Most expats have read about the German school system before moving here. But occasionally, whether contemplating enrolling the child at a German school or international school, even more questions arise. Newcomers might wonder why elementary school children finish school as early as 11:10, or how many of them make it through university (14.1% of all Germans have a university degree), etc.
Education in Germany is twofold; one being Bildung (knowledge) the other Erziehung (social skills).
German education is very diverse, ranging from late starters, when parents try to “spare their children from the harsh school life” by enrolling them a year late. Additionally, there is no home schooling as school attendance is mandatory.
When we came to Germany in 1995, there was only a half-day kindergarten program available. Also, schools had neither extra-curricular activities, study halls, nor substitute teachers. Students had no chance to make up missed lessons. Teachers did not and do not to this day communicate privately with students. The lack of respect for the teaching profession is common knowledge.
It was difficult finding a private day care mother for our toddler as most German mothers would rather stay home with their child (supplemented by the government) and therefore ruled by supply and demand. Nowadays, there is an abundance of day care mothers to choose from. But there are not enough early childhood educators for kindergarten.
This post’s focus is on kindergarten, a mix of facts and personal observations.
Kindergarten starts from the age of three and goes until the age of six. As mentioned before, some moms might opt for later school enrollment and keeping the child in kindergarten for an extra year. But there are also cases of early enrollment called Kann Kind (a capable child, not yet six years old at the time of school enrollment).
Kindergarten is not part of the regular school system, therefore it is not free, only subsidized. The fee might be based on income, number of children, etc. This varies from state to state and year to year.
Early childhood education in Germany stresses a child’s social development and focuses on playing, arts and crafts, music and physical education.
To work in a kindergarten does not require a university degree, but a vocational training as a Erzieherin (often a 10th grade education, followed by a vocational two-year training is sufficient).
Therefore, no school related items are taught or should be taught. Most elementary teachers would frown upon a child starting school with any kind of knowledge of phonics, the alphabet or counting.
Vorschule (pre-primary education) is being offered at most kindergartens one day a week, but I have not met a single child yet who could read after the Vorschule training.
Please also note there are hardly any pre-primary reading books on the German market.
Most kindergartens are run by churches or social organizations. There is an acute shortness of kindergarten Erzieherinnen (early childhood educators). They are not teachers, and therefore do not get paid as such.
There were times when I dropped off our toddler and I would hear a British mom telling her child, “Mind the teacher!” The Erzieherin in charge looked surprised and somewhat daunted, and her eyes said, “I am not a teacher! Don’t expect me to teach your child. This is not my job.”
What you can expect from a German kindergarten, in general, is cheap day-care, fun activities for the kids, and little feed-back on your child’s development.
Early education in Germany stands for children having a good time until Der Ernst des Lebens beginnt (the seriousness of life begins).
Stay tuned – my next post will be about The German School System – Elementary School