After completing their primary education (at 10 years of age, 12 in Berlin and Brandenburg), children attend one of five types of secondary schools in Germany. The five kinds of schools vary from state to state in Germany:
Hauptschule (HOWPT-shoo-luh, grades 5-9 or 5-10)
The Hauptschule is generally considered the least demanding of the five types of secondary school, but it may be very appropriate for students who wish to enter the trades or go through an apprenticeship for certain types of industrial employment. The Hauptschule prepares pupils for vocational education, and most of the pupils work part-time as apprentices. Upon completion of the final Hauptschulabschluss examination, after grade 9 or 10. They also have the option of earning the more prestigious Realschulabschluss after grade 10. With that, the next step is often a Berufsschule, an advanced technical/vocational school with a two-year course of apprenticeship and study.
Realschule (ray-ALL-shoo-luh, grades 5-10)
This is the most popular type of secondary school in Germany. About 40 percent of German pupils attend this kind of school. The Realschule may be a step below the Gymnasium (more below), but it can be a very good school, with academic standards that usually exceed those of a typical high school in the US. For instance, Realschule students must study at least one foreign language (usually English or French) for a minimum of five years. (In Gymnasium a second foreign language is required.) Graduates earn a Realschulabschluss diploma. In some communities a Realschule and a Gymnasium may share the same building, with a common library, and other common facilites.
Mittelschule (MIT-tel-shoo-luh, grades 5-10)
Only some German states have this type of intermediate school (grades 6-10) that combines the Hauptschule and Realschule tracks.
Gymnasium (ghim-NAH-zee-uhm, grades 5-12 or 5-13)
The German Gymnasium is an academic secondary school that prepares pupils for a university education. It begins with the fifth grade (seventh in Berlin/Brandenburg). After grade 12 or 13 (depending on the state), students earn a diploma called das Abitur by passing an oral and written examination. The Gymnasium has a long history, dating back to 1528 in Saxony. Traditionally there was a heavy emphasis on the study of Latin and Greek, but modern languages are favored today. Until the 1970s there were separate Gymnasien for boys and girls. Nowadays they are co-ed. The Gymnasium curriculum is highly academic, with two foreign languages required, plus higher math and science courses. Students also have the option of taking more advanced “honors” courses (Leistungskurse).
Any student with an “Abi” diploma from a Gymnasium must be admitted to a German university, but there are no guarantees concerning the field of study. Popular fields such a law and medicine are very competitive. Students often have to choose a second or third choice for their major, or have to enroll in a more distant university than they might prefer.
Gesamtschule (guh-SAHMT-shoo-luh, grades 5-12 or 5-13)
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