The education system in Germany

Germany has an elaborated educational system, beginning with the German word almost everybody knows: Kindergarten. School attendance is compulsory from the age of six and takes, dependent of the chosen school-type, 9 to 13 years. After that you can proceed with an apprenticeship or different kinds of studies.

Time saver: If you plan to bring your children and let them attend a German school, section A will give you in-depth advice. If you want to study in Germany, you can directliy proceed to section B.

Section A

Kindergarten = elementary school

Pre-primary education includes early childhood education before school entry. Strengthening the education, upbringing and care of children who are not yet school age has become a central educational and socio-political concern. Though the attendance of a kindergarten or day care center (Kindertagesstätte or Kita) is not mandatory it is strongly recommended as it is regarded as essential for a child’s social, emotional, physical and mental development.

The German education system is divided into four resp. five levels:

1. Primary education: elementary school

With the beginning of compulsory education, the pupils enter the common elementary school, which ranges from the first to the fourth, in Berlin and Brandenburg to the sixth grade.
Primary school aims to move from the more playful forms of elementary learning to the more systematic forms of school learning. The focus is on the continuous improvement of language skills and the development of a fundamental understanding of mathematical and scientific contexts. Also, pupils start to learn English.

Building on the joint four-year primary school the lower secondary level comprises three courses of study with specific degrees or entitlements, namely the following.

2. Lower secondary education: 

Secondary modern school, junior high school, Gymnasium, comprehensive school

In lower secondary education, the certificate of secondary education (Hauptschulabschluss) and the general certificate of secondary education (Mittlerer Schulabschluss) are awarded. A level of achievement beyond the general certificate of secondary education (Mittlerer Schulabschluss) entitles to attend the upper secondary school (Gymnasiale Oberstufe).
There is permeability between the different types of school and upper secondary education. On the one hand, in grades 5 and 6, a change to another education is possible. On the other hand, in each of the above-mentioned types of school, every qualification and entitlement to lower secondary education can be achieved. 

At school types with several courses of instruction, lessons are given at different levels of entitlement, at least in some of the subjects. In addition, there is the possibility of obtaining general school leaving certificates at vocational schools.

Secondary education comprises classes 10 to 12. Class 10 has a dual function. It is the introductory phase to the upper secondary school (Gymnasiale Oberstufe) and at the same time the last grade level in the secondary school I (Sekundarstufe I). The classes 11 and 12 form the qualification phase.

3. Upper secondary education: upper secondary or vocational school

Upper secondary school (Gymnasiale Oberstufe)

The basic structure of the upper secondary school (Gymnasiale Oberstufe) includes the division into a one-year introductory phase and a two-year qualification phase, the assignment of subjects to three fields of activity, the distinction of subjects according to compulsory and optional subjects, the possibility of an individual focus, the teaching of different levels of entitlement to meet the levels of eligibility specified in the Baccalaureate examination in the "Compulsory Examination Requirements for the Baccalaureate Examination Certificate" (EPO) and the educational standards for the General University Degree, as well as the credits system for the determination of the overall qualification. The detailed design is incumbent on the Länder.

The upper secondary school graduates with the final secondary school examination (Abitur exam). With the graduation certificate, the pupil receives the certificate of the general higher education entrance qualification.

Vocational schools and vocational training in the dual system

Secondary vocational education and training programs lead to professional qualifications that enable a professional activity as a qualified specialist, such as: 

For example, in a recognized occupation or in a profession that can only be acquired by attending school. Decisions of the Conference of Ministers of Education also ensure that in many qualifying as a higher education entrance qualification.

The vocational high school covers a three-year course of education. Based on a middle school diploma (Mittlerer Schulabschluss) with a special performance profile, which entitles the entrance to the upper secondary school (Gymnasiale Oberstufe), or an equivalent degree, the vocational grammar school (Berufs Gymnasium) usually leads to the general higher education entrance qualification. Vocational colleges are designed to introduce one or more occupations, provide part of vocational training in one or more recognized occupations or lead to vocational training in a profession. At the same time, they expand the previously acquired general education. At the Vocational College, pupils are given an expanded general and in-depth theoretical education with the aim of being able to study, based on the knowledge, skills and abilities of their initial vocational training. The vocational high school leads in two-year full-time tuition to a subject-related and with a second foreign language to the general higher education entrance qualification. The specialzied secondary school (Fachoberschule) builds on the middle school diploma (Mittlerer Schulabschluss) and usually leads in a two-year course to advanced technical college certificate (Fachhochschulreife). It conveys general, theoretical and practical knowledge and skills. At the specialzied secondary school (Fachoberschule) the establishment of a grade 13 is possible, whose visit leads to a subject-related higher education entrance qualification (Fachgebundene Hochschulreife) and under certain conditions to the general higher education entrance qualification.

Within the framework of dual vocational training, the vocational school has the task of providing vocational and inter-occupational competences with special consideration of the requirements of vocational training and at the same time providing an educational offer that prepares the vocational training or accompanies the employment. The vocational school can participate in tasks of vocational education and training.

Section B

4. Tertiary education: 

Colleges (incl. universities), Job Academies, Specialised Academies and Technical Colleges

The tertiary sector mainly covers the different types of higher education institutions and, to a limited extent, non-academic institutions.

Thus, in addition to higher education institutions, in some countries there are vocational colleges offering alternative vocational education courses for graduates of upper secondary education with higher education entrance qualification. The technical colleges and technical colleges in Bavaria are also part of the tertiary sector.

General goals

Teaching and studies are designed to prepare the students for a professional field of activity and to provide them with the requisite technical knowledge, skills and methods appropriate to the respective course of study in such a way that they contribute to academic or artistic work and to responsible action in a free, democratic and social state of law. These goals of study are common to all types of higher education institutions.

Following the traditional principle of the unity of teaching and research, the mandate of the legislator is to carry out the professional qualification of students in direct connection with scientific research and artistic development. While the unity of research and teaching applies to all universities, the integration of higher education at the University with basic research and theoretical knowledge is traditionally particularly close in the sense of differentiating the tasks between the types of higher education institutions.

Art and music schools prepare for artistic and art education professions. Teaching and studies are closely related to the other tasks of the universities,  to serve the arts through the development of artistic forms and means of expression as well as through the free practice of art.

Characteristic of the design of the study programs and the organization of teaching and studies at a college of higher education (Fachhochschule) are the special application orientation and the stronger focus on the requirements of professional practice.

Particular importance is attached to the practical semesters spent outside the university. The teaching at the universities of applied sciences is related in terms of personnel and content to application-oriented research and development projects, as they are characteristic for this type of university.

Within the scope of training at state or state-recognized professional academics, a science-related and at the same time at the participating training centers a practice-oriented vocational education is to be arranged at study academies.

The objective of continuing professional education at vocational schools (Fachschulen) is to enable skilled workers with usually professional experience to take on managerial tasks in companies, companies, administrations and institutions or to independently carry out responsible activities.

There are 430 state-regulated universities, colleges and colleges of art, film and music. As a student, you have the opportunity to choose from a variety of courses offered at the state-of-the-art German universities. Although more than 500 international courses use English as a teaching tool, you can of course also learn German by enrolling in German courses at the university for free.

Find all programs and universities for your Bachelor and Master studies in Germany

5. Quarternary education: 

Private and professional further education after vocational training

In Germany, the idea of life-long learning is a part of professional life. Slightly more than 25% of the population each year take part in vocational or general further education - a percentage that continues to increase.
Continuing education is the continuation or resumption of organized learning after the completion of a different first phase of education and usually after starting work or family. Further education in this sense also exists when the individual controls their own learning. It includes general, political, cultural and scientific education.

Continuing education has the widest variety of functions on a social and individual level. It is the necessary tool for adapting to technical progress, it safeguards economic performance and can be a decisive factor in labor market policy. Further education is crucial for the development of one's own personality and a prerequisite for self-determination and independence.

As you see, there are manifold options and a sometimes confusing variety of alternatives to choose from. Serviceplus will be glad to check with you which of them might be your personal stepstone for success.