year introductory phase and a two-year qualification phase. Each student studies from the following subjects :
  • languages, literature, music and the arts 
  • social sciences, philosophy, and politics (e.g. history, geography, philosophy, social studies/politics, 
  • Math, natural sciences and technology, physics, chemistry, biology, and Information technology.  

Fachoberschule (Specialized Upper Secondary School) 

It is a general upper secondary school with a vocational curriculum comprising of grades 11 and 12. Admission usually based on a completed Realschule (General Secondary School). Completion of the Fachoberschule program leads to the Fachhochschulreife and admission to tertiary-level technical institutions called Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen). 

Berufsschule

The Berufsschule is an upper secondary school form which students may enter to pursue part-time academic study combined with apprenticeship, following the successful completion of either the Hauptschule or Realschule.

Academic Year

School year lasts 188- 208 days from August to July. The school year consists of two semesters and normally starts around the middle to end of August. There are longer breaks at Christmas and in the summer. The Christmas break is usually 2 weeks and the summer break is about 6 weeks.

Language of Instruction

The language of instruction in Germany is German and English

Grading Method

Germany uses a 6-point grading scale (GPA) to evaluate the performance of school children. A GPA means grade point average. It is the average of all grades obtained.
  • 1 (sehr gut, very good) is given for excellent performance and regarded as “very good”.
  • 2 (gut, good) is given for performance that satisfies the standard completely and is above-average. Regarded as “Good”.
  • 3 (befriedigend, satisfactory) indicates "average" performance. Regarded a “satisfactory”.
  • 4 (ausreichend, sufficient) is the lowest passing grade and is given if the criterion has been met but with a number of notable errors. Regarded as “Adequate”.
  • 5 (mangelhaft, deficient) is given if the standard has not been met but, the fundamentals have been understood. Regarded as “Poor”.
  • 6 (ungenugend, insufficient) is the lowest possible grade and is given if the standard has not been met and the basics have not been understood. Regarded as "Very Poor”.
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