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Education System in Germany – Structure & Methods of Teaching

Updated on 18 April, 2024

upGrad Abroad Team

upGrad Abroad Team

upGrad abroad Editorial Team

The education system in Germany is globally recognized for its high standards. Germany already draws international students in large numbers because of its globally ranked institutions, quality of life, and a plethora of professional opportunities. Germany has always been a premier global hub of research and innovation, with its education system divided into schools, colleges of music and art, and universities. 

Most universities are publicly funded and managed, while some institutions are owned by private entities and are state recognized. Here’s taking a closer look at the country’s education system, right from the early years. 

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Education System in Germany- Quick Facts

Before delving deeper into the higher education system in Germany, here’s taking a look at some quick facts about the country: 

●      Capital of Germany- Berlin 

●      Key Study Cities- Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Cologne

●      Time- Germany is 3.5 hours behind Indian time 

●      Currency- € (Euro)

Country-Wise Education Systems

Guide to Studying in Germany for Indian Students

With most universities in Germany being public-funded, they charge zero or nominal tuition fees. It is a major reason for Indian students apply to German institutions in large numbers every year. There are many state-funded grants and scholarships for academically bright students as well. Indian students also go by the promising career prospects in Germany, with its thriving economy, multiple global conglomerates and corporations, and high quality of life. Here are some of the main points worth noting: 

  • The free education system in Germany ensures that students can enroll in public universities without paying any tuition fees or simply by paying negligible charges. 
  • Private universities charge tuition costs for Indian and other international students in Germany, although they offer convenient payment plans. 
  • The rate of rejection for Indian applicants is on the lower side, concerning German study visas. You can also apply for a work permit after completing your course. 
  • Germany is closer to India, with flights taking around ten hours on average. It is faster than flight times from many other global nations. 
  • German is the primary language in the country, although many universities offer courses in English as well. 

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How is the education system in Germany? 

Kindergarten is the starting point of the education system in Germany. It is for children between three-six years, and school is compulsory after that for nine years. Primary education covers four-six years, while secondary education is called Gesamtschule. Higher education is provided by Universitaten or universities (public or private). There are 300+ state-controlled universities along with 150 applied science universities and 50+ colleges of film, art, and music. Students can choose from a diverse range of educational programs, and 500+ courses are taught in English. 

You may also choose to quickly learn German via a free German language course at your university. Universities usually focus on science and research in Germany, while applied science universities focus on professional and practical aspects. Here are some key points worth noting regarding the German education system: 

  • The whole system works on the regulations of Grundgesetz or the basic law. The key authority for creating science, education, and arts policies is the Federal Ministries of Cultural Affairs, Education, and Science. 
  • These ministries work closely with the German states for regulating the activities of institutions. 
  • Joint initiatives by both authorities are called Gemeinschaftsaufgaben. 
  • Landers (States of Germany) have extensive legislative authority throughout their regions, being empowered to regulate academic and school affairs. 
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Structure of Education System in German Schools

  • Early Childhood 
  • Primary 
  • Secondary
  • Tertiary
  • Continuing 

German Early Childhood Education

Early childhood learning is optional in Germany for kids till they are six within the German Federal Territory. Supervising the preschool system in Germany is the responsibility of the Landesjugendamter or Youth Welfare Officer of the State. They usually have the responsibility for issuing preschool education licenses. Providers should adhere to varying criteria in case of obtaining preschool education licenses. It includes suitable qualifications, proper staff and children ratios, sufficient space, hygiene regulations, and adequate equipment.

Preschool learning is ensured by daycare centers that are privately operated and also by local institutions. These providers of preschool education are called Kinderkrippen or crèches. There are kindergartens too. These are mostly managed by non-public institutions, including Churches, Parents’ bodies, or Welfare associations. Local authorities may provide preschool educational services only if private organizations have no proper initiatives or poor service quality education providers. Children usually learn for seven hours each day at this stage, inclusive of midday breaks and lunchtime. 

Methods of Teaching

  • For those under three years of age, communication skills are prioritized along with language and social abilities. Singing, picture books, instruments, and fun initiatives combine magically for teaching children in this category. Motor skill development is also important at this time, ensured through creative and physical activities. 
  • For those over two years of age, preschool education also delves into the basics of writing, language, values, natural sciences, fine arts, mathematics, health and body movements, and nature. 
  • Children do not have assessments at the preschool stage. 
  • If children are not prepared to start compulsory education, they can attend some special schools called Schulkindergarten or the Vorklassen introductory classes. 

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Compulsory German Education 

All German citizens should compulsorily complete their primary and secondary levels from six years of age. They should go through a nine-year schooling system or Gymnasium or ten full-time general education years. Even when they have crossed the compulsory education timeline, those not attending full-time vocational or general classes have to cover part-time classes. This compulsory attendance obligation is called Berufsschule Berufsschulpflicht and spans three years. Children with special needs can attend regular institutions or choose special schools called Sonderpadagogische Bildungseinrichtungen. 

Children should attend school regularly while taking part in all projects and activities. Parents should compulsorily track the progress of their wards while taking part in meetings as well. 

Primary Education Stage

Grundschule or primary schools provide compulsory education for kids until they complete Grade 4 (Grade 6 in Brandenburg or Berlin). It is a five-day-a-week system with 188 days of teaching every year. There is also a six-day-a-week system with 208 days of annual teaching. Primary school students should attend at least 20-29 courses every week. Courses usually span forty-five minutes. A day may have up to six courses being taught. 

Subjects in primary schools include Mathematics, Music, German, Ethics, Sports, Design and Handicrafts, Art, Foreign Language, and more. Some other options include sustainable development, health, and media. All primary school course books and references need ministerial approval. Those children with physical disabilities, permanent ailments, and long-term issues may get an education at home as well. Primary education is also available for children of travelers who cannot go to school regularly. There is a special school (Schule fur Circuskinder) for children belonging to circus families. Vocational primary education systems are also present for children of workers at various institutions or companies. 

Germany is also home to international schools that offer bilingual education and European institutions. The completion of Grade 1 means automatic progression to Grade 2. From this stage onwards, children get marks based on their progress and knowledge. Children should repeat the grade if they do not pass their lessons. The Zeugnis or report shows all marks obtained in a year. The grading system covers six marks, with 1 and 2 being very good and good. 3 and 4 are satisfactory and adequate. 5 and 6 represent poor and very poor, respectively. No examination is held for those completing primary schooling in Germany. 

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German Secondary Education

It is divided into lower and upper secondary, i.e. Sekundarstufe I and Sekundarstufe II. The former is for those between 10-15/16 years of age in the 5/7 grades. The latter is for those between 15 and 16 years of age till they are 18. There are public-funded schools in this category like Gymnasium, which offer regular schooling, basic education schools for university entrance or vocational training (Hauptschule) and Realschule, which ensures comprehensive education in the vocational/entrance segment. There are schools offering multiple subjects of study along with vocational schools. 

Germany also has several private schools offering secondary education (Ersatzschulen and Erganzungsschulen). Secondary schools help in preparing children for taking the Abitur and other entrance examinations. The grading system is the same as above. 

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German Tertiary Education

Tertiary education comprises higher education for those completing secondary education successfully. Higher education institutions have complete autonomy in teaching, research, and scholarships. Institutions in this category include universities, applied sciences universities, music and art colleges, Technische Universitaten or technical universities, theological colleges, higher education institutions with dual studies, or those for federal armed forces and institutions for vocational education. 

Universities offer diverse courses for students, while equivalent institutions also offer subjects in categories like pedagogy, theology, engineering, etc. Both institutions can award up to Doktorgrad or Ph.D. degrees. Colleges of music and art usually specialize in fine arts, television, film, performing arts, media, design, visual art, history, and pedagogy of art, music, digital media, etc. 

Universities of applied sciences offer practical and research-based programs along with courses aligning with industry requirements. They offer paid training or Praxissemester during the course. Some disciplines include technology, agriculture, social work, design, and business. Verwaltungsfachhochschulen stands for institutions offering training to aspiring civil servants and public administration candidates. Berufsakademien or institutions of higher education provide alternative education. 

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University System in Germany

Here are some key points worth noting: 

  • Leading universities include Berlin’s Humboldt University, Technische Universitat Munchen, KIT (Karlsruher Institut fur Technologie), Freie Universitaet Berlin, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, and Universität Freiburg among others. 
  • Universities offer bachelor degrees. Some types include the following: 
  1. B.Engg (electrical, civil, materials, etc.)
  2. BA (economics, hotel management, tourism, international business, etc.)
  3. B.Sc (digital business, mechanical engineering, auditing, consulting, business and management, applied chemistry, sciences, marketing, etc.)
  • There are Master or Postgraduate degrees offered by universities. Some types include the following: 
  1. M.Eng (Electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, aeronautical management, civil engineering, architecture)
  2. M.Sc (Data analytics, finance, data design, engineering, supply chain management, data engineering, international marketing, photonics, etc.)
  3. MBA (Finance, marketing, human resources, entrepreneurship management, etc.)
  • Doctorate Degrees are offered in various areas of study, like international development, molecular science, mathematical science, social science, geography and neuroscience, among others. 
  • Examinations like GMAT and TOEFL are required for Master’s courses in Germany. 
  • Diplom degrees are available with some courses like Engineering, Psychology, and more. These courses, if completed from universities of applied sciences, are considered equal to UG degrees. 
  • Magister exams cover combined disciplines and eventual degrees offered by universities of applied sciences. They are equivalent to postgraduate degrees. 
  • State examinations or Staatsprufung is mandatory for some courses, enabling the preparation of aspirants for vital professions like pharmaceuticals, medicine, food chemistry, dentistry, teaching, and law. 
  • Supplementary two-year courses are also available for students completing undergraduate or postgraduate studies. 
  • The Abschlussprufung examination is necessary for some courses at music and art colleges. The concert test is also known as Konzertexamen.  
  • PhD courses are available for highly qualified aspirants at universities and even equivalent institutions. These courses include research (independent) and also Rigorosum or defending the doctoral thesis. Doctorate types include international, structural, supervised, individual, cooperative and special doctorates. The title is Doktorgrad. 

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Free Education System in Germany 

Public schools do not charge any fees for primary and secondary education. However, nominal amounts are charged for excursions and school activities. Lower-income families also have bursaries or subsidies for assistance. Germany has several public universities which are highly ranked but do not charge any tuition costs. Sometimes they may charge negligible fees by way of administrative, confirmation, and enrollment costs. 

Germany is one of the few European countries where international students may study without paying virtually any tuition costs. Germany considers education as a basic human right and endeavors to provide free and undisputed access to higher education for everyone. Multiple public universities charge meager administrative charges of €200-500 or INR 16,788 to INR 41,969 (approx). Private institutions charge tuition fees, although they are also reasonable for international students. These may hover between €300-20,000 annually or INR 25,200 to INR 16.79 lakh. Medicine, business, and engineering degrees at private institutions may be costlier. 

Top universities for free education in Germany include big names like Goethe University in Frankfurt, University of Cologne, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Julius Maximilian University of Wurzburg, Technical University of Munich, University of Mannheim, and RWTH Aachen University, among many others. 

However, you should carefully check all eligibility criteria before applying. You will need proof of English language proficiency via test scores in PTE/TOEFL/IELTS tests. You may also require GMAT/GRE scores for getting admission into some institutions. Other requirements usually include letters of recommendation (LORs), Statement of Purpose (SOP), and official academic transcripts. 

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upGrad Abroad Team

upGrad abroad Editorial Team

We are a dedicated team of study-abroad experts, ensuring intensive research and comprehensive information in each of our blogs. With every piece written, we aim at simplifying the overseas education process for all. Our diverse experience as journalists, content writers, editors, content strategists, and marketers helps create the most relevant and authentic blogs for our readers.

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