How does school education work in Germany?


In Germany, school is compulsory from the age of six. There are different types, and the duration of compulsory education and the curricula vary from one Land to another.

There are so many types of schools in Germany that it can make your head spin. “Gesamtschule”, “Hochschule”, “Realschule”: the possibilities and the questions seem endless and impressive. To simplify things, let’s start with how the school system works.

The different Länder, such as North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, determine their own standards in the field of education. But in general, each state provides schooling or care for children aged a few months through their late teens.

Daycare and kindergarten

From the age of eight weeks to three years, a child can go to a “Kinderkrippe” or crèche. At the age of three, the children go to the “Kindergarten” or “Kita” (abbreviation for “Kindertagesstätte”, kindergarten).


The “Kinderkrippe” and “Kindergarten” are optional and partially subsidized by the state. Although children are now officially entitled to childcare from the age of 12 months, depending on where you live it can be difficult to find a suitable place.

A woman picks up her children from school in Germany
A woman picks up her children from school in Germany

Primary school

In Germany, school is compulsory and free from the age of six. At this age, children go to primary school, “Grundschule”. Know that you can also put your child in a private school but it will be paying.

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At the end of primary school, parents have to choose for their children between several types of secondary education schools.

Secondary education

There are five types of secondary education schools in Germany: “Gymnasium”, “Realschule”, “Hauptschule”, “Gesamtschule” and “Förderschule”.

– The “Gymnasium” (high school) is for students who want to go to university. It ends with the secondary school leaving examination or “Abitur” after the 12th or 13th year.

– The “Realschule” is not as academically demanding as the Gymnasium. Pupils who go to Realschule finish after the tenth year with an exam called “Mittlere Reife”. Most students then go on to vocational training or an apprenticeship. Some who have obtained good academic results at the “Realschule” can go to the “Gymnasium”.

– The “Hauptschule” is designed to prepare students for vocational education. It ends after the 9th year with the “Hauptschulabschluss”, or, after the tenth, with the “Realschulabschluss”.

– The “Gesamtschule” combines aspects of high school, the “Realschule” and the “Hauptschule”. This type of school was created to give students the opportunity to achieve their best academic results.

The “Förderschule” or “Sonderschule” is for children with learning difficulties. There are also different types of schools for children with disabilities.

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Many young people dream of going to university
Many young people dream of going to university


The tuition fees of German universities are relatively low, compared to universities in other parts of the world like the United States and the United Kingdom which are extremely expensive. University fees in Germany vary from one Land to another but they do not exceed a few hundred euros per semester, including for non-German and non-European students. These fees include books and a public transport card for the region.

Other things to consider

Home schooling is illegal in Germany except in rare cases. People who tried to school at home were fined several thousand euros. Children were also taken away from their parents, and some of them were even sentenced to prison terms.

There are international schools for students who do not speak German well enough. However, these schools are not publicly funded and getting a place in one can be difficult.

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