German exchange student finds advantages to American education

Max Herre/Staff Writer
Students in the United States are always curious about the school systems in other countries and how they compare to their own. Some of the differences between school in the United States and Germany include the school divisions, grading system, time spent in school, type of classrooms, the lack of extra-curricular activities and graduation.

The grading in Germany is basically based on the teacher’s opinion about the students’ accomplishments in school (tests, assignments and participation in class). The actual performance in tests just helps the teacher to decide, if it’s a B+ or still a B-.
While the schools in America offer different classes the students can choose from, German schools determine a schedule for all their students. Essentially, this means they can’t choose anything. It used to be that 11th 12th and 13th graders could pick the classes they wanted to attend, but things are changing.

The new system is confusing—students choose a career path, such as sciences, social studies and language, and their courses are chosen from that area. For example, the science class might have music, and the social studies path might have art. The principal decides which classes go in which path.

This new system makes it hard for everybody, including the teachers, to understand because the process isn’t consistent. It seems that the purpose of the new system is not to make the process of learning as productive as possible; it’s more to make it as cheap as possible.

The American school system places students in schools near their homes where they stay from kindergarten to high school (unless they move to a new place).

German students go to kindergarten at the age of three, and then they attend a “Grundschule” for four years. At the end of the fourth grade, the class teacher recommends a type of school that might be the best choice. This recommendation is based on social skills and academic abilities.

The German school system has three different kinds of secondary education institutions: the Hauptschule is the least difficult. It’s especially for students who have learning disabilities and/or social problems. At the end of the Hauptschule, the students receive a diploma called “Hauptschulabschluss.”

Most students who attend Hauptschule complete their education by attending the “Realschule.” The Realschule is the second type of school German students can attend, and it takes another year in addition to the five years in the Hauptschule to graduate. The Realschule is for students with average social and academic abilities. If students graduate from the Realschule, they receive the “Realschulabschluss.”

Last but not least, is the “Gymnasium.” The gymnasium is a type of school providing the highest level of education in Germany, comparable to U. S. college preparatory high schools. The gymnasium prepares pupils to enter a university for advanced academic study.

In Germany, students who attend the gymnasium study subjects like German, English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, geography, biology, arts, music, physical education, religion, history and social sciences. They are also required to study at least two foreign languages. The usual combination is English and French, although many schools offer a combination with different languages such as Latin, Spanish, Greek or Russian.

The gymnasium is for students with above average academic and social abilities. The number of years of study in gymnasium differs from state to state. The average student in Germany goes eight years to the gymnasium.

In German schools, students remain in the same classroom for at least three classes, and the teachers travel. This room is similar to a “homeroom” where students can leave their possessions (books, coats, backpacks, purses, wallets, etc.). School starts at 7:55; students start from their homeroom and pick up their things there before going to the last class. School ends at 2 p.m., and students do their studying at home.

There are no study halls, school lunches or advisories. Extra-curricular activities like sports, clubs, band, choir , speech and drama do not exist in German schools.

During the 13th year in gymnasium, students take a comprehensive examination. The Abitur is the high school diploma, ACT and PSAT all in one. If students fail the Abitur for the first time, they have the possibility to try it again a year later. If they fail again, they will just receive the Realschulabschluss they earned in 10th grade. At present some states provide the Abitur after 13 years; however, nearly all states are going to provide Abitur after 12 years in primary schools and Gymnasium. The Abitur exams that complete the gymnasium education are centrally drafted and controlled in almost all German states.

Both systems have their advantage and disadvantages. The German system might prepare students more individually for the real life, but the American system, even though it’s less standardized, helps to create and teach a well-rounded person with its wide variety of extra-curricular activities.

It also is more career-orientated than the German system is, because each student has the opportunity to choose their own schedule, and for all who think the American system is too expensive: Cheap education doesn’t necessarily mean better education.

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