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SCHOOLS

What foreign parents really think about German schools

It can be tricky for foreign parents in Germany to navigate the school system. We asked The Local readers to share their experiences.

Pupils at a secondary school in Heitersheim, Baden-Württemberg.
Pupils at a secondary school in Heitersheim, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

Aside from settling in to a new country, learning the language and the cultural differences, people with children have another aspect to figure out: school and education. 

This can be far from simple. In Germany, there are several different pathways for education which parents have to consider.

Germany has public and private education and the 16 states are responsible for its school types, school calendar and subjects. From the first to fourth grade, all children attend a Grundschule, which has a general curriculum.

But from the fifth grade children are sectioned off into different schools including a Hauptschule or Realschule. In these two types of schools kids take vocational classes combined with vocational training. Another option would be for them to attend a Gymnasium, which is more academic-oriented and prepares children for an Abitur (a school-leaving certificate which leads to a university).

Private schools operate in a similar way. International schools – most of which are private – offer another path. 

Children with additional needs also have the option of attending other schools called Sonderschule or Förderschule if the family choose that route. These schools offer specially trained teachers. 

READ MORE: What foreign parents should know about German schools

Whether you’re thinking about having children in Germany, you’ve already got them or you’re just curious, here’s what foreign parents think about Germany’s schooling system. 

German state schools ‘not prepared for foreigners’

When we asked our readers about Germany’s education system, around 40 people got in touch with us to share their experience. The majority – about 76 percent – said their child or children went to German state school, about 15 percent went to international school and nine percent went to another private school. 

On the whole, German state schools were given the thumbs up by respondents to our survey. But there were calls for more tolerance to people with migrant backgrounds. 

Naidu, 42, in Ulm, said her offspring went to a German state school. She praised the school for having a “good curriculum” but said one of the negatives was that the grades are connected to German language skills.

She would like to see “more focus on foreign students who are less efficient in subjects because they are taught in German”.

Vanderson, 35, also praised the Berlin state school his child or children attend but said: “Schools aren’t prepared to deal with cultural differences, foreigners are treated with less leniency than their German peers.”

A road sign for a school in Bielefeld

A road sign for a school in Bielefeld. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

He urged for “more flexibility on the school’s side and better communication with parents”.

Marylin, 37, said the Bremerhaven state school her child attends is “nearby, affordable and friends from Kindergarten go to the same school”.

She said the negatives were that there is no food or canteen on offer, and everything is in German.

Marylin would like to see “more affordable bilingual schools” and that schools provide a canteen service.

Other readers said they would like to see more digital facilities in German schools. 

READ MORE: ‘Room for improvement’: How Germany’s schools compare to the rest of Europe

‘I wanted my daughter to learn German’

Lots of our readers praised state schools for helping foreign families settle into life in Germany. 

Fiona Boyd, 42, in Münster, said the local international school was too small and expensive, but that the German state school helps with integration.

“We wanted to join in with German life,” she said, adding that she likes the fact children are encouraged to walk to school independently from a young age. 

Pamela, 32, in Oberallgäu, said: “Teachers are very attentive and helpful even though we are foreigners – they go the extra mile to help! Integral for integration.”

Tim is based in Berlin and his son attends a state school.

“Previous experience of a Waldorf school was terrible and we wanted to give our son a more ‘normal’ school experience,” he said.

Tim praised the “very good all-round education” and said there was “good awareness of other languages and cultures”.

Scott, 37, in Bonn, said his family chose a state school. “I wanted my daughter to learn German,” he said. “We plan to stay for a long time.”

Children in a classroom in Osnabrück.

Children in a classroom in Osnabrück. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

William Kane, 43, in Oberkirch, said the state school his child or children attend has a “good quality of education, child friendly teachers” and “extended hours for working parents”.

He said the negatives are “old learning and teaching methods”.

Samira, 48, in Bonn praised German state schools for being “very open”, safe and with a good level of education.

Riaan Kritzinger, 62, in Burggen, Bavaria, said schools in Germany help children “get practical work experience before entering uni or the labour force”.

Questions over early segregation of children

One point that came up a few times is that children in Germany are sectioned off into different schools from the age of 10, which depends on their academic achievement and parents’ wishes. 

Seema, 37, in Bremen said: “I don’t like the fact the kids are divided into Gymnasium and Oberschule at a very early age. Like who can be so serious and responsible at the age of nine? I find it very ridiculous. All kids should be given equal opportunity and then their marks will decide what they will do.”

Scott in Bonn also questioned that “after group four I have to choose a school that will track my daughter”.

“That is way too early,” he said. “If that happened to me I would never have gone to university. I also think that Germany is in the middle ages regarding religion in schools. They seem to have no clue how exclusionary this practice is.”

Meanwhile, a few respondents flagged up that they wished lessons lasted most of the day or further into the afternoon rather than ending around lunchtime. 

Classes at German schools normally start between around 7.30 and 8.30am and typically end between 12noon and 1.30pm. 

What other options are out there?

Peter, 45, in Heidelberg opted for an international school because it teaches English along with German classes. 

He said there were still a lot of “language challenges for non-native speakers” in the school system and said it could be improved by more “language tolerance”.

Guneet, 35, in Berlin, also praised international schools for having classes that are “a mix of German and English”. 

Ewa P, 35, in Hennigsdorf, opted to use a private school because it had smaller class sizes (around 18 kids in a classroom) and there are English lessons from the first grade.

“It teaches kids to be independent and learn at their own pace,” she said. 

Member comments

  1. It’s very difficult for kids here unless they begin early. The teachers at some schools are almost oblivious as to how long it takes to learn the German language. They expect the kids to understand everything in “months”. All I can say is if your child is going to a public German school, take some time with them every evening to talk about school, what’s going on, and to practise their language skills.

  2. I see no mention at the article on Gesamtschule (which mixes Realschule and Gymnasium until class 10).
    Specially for people that comes with older kids or teens (older then 10 or 12), this provides a good alternative: you can integrate into a public German school, learn the language, learn the other subjects, and still find your way to the Abitur.
    The level of German proficiency that gymnasiums expect is _very_ hard for a kind that learned German 1 year ago.
    Also, I must say that I also find this split between students when they are 10/11 years awful.

  3. This is a much nicer review than what I have actually heard from my fellow foreigners- I think we all understand that German schools are great, educationally, but the way they split out kids young is very difficult on the children. German schools are a lot of pressure, with very little focus on the social emotional parts of growing up. I want my children to grow up as decent humans, not just well educated robots. I have seen children yelled at for writing a letter or a number top to bottom instead of bottom to top- you can’t see the difference once it’s done. They squash creativity out of the children from a young age and their methods are antiquated. Will they be well educated? Yes, but at what cost?

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 transport ticket

Germany is set to bring in a heavily reduced public transport ticket for three months this summer. Here's what our readers think about it.

'Fantastic': Your verdict on Germany's €9 transport ticket

We released a survey asking how many of you would use the €9 monthly ticket, being brought in by the German government for the months of June, July and August. The ticket will be valid on all local and regional transport across Germany – but not on long-distance services.

Respondents came from all over the country in almost all of Germany’s 16 states. 

And nearly all of our readers – 95.4 percent – said they planned to get the ticket. 

Just 1.1 percent of respondents said they would not use the offer, while 3.4 percent answered ‘maybe’.

Source: The Local

We also asked how many of you already have a subscription ticket with your local transport provider. Just over half – 52.6 percent – said they don’t have an Abo, while 34.9 percent are already subscribers.  

People with a subscription receive the discount as part of the €9 ticket offer. 

READ ALSO: How many people will use the €9 ticket?

Source: The Local

The ticket is part of the German government’s energy relief package aimed at easing the financial burden on people. Politicians also see it as a trial for the future as the country tries to move towards climate-friendly policies. 

READ ALSO: When will Germany’s fuel tax cut come into force?

When we asked whether you think reduced price public transport this summer is a good idea, the vast majority of respondents – 86.9 percent – said ‘yes’. Just over 7.4 percent said they weren’t sure if it was a good idea, and just 1.1 percent said it wasn’t a good policy. 

Source: The Local

A snap poll on our Twitter page earlier this week also found that most people – 86.5 percent – planned to use the ticket. 

‘Why would anyone not use it?’

We also asked readers to share their views on what they thought about the ticket.

On The Local Germany’s Facebook page, Scott Widenhouse said it was “absolutely” a good idea. “A day pass from Munich airport is €13 approx, (in) Berlin – one ride is €3.”

Kat Thomas said: “I am so excited to get one for me and each of my kids. We rely super heavily on public transportation. This will be fantastic!”

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin

Sue Guinane said: “Why would anyone not use it? It is cheaper than two regular daily tickets in Munich, so great savings.”

Others were not completely on board.

Of the comments on our survey, one respondent suggested that the ticket should be pricier in order to make it more sustainable. Another reader said it was going to be a “disaster” because travel providers would likely hike up prices after three months. 

On Facebook, Annmarie Wagner Schultz said: “It doesn’t help my son who uses the train and his bike to get to work.”

Tina Wetzel said she didn’t want to take advantage of the offer because transport will be “overcrowded”, and in the summer months, passengers will also have to deal with no air conditioning on trains and buses. 

 

“My nose prefers not to smell any of that,” she said on Facebook.

Others said it might come in handy.

Jeffrey Carson, in Neukirchen in Hesse, said: “Sounds a good idea but I use my car for local journeys and the new ticket does not include long distance trains which are the only trains I use. I suppose if I visit Munich it will be good to get the €9 ticket for day trips from there.”

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

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