In the beginning of the year 2002 the so called PISA (program for international school assessment) - study was published and created substantial discussions among the German educational professionals. This was related to a disappointing result of German students who marked below average.
PISA is a survey by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation Development) that is done every three years. It is supposed to show the academic abilities of fifteen-year old students of 32 different industrial nations. All different school forms that exist for this level of age are part of the survey. This year PISA primarily focused on reading comprehensive skills with a 66% weight factor and the other 34% were related to mathematics - and natural science. German students performed poorly, ranking between 20 and 23 in reading literacy among the 32 participating nations. American students generally did better. In comprehensive reading skills they ranked 15, in mathematics 20 and in natural science 15. After personally having experienced the American and the German educational system, it was of my interest to structure, compare, and interpret the two different systems and to define strength and weakness.
Every national educational system focuses on defined targets. Some countries rather focus on criteria’s such as social skills some more on fine arts and some on academics. All nations, however, have one thing in common: After completing the educational curriculum every student should be able to have knowledge of basic reading, writing and mathematics. I will now point out similarities and differences of the American and German educational system and try to explain the general
structure of the these two different educational systems related to the criteria’s mentioned above. 2.1. German educational system
Germany being one the leading industrial nations in Europe, has the reputation of being one of the leading edges in technological progress in the world and has played a very important roll of the economic development of the western hemisphere. Germany is also said to be the nation of thinkers and musicians. Assuming the reader of this essay already has at least superficial knowledge of the educational system, I now will shortly explain the most important structural elements of the German educational system beginning with the Kindergarten.
The German educational system starts of with the so called Kindergarten. Parents may decide whether their children should attend this institution and for how long before attending primary school at the age of six. At this level of education children are rather to mature socially than academically.
Starting at age six German kids are enrolled to the Grundschule. Similar to the American elementary school Grundschule consists of four years. The children usually have one class teacher that teaches all subjects except for physical education, religious education, music and common art.
After completing elementary school children usually get a recommendation of their teacher which school-form to attend after Grundschule depending on their overall academic performance.
After elementary school the German school system differs
enormously from the American education. Secondary education is what makes the German school system so complicated compared the educational systems of other countries. German parents now have the opportunity of choosing between four different progressing schools, depending on the children’s level of academic ability. This decision determines the further vocation in life. 18.104.22.168) Sonderschule
Sonderschule is a special school created to help mentally and physically disabled children who did not show sufficient progress in elementary school. All of these children get special attention from specially trained teachers. 22.214.171.124. Hauptschule:
Children with average abilities attend Hauptschule. Hauptschule was created for children who have already shown difficulties with the curriculum during elementary school. children attending this school learn the same things as pupils of other school types, but on a lower level. After having successfully completed 10 th grade children receive the so called Hauptschulabschluss, which enables them to progress with a vocational education or a apprenticeship.
German students attending Realschule receive a higher level of education. After successfully completing 10 th grade these students receive the Mittlere Reife/Fachhochschulreife, which is an essential certificate to progress to a vocational school, a technical school, a apprenticeship or to attend a Gymnasium.
This type of comprehensive school has established itself in the last 25 years of the German educational system because of political reforms.
These schools try to compromise between the three traditional school types.
They are considered experimental schools. Many federal ministries are thinking of reducing the number of Gesamtschulen to a minimum, because of the enormously high number of students applying for Gesamtschule. According to a complicated credit system students finish the Gesamtschule with certificates corresponding to levels of the tenth grade of the three traditional schools or attain the Abitur.
Students who are to be over perform more than average and intend to study at university usually choose Gymnasium after Grundschule. These education a minimum of two foreign languages, Latin is still very popular. It strictly focuses on improving academic knowledge. After successfully passing several written and oral exams during 12 th and 13 th grade students who pass all exams successfully are rewarded with the Abitur .
These schools are typically German and can not be found the in American school system. This school teaches apprentices the basic skills needed for their future job. This education generally includes a part-time practical and theoretical education. 2.2. American educational system
Just like in Germany education is a federal issue in the US. Each state has its own specific standards and guidelines. All in all they are based on a common foundation. The school-system of every state is divided up into several school districts which are generally controlled by a school board. The education is financed by fees of these 50 federal communities. In contrast to Germany teachers can be hired or fired at any time (except for professors of higher education who earn tuition after having shown an overall good record for a couple of years).
complete an admission requirement called SAT (Scholastic aptitude test). Many different types of programs of higher learning are offered in more than 3000 colleges and universities.
One option is to enroll to the two-year Junior or Community College. Further on there are also the two-year Technical College and the fouryear undergraduate institutions. Most of the high school students seek a college or university education. Here students have the ability to seek a bachelor, master or doctoral degree.
The US offers a variety of different colleges, some are state universities, some are private institutions. Costs vary from about 1.750.- $ paid in annual fees for a state university, and 8.770.- $ for a private college. Many of these private colleges have an excellent international reputation such as Harvard , Princeton, North Carolina…Therefore the US university system is much more prestige orientated, and sometimes in the job market it is not important how well you did during college , but where you went to college.
About 15% of the country’s people complete the last four years of their education.
In America many children of the upper class avoid being integrated in the public school system and choose private schools. About 12% of the American students are sent to excellent private schools. Just like in higher education only rich Americans can afford above average education. In Germany everyone, rich or poor, has equal opportunities, because superior primary, secondary, and higher education is almost entirely subsidized by the government.
In general the German school system places much more emphasis on examinations, while the American school system gradually has guidelines which have tests written on an every week basis.
professionals (at the age of 30) with very deeply rooted theoretical skills, but without practical experiences in a certain profession. Another difference between the two compared systems is the accessibility of higher education to foreigners. In America you have an enormous variety of foreigners of many different countries, that not only attend but also teach at American colleges /universities compared to the German system of higher education. This is mainly caused by the language barrier, but partially also because of the stricter immigration laws in Germany; this may be one of the reasons why America is considered a country of “thousands of different faces”.
3.3. Impact on secondary education
One main difference in the compared educational systems, and maybe a reason for the under-average German ranking is the structure of German secondary education. The PISA study has shown that Germany is the country with the biggest difference of ability between the lowest form of education (Hauptschule) and the highest level (Gymnasium). The study has also shown that “students attending Hauptschule only reached 394 points in reading literacy, students of Realschule were able to gain 494 points, students attending the gymnasium attained 582 points.”(http://www.pisa.oecd.org) The OECD average was 500 points, which shows that Germany has many students who don’t have any problems keeping international standards and are able to compete with the superlative students of every country. But the study also shows that Germany has many students who are just way behind in performance. In the US the performance spread was by far less differentiated, which might be related to the fact that all students regardless of talent go to the same secondary form of education for 12 years. Also interesting is, that German comprehensive schools /Gesamtschulen) ,which basically follow the American system of high school education (kids of different abilities all go to the same school-type