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.
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.
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."
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.
'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."
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.