Germany is considered by many as the strongest country in Europe and it is no coincidence that it also has a very distinctive education system. What is so different about Germany is that vocational education is fundamental to its structure and is given as much importance as a more conventional academic route.
School is compulsory for a minimum of nine years and it starts to be compulsory from the age of six. There is the option of kindergarten for those between 3 and 6 but what is different from the UK is that parents have to pay for their students to attend. However after kindergarten education becomes free for all, children attend Grundschule, something akin to our primary schools, until the age of 11. At Grundschule children are taught a variety of skills and lessons and interestingly, a foreign language, either French or English, is introduced.
After Grundschule, a child is streamlined according to their ability and put into one of three types of schools:
· Hauptschule - it prepares students for vocational work by teaching vocational skills. It lasts from Year 5 to Year 9.
· Realschule – This is for those who get average academic results. Two foreign languages are taught plus the core subjects such as history, English, sciences. It lasts from Year 5 to Year 10
· Gymnasium- This is for those who show the most academic aptitude. It’s very demanding and rigorous and something akin to a grammar school. It is essentially a place where students are prepared for university. It lasts the longest, from year 5 to year 12/13.
It is important to note that the German school day throughout the different strata remains the same. School starts at 7.30 in the morning and it is usually done by 1.30pm.
An obvious critique of the German Education system is its emphasis on streaming from a younger age. A child’s future is set from the age of eleven, whether they will enter a more vocational career or if they will eventually go to university. Although it can be said that it prepares children for their future in the workplace, there is the sense that there is too much emphasis on education as a means to an end. Worryingly, it appears as though the UK education system is aspiring to this with focusing on merely the “useful subjects.”
However one great thing about the German education system is that it acknowledges vocational work. It provides an alternative for those who are incredibly skilled in making things and are skilled in working with their hands. Academia is not for everyone and in recent years, the government appears to be recognising this by introducing Diplomas and BTechs. That being said, perhaps the government needs to increase the number of BTechs and Diplomas available and the range of subjects available. It could also be said, more effort could be put into making them appear as a viable pathway for people rather than the constant emphasis on A Levels and GCSE.
Furthermore it has many free schools that operate using democratic education. The National Association of Free Alternative Schools (BFAS) is an organisation that is host to approximately a hundred free schools. These schools communicate with students and take students' aptitudes and abilitities into consideration when creating a curriculum for students meaning that the way it operates is similar to a democratic form of education. These schools, although state funded, run autonomously and without state intervention meaning teachers have more freedom in what they teach students and the way that they teach students. These schools find themselves having smaller classes, an environment where students can develop their own interest and innovative forms of learning.
The German Education System still remains one that we can learn from as a whole due to the massive differences between it and our own. Despite its flaws, there are successes in its system that the UK can take inspiration from.