The German Education System: a Complete Overview

Updated on
September 20, 2022

If you're planning to move to Germany with your family, it's important that you know the ins and outs of the German education system. Gaining deep insights into the educational structure in Germany is imperative to help your kids achieve high-performance results during their studies. It will build the foundation required for their professional growth and success.Also, if you're a student looking to continue your studies in Germany, this guide offers complete information about high-academic education so you can make the right decisions before moving.

Government Involvement

In Germany, the Basic Law, also known as Grundgesetz, stipulates and sets out the rules, procedures, and regulations for the education system. And, the government authority which creates and adopts policies, rules and related administrative regulations for education, arts and science is the Federal Ministries of Education, Cultural Affair and Science.This government body works together with the Federation and each Länders, or German State authority to monitor the activity of all educational bodies, institutions, or foundations. Länders and the Federation also share the responsibility to resolve any education issues. However, the Federation's role is secondary to Länders. But, in some cases, both bodies closely collaborate on joint-tasks, also known as Gemeinschaftsaufgaben.But Länders have significant power and attributes throughout their territory relating to educational matters across all academic levels, except when the Basic Law grants more power to the Federation.You'll find that in Germany, the education system comprises 5 stages:

  • Early Childhood;
  • Primary;
  • Secondary;
  • Tertiary; and
  • Continuing.

About the German Early Childhood Education Stage

What does Preschool Education Stand for in Germany?

The Preschool education stage (early childhood) is optional and dedicated to children up to 6 years old.The State Youth Welfare Office in the respective Länder, or the Landesjugendämter, is responsible to monitor children who are attending preschool education.

Which Institutions offer Preschool Education and Care?

In Germany, the private sector mainly offers pre-school education services while the government local authorities are less involved. Private day-care providers such as Kinderkrippen, or creches, child-care centres, kindergartens, and other centres offer such services.Also, non-profit organizations such as Churches, Parent's Associations or Welfare offer childhood education and local authorities only get involved in areas where the private sector is not sufficiently developed.The daily schedule for pre-school education bodies is set jointly by parents and the professional staff. But, usually, these centres offer a 7-hours care program, including occasional midday breaks and lunch.

How are Children's Achievements Measured during Preschool?

During preschool, children achievements aren't assessed. The children are monitored by the trainers or educator which make sure that they're gaining the right skills through various education activities.The educators discuss with the parents regarding the level of education attainment by their child to decide on how to proceed further for the child's development.

In Case the Child isn't Ready for the Next education Stage

If the child hasn't reached the right age to attend compulsory education or hasn't attained the necessary skills for the next education stage, there is a transition solution. It's dedicated to children who require special education or to children who are disabled. They can attend a special school named School Kindergarten, or Schulkindergärten, offered in some Landers, or they can attend a Preliminary Class, known as Vorklassen.

About the German Obligatory Education Stages

Which Are the Obligatory Education Stages in Germany?

Primary and secondary education are obligatory stages in Germany which all children must undertake since the age of 6 and until they fulfill 9 years of education at Gymnasium or 10 years for other forms of general schools.The obligatory education stages are also mandatory for disabled youth. Depending on their special requirements, or SonderpädagogischerFörderbedarf, they'll either attend a normal school or study at a special school, known as SonderpädagogischeBildungseinrichtungen.

The Primary Education Stage in Germany

The primary education stage in Germany, known as Grundschule comprises mixed-capabilities classes dedicated to children who are at least 6 years old, until they reach grade 4 or respectively grade 6 in Brandenburg or Berlin.In Germany, you'll find two types of primary education systems, namely a 5-day study week or 6-day study week.The 5-day study week structure comprises 188 school days per year, while the 6-day study week system involves 208 school days per year, including 2 Saturdays each month.Children attend between 20-29 classes per week and 20 to 22 classes during the first year. A class usually lasts up to around 45 minutes and pupils can attend up to 6 classes per day.

Primary School Grading System

After completing the classes during 1st grade, regardless of the level of education attained, pupils automatically enter the 2nd grade.Starting with the 2nd grade, pupils are graded depending on their knowledge level. If they don't pass the 2nd grade, they'll repeat the class it one more time.Grades are recorded in the school report, named Zeugnis, and they reflect whether the child should repeat the class. The grading system comprises 6 marks where 1 means very good and 6 stands for very poor.

After Finishing Primary School, Does the Pupil Receive a Certificate?

No, the pupil doesn't receive a certificate after finishing the primary education stage. So, there aren't any certificates issued to pupils for this. But children must reach the Grundschule target results to complete the primary education level.

What Is the Secondary Education Stage in Germany?

The Secondary education stage begins after primary education and it comprises the lower level, or Sekundarstufe I, and the upper level, or Sekundarstufe II.The Sekundarstufe I is available to pupils with ages between 10-15 or 16 and includes grades 5-7 and 9-10. All lessons are general and are meant to prepare the pupils for the Sekudarstufe II.The Sekundarstufe II is offered to pupils who are 15-16 or 18 and who have finished the Sekundarstufe I stage to help them qualify for the university or vocational education stages. It summarizes all the classes of the Sekundarstufe I which offered the basics to participating students. In Germany, you'll find a variety of secondary education schools which are attended by pupils who have different capabilities and qualifications attained during the primary school stage.

What Types of Secondary Schools Can You Find in Germany?

In Germany, you'll find both private and public secondary education schools such as:

  • High Schools which offer specific qualifications in one study domain including:
  • The Gymnasium which offers in-depth and intensive general classes, general study for university attendance and scientific research. Usually, it comprises 5-12 or 5-13 school years and ends with the Abitor or Alldemeine Hoschschulreife.
  • The Hauptschule which offers basic general classes and helps pupils attain capabilities required to qualify for vocational or university entrance. Studies in these schools last throughout grades 5-9, and in some cases include the 10th grade, ending with a Hauptschulabschluss.
  • Realschule offers extensive studies and helps pupils qualify for vocational or university attendance. It covers grade 5 - 10 and ends with Realschulabschluss
  • Schools which offer up to 3 study domains, known as Schularten mit mehreren Bildungsgängen.
  • Pupils can also attend vocational schools which combine theory based classes with practical assignments, named the dual system. In Germany you'll find the following types of vocational education institutions, respectively:
  • The Fachoberschule which involved 2 years of education and students receive a graduation certificate or Mittlerer Schulabschluss which leads to holding a Fachhochschulreife. In turn, this allows the student to enter an applied sciences university. If the school involves a 13 grade, the student will receive an Abitur or a Fachgebundene Hochschulreife.
  • The Berufsoberschule which offers 2-years of general and specific classes for primary vocational education and knowledge attained during prior attended classes, which leads to the student gaining vocational qualification or Abitur by attaining a good knowledge of the second foreign language. Students must undergo 3 or 4 years of classes aimed for double qualification in both vocational and the higher education systems.
  • The Berufsfachschule offers education and training for at least one profession which requires official recognition or attaining of vocational capabilities.
  • The Berufsschule offers practical training and classes comprising different lessons and skills development courses and provides the foundation for continuous vocational education or for a profession. It's a dual system combining theoretical classes with practical training.
  • The Berufliches Gymnasium offers 3 years of classes which lead to attaining an Abitur certification.
  • The private secondary education system in Germany comprises:
  • The Ersatzschulen, or alternative schools, which offer the same classes as public schools.
  • The Ergänzungsschulen or complementary schools which provide extra classes compared to public schools.

How are Pupils in Germany Graded during Secondary School?

During secondary school, pupils are graded based on 6 marks, respectively:

  • 1 which means very good;
  • 2 which stand for good;
  • 3 which represents a satisfactory level;
  • 4 which means adequate;
  • 5 which translates into poor; and
  • 6 which indicates very poor.

What Does the Tertiary Education Stage Stand for?

In Germany, the tertiary education stage is dedicated to students who have completed the secondary education stage either in Germany or abroad, which, in turn, allows them to attend higher education classes.Who Supervises the Tertiary Education Institutions in Germany?The Basic law in Germany stipulates that higher education institutions can autonomously manage aspects related to awarding scholarships as well as research and training activities.However, the institutions require compliance with the Lander's Ministry concerning administrative issues such as governmental or academic matters.

What Institutions Provide Tertiary Education in Germany?

Germany's tertiary education providers are institutions which offer higher education classes which help individuals attain a profession on the local on the foreign labour market.The official higher education institutions in Germany include the following:

  • Universities, known as Universitäten and other equivalent bodies;
  • Technical Universities, known as Technische Universitäten or Technische Hochschulen;
  • The educational colleges or Pädagogische Hochschulen;
  • The colleges of theological studies;
  • The universities for applied sciences study, or Fachhochschulen;
  • Music and Art colleges;
  • The Federal Armed Forces Higher Education Institutions;
  • Dual Studies Higher Education Institutions, or Berufsakademie;
  • Institutions offering Vocational Education, known as Fachschulen or Fachakademien which you can find in Berlin. And, the ISCED (International Standard Classification of Education), classifies the training and classes attended at institutions as being equivalent to the first level of higher education.

In Germany, What Do the Universities and Similar Education Institutions Specialize In?

In Germany, universities offer a wide variety of classes and special training. Similar higher education institutions provide a smaller number of classes such as theology, science, engineering, and others. And, although the two types of higher education institutions are different, both offer Ph.D. qualifications or Doktograd, known as Promotionsrecht.Despite differences between them, both of these institutions are entitled to award Ph.D. titles "Doktorgrad" (Promotionsrecht).Also, universities and similar institutions can offer classes and research studies for future academic professionals.

What Do Colleges of Music and Art Specialize In?

The colleges of music and art in Germany offer classes to train future musicians and artists, including academics of music and art. Some institutions offer classes on all subjects, while others only teach specific subjects for certain art domains.In Germany, colleges of music and art include the following courses:

  • Performing arts, design and visual classes;
  • Media, TV, and film;
  • Theoretical studies comprising fine arts, pedagogy, and history of art, teaching and history of music, communication, media, and digital media.

What Do the Universities of Applied Sciences or Fachhochschulen Specialize In?

The universities of applied sciences, or Fachhochschulen, represent independent institutions for higher education which offer practical classes, responsive teaching and research courses developed around the needs of the labour market. These universities are mainly private but some enjoy public funding.The main differentiation of universities of applied sciences compared to other universities in Germany is the practical paid training, named Praxussemester in the curriculum. These trainings are performed at the headquarters of private companies or public bodies and their goal is to bring students closer to the requirements of the labour market.Professors in the applied sciences universities have extensive professional working experience, separate from their academic profession.The universities of applied sciences in Germany offer courses such as agricultural economy, technology, business, design, and social work.However, training and education for civil servants which will serve the Federal public administration is provided by the Verwaltungsfachhochschulen. You'll find 29 such institutions in Germany which are supported both financially and administratively by the Federation or the Lader.You should know that in some Landers, the Fachhochschulen is known as the Hochschulen für angewandte Wissenschaften.

What Do the Berufsakademien Specialize In?

The Berufsakademien , known as the professional academies, are tertiary education institutions which offer education to qualifying students who've completed the upper secondary education stage and can attend university to train for a certain profession.

What Domains do Universities of Applied Sciences Offer Courses For?

Universities of Applied Sciences offer Bachelor degrees in fields such as:

  • Sciences of Engineering;
  • Nutritional, agronomy and forestry science;
  • Economic Law and economics;
  • Social Service;
  • Administration of Justice and Public Administration;
  • Computer Science, Information Technology, and Mathematics;
  • Nature Science;
  • Communication and Information Studies;
  • Management and Nursing in the Public Health System;
  • Design.

Universities of Applied Sciences in Germany offer the following International Bachelor programs:

  • Economics, Law and Social Sciences;
  • Sciences of Engineering;
  • Bachelor Studies in German, known as Fachschulen.

Institutions for continuing vocational training Bachelor Programs

Institutions for continuing vocational training offer bachelor programs covering fields such as agricultural economy, technology, business and social service, and design.The main bachelor subjects covered are construction, electrical and mechanical engineering, and business management.

Bachelor Programs in German, or Berufsakademien.

The bachelor programs which the academies in Germany provide comprise business, social service, and technology.

The Magister Degree – or Qualifying for Second Higher Education in Germany

The master's degree represents the certification for finishing the second higher education stage in Germany. It involves 2 to 4 semesters of studies. But usually, most universities and similar institutions set the studies period to 4 semesters, except for Fachhochschulen which requires a studies period of 3 or 4 semesters.To finish the master's education stage, you must reach 300 ECTS credits including points achieved during previous education stages. However, a student whose previous qualification is the bachelor's degree should have 360 ECTS credits.One you finish the Master degree in Germany by attending universities or similar institutions you can earn various titles such as:

  • M.A or Master of Arts;
  • M.Sc or Master of Science;
  • M. Eng or Master of Engineering;
  • LL.M. or Master of Laws;
  • M.Ed. or Master of Education.

In the music and arts fields, after receiving your master's degree, you can earn titles such as:

  • M.F.A or Master of Fine Arts;
  • M.A. or Master of Arts;
  • M.Mus. or Master of Music.

Universities of applied sciences will offer you the following titles after graduating a Master's program:

  • M.Eng. or Master of Engineering;
  • M.A or Master of Arts;
  • M.Sc. or Master of Science;
  • LL.M or Master of Laws.

And by finishing a specialist or continuing education, you can attain a Master of Business Administration, or MBA.

What are the Higher Education Programs offered in Germany Aside from Bachelor or Master Levels?

About the Diplom Examination

In Germany, you can complete studies by undertaking a Diplom examination on study subjects which will lead you to gaining a Diplom degree, for example, a Diplom in Engineering or Psychology. And, in case a University of Applied Sciences issues the Diplom it will include the FH phrasing. Also, the Universities of Applied Sciences issue Diploms which are comparable to the bachelor's degrees.

About the Magister Examination

In Germany, you can complete courses by taking a Magister examination on a mix of subjects which will grant you a Magister degree. For example, you can earn a Magister of Atrium degree.Universities of Applied Sciences in Germany issue Magister degrees which are comparable to a master's degree.

About the State Examination or the Staatsprüfung

To prepare students for social service or public professions, some courses in Germany require a state examination. This examination applies to subjects such as dentistry, medicine, pharmaceutics, veterinary medicine, law, teaching, and food chemistry.Students must pass 2-stage examinations to pursue such professions. Exams are performed by state examiners together with academic professors.

Church and Academic Examination

To pursue a theology profession, students who have completed a 5-years program must take a Church and academic examination. It's dedicated to students who wish to become priests or pastoral assistants.

Additional and follow-up Studies or the Postgraduate Education

During or after finishing your bachelor or master education, you can apply for supplementary 2-years courses to further develop your skills or help you specialize in the field of your choice. These studies are called postgraduate classes.

About the Examination provided by Colleges of Music and Art

Some German colleges of music and art require a final examination, named Abschlussprüfung or require a concert examination, called Konzertexamen.

About the Ph.D. Degree

The Ph.D. degree is the German 3rd higher education certification. It's taken by students who are qualified and provided by universities and similar institutions together with non-academic research institutions.There is no fixed period to fulfill your doctoral education as it's a customized specialization. In Germany, the doctoral studies comprise independent research, and an oral exam, known as Rigorosum, or defense of the Disputation thesis.The German education system allows you to attain a Ph.D. through various paths such as an individual and monitored doctorate, structural doctorate, international doctorate, cooperative doctorate (which involves a mix between universities of applied sciences and other universities) and special doctorate. And, the title which you receive after finishing and graduating a doctorate program in Germany is Doctor or Doktorgrad.

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