The German School System – Kindergarten

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


Quote of the Day

Education is too important to be left solely to the educators.

– Francis Keppel –

Built in Jerusalem’s Wall (1920) (

Increase of A.P. Test Takers

Today’s article Expansion of A.P. Tests Also Brings More Failures, written by Tamar Lewin for the New York Times, points out, more high school students have enrolled in Advance Placement courses (A.P.) than ever before.

This does not come as a surprise. The article states various reasons for increased A.P. enrollment such as giving students a head start on college credit, and to help them impress college admissions offices. Reasons for the A.P. test taker increase also stems from high school expanding their A.P. curriculum to raise their reputation as well as, generally speaking, parents pushing more towards advanced education.

The Japanese have a term for mothers who drive their kids from one cram school to the next. They are called Education Mamas and I believe this trend is very slowly creeping into our western education. Many Asian parents rely on their first-born son to carry the responsibility to insure their retirement care.

In the 1980s of U.S.America, it was sufficient to have a Bachelor in Business Administration to secure a plush job on Wall Street. By the 1990s, it would take a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) to land a well paying position in the financial sector. To meet today’s job market’s requirements in 2010, one has to raise one’s education goal even a few more notches.

The market is getting more and more competitive. This is another trend similar to Asia, where e.g. Korea can boost its spending on education as the second highest gross national income (GNI).

So let’s look at our population then and today.

U.S.A.   250,132 million in 1990       310,233  million in 2010

Korea   42,869 million in 1990       48,636 million in 2010

Germany   79,380 million in 1990       82,283 million in 2010

Keep track of the U.S. and World Population

Current status 11 February 2011 at noon (WET)

U.S. 308,661,986
World 6,802,066,437

In Germany, for example, entering Gymnasium (college prep school) used to be reserved only for elite students (10% in our class) and we had to pass a difficult entrance examination at the young age of 10. These days, close to 60% enter the Gymnasium and flood the 5th grades. Beyond that, the students themselves will have to prove if that spot is rightfully theirs. The able ones stay and the not so able ones switch to Hauptschule or Realschule.

Back in the 1960s, a couple of friends of my older siblings were able to secure a banker’s job after graduating from 8th grade Hauptschule. At the sweet age of 14, they started their vocational training to become a banker.

Nowadays, it requires the Abitur (diploma from German secondary school qualifying for university admission or matriculation) with a 12-year education.

The world population has risen and so have the job market’s requirements and standards. More children enter the German Gymnasium, Asian moms drive their kids to even more cram school classes, and more American high school students cram for A.P. classes.

The educational sector promises a healthy future for us educators worldwide.

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