Germany has an extensive public school system that differs in many ways from the school systems in England and the United States. Most German students attend public school; however, there are many private schools that some students attend as well. Most private schools charge a tuition fee, while public schools remain free.
The school year is comprised of two semesters with breaks during each season and days off on holidays.
Kindergarten in Germany is the equivalent of pre-school in the United States. It is for children ages 3 to 5. Unlike primary school and higher, kindergarten is not mandatory for students.
Grundschule is the German equivalent of elementary or primary school, educating students in grades 1-4. All children ages 6-9 attend Grundschule, which teaches basic subjects. Upon completion of Grundschule, students have three options to continue their education: Hauptschule, Realschule, or Gymnasium. Parents choose which path their children will take, but teachers can make recommendations based on academic ability and performance.
Hauptschule educates students from grade 5 through grade 9 at a slowed pace. After completing grade 9, students are able to enroll in vocational courses and receive apprenticeship training until they are 18 years of age—the courses and training are offered at a Berufsschule, which gives students the skills they need to find their way into the job market.
Similar to a Hauptschule, Realschule prepares students for vocational training. Realschule educates students in grades 5-10—after completing grade 10, students are eligible to participate in higher vocational schools, or Fachschulen. This pathway prepares students for mid-level jobs in business, civil service, or administration.
In some states there are comprehensive schools called Gesamtschulen. Gesamtschule combines both Hauptschule and Realschule, educating students in grades 5-10. A Hauptschule certificate is awarded to students, who complete through grade 9, and a Realschule certificate is awarded to students who complete through grade 10—each certificate progresses students on their respective pathways.
Gymnasium courses are taken through grade 13, at which point the student earns their diploma or Abitur. This pathway prepares students for continuing on to the university level. A GymnasiumAbitur can focus on the areas of classical studies, modern language, mathematics, and natural sciences.
Following Gymnasium, students can attend a university. The higher education system in Germany is similar to the United States—there are traditional universities, private universities, technical universities, and universities that specialize in art and music.
Alternative Schooling Options
In addition to the traditional pathways and public schools in Germany, there are other educational institutions. There are many Internat, or boarding schools, in Germany, which offer a wide variety of study programs and specialized courses. There are international schools for expatriates living in Germany. The international schools, most of which charge tuition fees, typically offer courses in English and offer widely accepted diplomas. There are also private German schools, including Parochial schools for Protestant or Catholic students. Home schooling is not an option in Germany.
The German school system has many options to offer to students, native or visiting. Public schools are open to the children of expatriates, including at the university level, so anyone living abroad in Germany has many options for their children’s education.