German vs American Schools


Lara Rieger, staff writer

From scheduling to mandatory classes, the educational systems in Germany compared to America are very different.

Growing up in Germany, I started school at the age of five, although the more common age would be six. Then I went to elementary school for four years. After that I had to pick between four different types of schools.

The first choice is called “Gymnasium”. There, you are taught at a very high level and when you graduate after eight or nine years, depending on the school, you will have the highest possible degree. Once you receive this, you can continue studying at a university. Public universities in Germany are free, other than a small administration cost. 

The second type is called “Realschule”. This one is not as difficult and only goes until tenth grade. After that, most people either go into the work force or transfer to a “Gymnasium” to get a higher degree. 

The third one is the “Hauptschule”. The education level at this one is even lower and it ends after either ninth or tenth grade. Then students either continue studying to get the “Realschule” degree or go into the work force.

The last type combines the three other types of schools. It is called “Gesamtschule”. There you can choose to either take classes at a higher or at a lower level. You can decide to graduate after tenth grade and go into the work force or make the “Gymnasium” degree after 13th grade.

I went to an eight-year “Gymnasium” which means that I have to go to school for 12 years in total. Going to an eight-year “Gymnasium” is – at least in the part of Germany where I live – the most common type of education, but it doesn’t provide much free time. You have to take lots of tests and spend a lot of time studying. You also have lots of homework and most days, your classes end late in the afternoon.

In Germany, you also have a different schedule every day which is why some days, students get dismissed at 12:30 pm and other days – which unfortunately were the majority – we had to stay until five. We had a full hour of lunch break, but it was at a different time for every student. The earliest lunch you could have started at 12:30 and the latest at 2:15pm. For lunch, most students went to the shopping mall right next to our school, although you were only allowed to go there if you were in tenth grade or older. We also had a school cafeteria that provided healthier food than American school cafeterias, but most students didn’t like eating there.

The mandatory classes in Germany are also very different. Everybody has between 13 and 16 classes and in each one we had to take at least two exams per semester. These exams were half of my final grade. 

Here in America, in some classes you don’t really have to participate during the lesson, so you can just lean back and listen. That is definitely not possible in Germany. You are graded for participation and discussion during lessons and that makes up the second half of your final grade.

Furthermore, you can’t choose any of your classes. Everybody has to take three sciences, two or three foreign languages, social studies and so on. Religion also is a mandatory class in Germany. The only thing you can actually choose is which languages you want to learn, except for English because everybody has to start learning English in third grade. 

After tenth grade, you finally get a little more freedom in your classes. You can drop one language and one science class, and you choose two classes that you want to focus on. In these you will be taught five lessons per week while in every other class you only have two or three lessons. In addition to this, these two classes are taught at a higher level than normal and count the most for your final degree. Moreover, after tenth grade all of your grades start counting for your final degree although graduation is still two years away so you should really have good grades in every single test.

So if you are complaining about school in America, go to school in Germany for one day and trust me you will love American schools.