The German Education System

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The German education system is quite different from the wide-spread British and American education system or even others in the world. It starts with optional pre-school education (1- to 6-year-olds) and then continues with the compulsory public school system of primary (6- to 10-year-olds) and secondary school (10-year-olds onwards, with three different types of school depending on level of education). Afterwards, students may choose to go further and attend university, which offers higher education at various kinds of institutions.

For more detailed information about the German education system please take a look at the following links:

For more information on the education system in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate:

In Germany, children may begin their pre-school education the so-called German Kindergarten (Engl.: “a garden for children”), which is mostly run by church institutions, different organizations, or private companies. An important difference to other countries is that the German Kindergarten usually does not provide children with formal instruction as a basis for school (e.g., language learning or …), but rather assists in the child’s development of personal and social skills in a playful way. In contrast to the state-supported school education, pre-school education is not free and the fee is usually based on the parents’ income. Nevertheless, most parents send their children from age three to six to Kindergarten. To especially help international families working at the RPTU Kaiserslautern-Landau, the university has established a “Uni-Kita” and the Fraunhofer Institute offers the Kindergarten “Klammeräffchen” right next to the institute. The city of Kaiserslautern further offers a great number of Kindergarten institutions distributed in and around the city.

After Kindergarten, the children continue their education in a primary school.

The German primary school, called Grundschule, runs from grades 1 to 4 and in Rhineland-Palatinate is obligatory for children from the age six to ten. It is designed as a half-day school with lessons from 8:00 in the morning to 12:00 or 1:00 in the afternoon. Primary school students receive education in the subjects German, Mathematics, “Sachunterricht” (local history, geography and biology), religion or ethics, music, art, and sports. Since 2005/2006 all primary school students in Rhineland-Palatinate also learn their first foreign language starting from grade 1. In most cases it is either English or French, but this depends on the respective school.  The children all have one class teacher (except for the subjects of sports, art, and music) and so the teacher can thoroughly follow their academic and personal development. This is especially important because the class teacher will assess each student at the end of grade 4, which then usually determines the future course of the student’s education. In the state of Rhineland-Palatinate the accessment only functions as a recommendation and the final decision is given to the parents.

After-school day care offers in Kaiserslautern

In Kaiserslautern, parents can profit from 28 Grundschulen that offer after-school day care. Elementary school students from age six to ten can stay at school Monday through Thursday from 1:30 to 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon (with or without a lunch included). In general, after-school day care is free, only lunch has to be paid for. A list of all primary (and secondary) schools with after-school day care service can be found here.

After primary school, students go on to visit a secondary school.

After completing primary school, a student can attend one of the following three German secondary schools: Hauptschule, Realschule or the Gymnasium. Furthermore, there are comprehensive/integrative high schools and special education schools for disadvantaged students. In addition to a student’s previous academic performance, the teacher’s recommendation in primary school, and the parent’s decision, the choice of the new school track may also be influenced by the family’s place of residence, as some schools are allocated to certain catchment areas. The Heinrich-Heine-Gymnasium offers an international approach for children of postgraduates.

The German secondary school system is divided into a Sekundarstufe I (lower secondary level) and a Sekundarstufe II (upper secondary level completing compulsory education and possibly leading to higher education). Thus, the different types of schools also result in different certificates of qualification necessary either for a young person’s entrance into the job market or into university education. Further information about secondary schools in Kaiserslautern can be found here (in German).

Here, a short overview of the differences between the three types of secondary schools:


This is the school with the lowest academic level. It generally covers the lower secondary level with the grades 5 to 9. Throughout all grades, students learn English as their mandatory and only foreign language in this school. In order to individually educate the students, the subjects English and Mathematics are taught in groups with different academic levels. In addition, specific individual support is given to disadvantaged students with learning difficulties or a migrant background. As one of the main characteristics, the 10- to 15-year-old students at the Hauptschule receive a vocational-oriented education focused on the needs in the world of economy and labor. With the school leaving certificate (Hauptschulabschlusszeugnis) after 9th grade students are qualified for professional life. They either complete their compulsory education by attending a vocational school parallel to receiving apprenticeship training until the age of 18 or they continue with school education by completing 10th grade and transferring to a higher level of secondary school.


This is an intermediate school, but on the next higher academic level as it extends school education by one year, until 10th grade. Starting from 5th grade, students choose their first foreign language (mostly English, otherwise French) and in 7th grade can add a second language as well as a variety of other electives. Similar to the Hauptschule, students learn from subjects that are vocational-oriented. After six-years, students can obtain a certificate about the successful completion of the upper secondary level (Sekundarabschluss I). This then qualifies them for continuing their compulsory education at a technical or business school or to transfer to the third type of secondary school, the Gymnasium.


This is the secondary school on the highest academic level. Nevertheless, all of the before mentioned certificates can be obtained at the Gymnasium. During the nine years, it covers the Sekundarstufe I (grades 5-10) and Sekundarstufe II (grades 11-13) and so fulfills the whole compulsory education time. Starting in 5th grade students also choose their first foreign language, in 7th grade they can add a second and in 9th grade even a third one, depending on the offer of the school. In 11th grade, students then choose three majors and a minimum of six minors for the most intensive phase of the Gymnasium, also called the gymnasiale Oberstufe – this is when students are taught important academic as well as scientific knowledge and skills as a preparation for higher education. After passing their finals, students then graduate from the Gymnasium with the highest form of school certificate – the Abitur (German university qualification certificate). With this certificate students are qualified to enter any university or higher education institution or to pursue dual academic and vocational education in Germany. For a list of all Gymnasien in Kaiserslautern please check the city’s website.

Integrierte Gesamtschule (Comprehensive/ integrative high school)

This type of school could be counted as a fourth form of secondary school, but rather is seen as a comprehensive school that combines all three school paths into one. They are either integrated or cooperate so as to provide students the opportunity to reach whichever school certificate (Hauptschulabschluss, Sekundarabschluss I, or Abitur) matches their academic and social abilities best (avoidance of transfer between schools). The main goal of the Gesamtschule is integration – whether on the academic, social, or individual level. With the concept of a team school, all students are educated in heterogeneous classes in order to foster an improved learning environment. Starting from 7th grade, students are taught in separate courses for the main subjects of German, Mathematics, and English (this extends to science subjects in grades 9 and 10). On the whole, there is a wide range of subjects offered at the Gesamtschule, so that students can discover and develop their interests and talents.

In Kaiserslautern there are only two integrierte Gesamtschulen (IGS): the IGS Berta von Suttner and the IGS Goetheschule. Further information about both schools can be found here.


Different varieties of the Sonderschule or Förderschule (Special Education School) offer disadvantaged students with learning difficulties or other disabilities special environments to allow them to receive the education needed individually. In some cases, they are integrated into regular schools; this depends on the situations.

Schooling for dependent children of postgraduate students and researchers:

The dependent children of postgraduate students, researchers or academic staff can be admitted into the government schools free of charge. The neighbouring secondary school Heinrich-Heine-Gymnasium offers an international approach by providing specific courses of German as a Foreign Language for international pupils.