Free Education in Germany – An Overview

free education germany

German Education System/ German School System

An education system includes the school system, higher education and training sector. The German education system is divided into four basic levels:

Primary education: elementary school (class 1-4)

With the start of compulsory education parents are obliged to send their children to primary school.  On their first schoolday in Germany, most kids are 6 years old. The education system in Germany is lying in the hands of each and every of the 16 federal states, which means that they can decide, when schoolchildren get their first marks. Largely from 3rd grade on.

Secondary education: Hauptschule (junior high school) (class 5-9), Realschule (secondary modern school) (class 5-10), Gymnasium (high school) (class 5-12/13)

Secondary education includes all types of schoolforms from class 5 to class 10. In most cases, parents get a suggestion to decide for a certain kind of schoolform by the childs primary teacher. Most pupils with bad marks attend Hauptschule, average students Realschule and good pupils Gymnasium. The difference between the three schoolforms is strong and the separation of the “bad” from the “good” students begins very early in Germany.

The teacher education for each of these specific schools is different as well. Everyone, who wants to become a teacher in Germany has to study a 6 semester bachelor with at least two subjects of his choice. After that, he can decide whether he wants to teach in primary school or one of the secondary educational schools. Future teachers for primary school only have to study a 2 semester master to become a primary school teacher + they are also permitted to teach in junior high school (Hauptschule). A future secondary modern school teacher has to study a specific 2 semester master, whereas the high school teacher (Gymnasium) has to study a 4 semester master.

Upper secondary education: Upper secondary school or vocational school (class 11-12/13)

Upper secondary education prepares pupils for studying in universities. As the education system in Germany lies in the hand of the federal states (16 in Germany as mentioned above), upper secondary school in some states is only from class 11-12 (which is called G8 = school leaving qualification after 8 years), in others from class 11-13.

Currently Rheinland-Pfalz is the only federal state, which offers still a school-leaving qualification after 13 years. Pupils, who leave school after 13 years have a 6 months gap (“holiday”) until the winter semester in German universities begin. Many of these pupils like to spend this time gap to spend some time abroad. Many pupils in Germany feel stressed with the G8 model, because it often requires schooltimes from 8 am until 4 pm.

Tertiary education: Universities (Hochschule), vocational colleges (Berufsschule), academies and technical schools (FH or Fachhochschule).

Everybody, who finishes upper secondary education with “Abitur” (= the highest school leaving qualification in Germany) is permitted to apply and study in any of the German universities. Some people, who finish modern secondary school add a vocational baccalaureate diploma, which is called “Fachabitur”. A person, who finishes 12th class in high school receives Fachabitur. With a vocational baccalaureate, a person is permitted to study in technical colleges (FH or Fachhochschule), which sometimes offer the same subjects (like for example business administration or computer science), as universities (Hochschulen), but are more practically oriented.

Most pupils, who finish secondary education (junior high school or secondary modern school) start a training. This means, they apply for a 3 years training in a company, kindergarten or for example a medical practise for different types of apprenticeships. They spend rotationally several months in their company and several months in a vocational college (Berufsschule). After an average of 3 years, they have to take an examination and are ready to start in the labour market. In most cases, by then, the person is only around 18 years old once he is finished with his whole education. People without any university degree or training have almost no chances, to get an ordinary good job in Germany. Even a cashier in the supermarket has most probably passed a 3 years apprenticeship.

Compulsary Education in Germany

Primary school and secondary I (until class 9) are part of the compulsary education in Germany. In the end, everybody has to visit school for at least 9 to 10 years.

Differences between the Federal States

As already mentioned, the education system in Germany varies a little bit from state to state. But even then, the scheme is still the same and in all of the 16 federal states consists of four levels.

Some examples of differences in the education system of the federal states in Germany:

  • Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) still offers upper secondary school until class 13.
  • 15 of the 16 federal states have a central higher school leaving exam (Zentralabitur). This means, every pupil in the certain state writes the exact same final examination to get his school-leaving certificate. The only state without central higher leaving exam is Rhineland-Palatine. Here, the teachers of every course prepare the exam, which get checked by advisers. Zentralabitur is considered to be more difficult to pass.
  • Rhineland-Palatine also has a secondary modern education+ (Realschule plus). This means, former junior high school and secondary modern education are basically dissolved. All pupils visit one school (depends on the form of the “Realschule plus”) from 5th to 9th or from 5th to 7th grade. The reason behind that: pupils shouldn’t get classified too early.
  • The education systems in Bayern (Bavaria), Baden-Württemberg and Hamburg are considered as best school systems in Germany.

Who is Financing the Educational System in Germany?

Free education in Germany means, that even though parents are rich or poor: every child gets the same education, has the same chances and possibilities. But still then Germany is – compared to other industrial nations – one of the taillights when it comes to spending money on education.

Education is the basis of development. This means, that the education system in Germany is basically financing itself: someone with a higher level of education earns more money and will pay more taxes. These taxes are financing the new generations education. But not only that, because high-skilled people also boost the market economy. Its a never-ending cycle.

The German University System

There are three basic types of universities in Germany:

  • Technical colleges
  • Universities (including “TU”s, technical universities)
  • Art and theater schools/universities

Germany has 239 state universities (105 technical colleges and 46 art schools included). Within Germany and the German job-market – compared to other countries like the United States – the university where someone studied is not as important as the specific subject + the job experience. German people or students are generally not classifying universities: degree is degree. Still then, German universities are participating in international rankings.

Some high ranked or top universities in Germany are:

  • Ludwigs-Maximilian-University in Munch (top in physics)
  • University of Heidelberg (top in medicine, law)
  • Humbolt University Berlin (top in languages, philosophy, social sciences)
  • Technical University of Munich (TU Munich) (top in electronical engineering, computer science, information systems)
  • KIT Karlsruher Institut for Technology (top in computer science, engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, physics, chemistry, material sciences)
  • Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (RWTH Aachen) (top in chemistry, physics, chemical engineering, material sciences)
  • University Mannheim (top in economics, business administration, social sciences)

How much does it cost to Study in Germany?

Studying in Germany in any of the state universities is basically for free. The free higher education in Germany makes it so attractive for foreign people to study here. Per semester (6 months) students only have to pay the semester fee, which sometimes also includes a transport ticket. Regular tuitions fees in Germany (in most cases 500 euro (570 USD) per semester) got completely abolished in the last couple of years. In average, a German student needs (according to the German student union = Deutsches Studentenwerk) around 800 euro (around 900 USD) per month for everything.

Featured image: Heike Zappe – Humboldt Universtität Berlin – CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

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