German and International Schools

The German School System
German schools represent more than just an opportunity for your child to learn a second language and experience a foreign culture. Enrolling your child in a German school can help integration of both the child and you into the community. What’s more, the public education System is tuition free.

Academically, the German school System has a good reputation. The main complaint about the German system concern the short hours (in primary schools, it is common for children to finish school at noon), the lack of flexibility, and lack of programs for gifted and remedial children. In Germany, the school system is the responsibility of the respective state government and in response to the above shortcomings the State of Hessen has instituted a series of educational reforms. As a result, the high school curriculum was restructured and afternoon classes were introduced. The other significant reform involved substitute teaching. Hessen passed legislation so that classes will not be cancelled (and students sent home) due to a lack of human resources in schools. With students spending longer days in school, many schools are now offering hot lunches. Organized sports teams and other extra-curricular activities are still not offered at most German schools but are rather the domain of innumerable clubs (Vereine). It bears noting that the German school system expects parents to be active participants in their child’s education. Particularly at the primary and middle school level, parents should expect to spend an average of one hour daily helping their children with homework.

Germany has an excellent network of pre-schools … after all, the idea of the kindergarten first arose here, invented by German educator Friedrich Fröbel in 1840. Kindergarten starts as early as age three and continues until age five. It is not a part of the regular public school system and so is not free. Tuition is often based on income, though fees are usually not expensive. Kindergarten in Germany stresses a child’s social development and concentrates on structured play, arts and crafts, music and coordination skills. Children are not taught “learning ready” skills such as the alphabet and counting. Kindergartens are often run by churches, social organizations, or private companies.

All children aged 6-10 must attend a primary school (Grundschule). Here they are taught basic skills like reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as local history, geography and biology. In contrast to some other countries, students also have religion classes. In addition to their homeroom teacher, they have separate teachers for music and sports. Students are assigned up to 30-60 minutes of homework daily.

In the child’s final year (4th Grade) in the Grundschule, parents and teachers come together to evaluate the child’s next level of schooling. If a child has the academic aptitude to warrant university education, he or she will move directly onto high school (Gymnasium). Those students who need an- other two years to can attend middle school (Förderstufe) after which they can choose between the Gymnasium and intermediate schools (Hauptschule or Realschule). This is one of the most nerve-wracking times for parents whose children are not initially offered a place in the university track, but remember, the teacher recommendations are not written in stone and can be appealed.

The lowest track in the German education System is the general school (Hauptschule). It Starts with the fifth grade and goes through to the ninth grade. A Hauptschule is a school where students prepare for occupations that require vocational training and continue learning basic subjects, as well as English. After a student completes the Hauptschule, he or she can go on to a vocational college, which usually lasts about two years.

A Realschule is more advanced than a Hauptschule. Here students learn the basic subjects that will prepare them for a mid-level job in business or a technical trade. If a student has performed well at a Realschule, he or she can also transfer to a Gymnasium.

This school is the highest level of secondary education in Germany and prepares students to enter university. Gymnasium lasts 8-9 years and students learn German, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Geography, Biology and History. Students are required to take a foreign language starting in 5th Grade. This is usually English, but Latin or French are also offered. A second foreign language can be added in 7th Grade and a third in 9th Grade. Students specialize in certain subjects in their final years.

In their last year, students take week-long exams in order to obtain their Abitur, or high-school-leaving certificate, qualifying them for university admission.

The comprehensive school (Gesamtschule) combines all three high school types. First introduced in the 1960s, this type of school allows students to switch between different tracks without changing buildings.

International Schools
International schools are accustomed to dealing with children from all over the world and with varied linguistic backgrounds. One advantage of the international education System is portability and continuity of the curriculum, which helps prevent learning gaps if the family moves to another international assignment or returns home. And as private schools, they can often afford better facilities, extensive extracurricular activities and longer hours; in some cases up to 6 p.m. You pay for this privilege: Tuition fees can run to well over € 22,000 a year for high school. German taxpayers, however, can tax deduct up to 30 percent of these fees as extraordinary expenses up to a maximum amount of € 5,000.

In recent years, a number of bilingual (German-English) private schools have opened in FrankfurtRhineMain. If a private school is classified as an “alternative school” (Ersatzschule), then it has been certified by the state educational authority. The school must adhere to the same regulations and curriculum as a German school. Such schools, however, are also sometimes permitted to offer equivalent international classes and diplomas. In return, the state provides generous subsidies to these schools and as a result, tuition is in the order of € 300-1,000 a month.

If a private school is classified as a “complimentary school” (Ergänzungsschule), it is not required to follow state curriculum regulations. Traditionally, most international schools offering the International Baccaleurate (IB) diploma have been classified as complimentary schools. Because the state provides no subsidies, these schools are funded almost exclusively by tuition fees.