What is the correct method of education

Methodical madness: the German school system

You'd think it wouldn't be difficult to enroll your child in high school. You fill out a few forms, sign and submit them. Not so in Germany. Prepare for an odyssey.

My foreign friends and I sometimes make fun of the notorious German bureaucracy. "Why easy when it can be complicated?" That definitely applies to the education system as well. An Australian friend recently remarked: "You need a doctor to understand the German state school system."

Just don't make the wrong decision!

In Germany, the 16 federal states and not the federal government are responsible for the school system - and that is why it is anything but uniform. Okay, some things have been agreed on. After primary school, children go to the 5th grade of a secondary school (except in Berlin and Brandenburg, where they do not change until two years later). Most parents start pondering where to send their child, but already when the offspring are still in 4th grade. From September to February, i.e. through the whole of autumn and the Christmas season until the New Year, you think back and forth in order not to make the wrong decision.

In most federal states, primary school lasts four years

Almost every Saturday you go to any school that is currently offering an open day. With the child in tow, you look at classrooms and talk to teachers and students to find out whether your daughter or son would be in good hands here. It's pretty time consuming. Not to mention the fact that you feel like you're in the supermarket with all the well-sounding offers, where you are almost overwhelmed by rows of different salad dressings. Which one do I just take? All you really want to do is turn around on your heel and run away.

In February, things get serious: the children receive their interim reports and the parents receive a recommendation from the class teacher as to which secondary school would be best for the offspring. You have to make a decision and then you can only hope to get a place at the school of your desire.

A hierarchical system

Many Germans don't like to hear this at all, but the school system is quite hierarchical and forces students to take a certain direction very early on. I live in North Rhine-Westphalia, where there is a three-part system of secondary schools. First there is the high school for the bright children of mostly wealthy parents who are supposed to study. In secondary school there are children who may or may not want to get a desk job. And finally there is the secondary school that trains future craftsmen and workers. In addition, there are comprehensive schools and community schools that span all types of school.

If they are honest, most German parents have to admit that they are proud and relieved when their child receives a recommendation for high school from the teacher. On the other hand, I think that it is far too early to determine the school career of the children as early as fourth grade. My daughter has a recommendation for high school, but I still don't think that she should go there in 5th grade.

What recommendation does the class teacher give for the next generation?

Too young to change

She is currently attending a primary school in a suburb of Cologne - and it's almost like a fairy tale. When I pick her and her brother up there, they are watering the petunias or are engrossed in the game somewhere in the school yard full of giant old trees. Sheep and chickens run around the area and sometimes into the building. During the breaks, the children can let off steam here. But they also learn what empathy and willingness to help mean: Because disabled children also go to their class and they help them as a matter of course. And all in a state school on the outskirts of a metropolis.

I am sure that this is not the rule. But who wouldn't want to let their children go on here at the tender age of ten? Why should they go to the same school as 15- and 16-year-old teenagers next year? I grew up in the USA, where I only go to high school (grades 9 to 12) after middle school (grades 6 to 8) or junior high school (grades 7 and 8).

Elementary school is not just about learning, it's also about playing

Why can't my children stay in elementary school until the sixth grade - as is customary in Berlin? And in many countries around the world? "In fourth grade, the children just want to play and not have to think about which secondary school they are going to go to," my daughter's class teacher told me. She agrees with her colleagues on that.

The Frankfurt-based trade union for education and science (GEW) also shares this view. "It is simply too early to determine the further educational path for nine-year-olds," the GEW commented on the daily newspaper "Welt".

"In Brandenburg and Berlin we are focusing on six years of primary school so that the children can stay together longer and learn together," says Beate Stoffers, press spokeswoman for education in Berlin.

The last word in wisdom?

I have made up my mind: I will send my daughter (and a year later also my son) to comprehensive school and thus avoid the three-class system. It seems fairer to me and is the closest thing to the American high school I attended. My daughter can do her Abitur in comprehensive school if she wants; But other paths are also open to her.

Children need time to develop their skills

I am sure this is the best solution. The school is not exactly at the end of the street, but in a completely different district, around 40 minutes away by bus. A long way for a ten year old. But I know my smart and charming little daughter will make her way through high school. And maybe she will have great teachers to help her.

And yet: Why does it have to be so complicated to find the right school in Germany?


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