Overview of German Education System
The responsibility for the education system in Germany lies primarily with the states, there are 16 states in Germany while the federal government plays a minor role in each state´s education policy. Despite that, most children starts their 12 to 13 years compulsory free education at the age of 6.
Primary school in Germany lasts four years follows by a two-year orientation at the start of secondary school. During the orientation period, students can decide the type of secondary school based on teacher's advice and the wishes of students and parents. There are four types of secondary school to choose from: Gymnasium, Realschule, Hauptschule and Gesamtschule.
Gymnasium is popular among students with good grades and it is the most straight forward pathway to University. Gymnasium offers 8 to 9 years education and students will participate a final high school exam, Abitur, after the 12th or 13th grade, for the qualification of University entry.
Realschule features with modern subjects and modern language, in particular, it emphasizes on subjects that matches the needs of current social and economic development. It offers 5 or 6 years education and well known for producing middle class business professionals and government agencies. Students who have completed the 10th grade will receive a junior diploma, Mittlere Reife. Graduates with good grades are allowed to attend a professional Gymnasium or a general-education Gymnasium, on the other hand they can also attend a Vocational School or do an apprenticeship.
Hauptschule provides a 5-year vocational education for students with poor academic results. Students have to pass a Hauptschulabschluss test at 9th grade and a Realschulabschluss exam at 10th grade. Graduates continue education with the dual system of vocational education system (Duales Ausbildungssystem) to complete apprenticeship training. Usuallz students enter work that is related to handicrafts or manufacturing-based.
Gesamtschule is a product of the reform of traditional German secondary schools, it combines the elements of Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium, similar to Hong Kong's secondary schools. Gesamtschule offers 3 to 7 years education depending on its format. The goal is to provide all students with equal access to education opportunities with appropriate learning environment, so that the individual's unique characteristics and abilities can be fully developed. It also aims to avoid premature differentiation and decision making, so that students have a variety of courses to select from.
Majority of highschool students aim for higher education in Germany, the most direct way to gain Higher Education Entrance Qualification is to graduate with Abitur, therefore Gymnasium which ends with Abitur is highly popular among international students. Beside the final examination, Abitur includes school performance of last 3 highschool years.