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Trip to Germany Part 5
Auf Die Schule
(At School)

by Ron Kitson

One doesn't need to visit a school in Germany to become impressed with them. One only needs to speak and listen to young people here to realize how well educated they are. They speak clearly pronouncing each word properly.

As in North America, there are dialects and slang words but every student learns and uses only proper or "high" German in school. Dialects in Germany can differ to the extent people from one region will have difficulty understanding those from another. While the older adults still like to chat in the old dialect, the younger generations tend to converse in High German.

Compulsory education begins here at age six and you must have reached that age by the end of June or you wait another year to enter the first class or grade. They do have "Kindergarten" but it is a "Day Care" for preschoolers ages 2-1/2 to 6. It is neither mandatory nor a part of the school system.

"Kinderhort" is a day care where young students are cared for after school until parents are able to pick them up after work. Monika, who works for a Kindergarten in Munich, told me a "Hort" could be run by the community, a church or by a private concern and while each Hort will set its own prices, charges will often vary based on the wherewithal of the parents.

The price includes a meal and help with their homework. How about that? Incidentally, "Hort" is an old word meaning safe retreat, refuge or shield and relates to the English word "hoard" as in hoarding one's wealth.

It seems most kids will take a morning bus to mid town where they will board a second bus to their respective schools but these are city buses and not buses owned, operated, maintained or insured by the school system. They are public buses that will resume regular runs once the little darlings are in their classrooms.

The same transportation is available in reverse order at the end of the school day. A mother I spoke with said she pays 18.00 (Euro) per month (approx. US$ 22.00) for a bus card which will provide bus fare anywhere within the system at any time, seven days a week for that child.

We all know that in the USA it is possible to go through elementary and high school and even graduate with a diploma and still not speak clearly, spell or write properly nor have a good working knowledge of the English language. That doesn't appear to be an option in Germany where your choice is learn or repeat the year.

Granted, some will learn better than others and after four years of "Grundschule" or Primary School, test results will determine much of a student's future. Secondary school begins with the fifth grade and your direction at this point, depends on how well you did during the first four years.

Those who failed to qualify for mid or upper level classes will go to "Hauptschule" for grades five to nine and following that, will most likely take an apprenticeship. A young teenager I spoke with had just completed primary school and was about to begin a three year apprenticeship with a heating & cooling company where his father is employed.

While much of his work week will consist of on-the-job training, he will spend a couple of days per week in class and must pass all his classes with the required grades to become a technician. The same for auto mechanics who must graduate to become a qualified mechanic. All auto repairs incidentally must be overseen by a Meister (Master) and only a Meister can teach.

Realschule consists of grades five to ten and prepares midlevel students for midlevel jobs in business and industry. For the real smart kids, "Gymnasium" includes grades five through 13 and is designed for those expected to go on to university and higher education.

All children are required to learn English starting with the fifth year and those selected for "Realschule" or "Gymnasium" will add a second foreign language starting I believe in the sixth. What surprised me is just how well teenagers speak English. Very little accent, no "ums" "ahs" or "y'knows" and very fluent. They listen to Pop/Rock music which is mostly in English and are well prepared to travel abroad.

They do play sports in primary school as it is an important part of their education and physical exercise but sports teams that compete with other communities are organized and managed by the city and as is the case with many other countries, have nothing to do with the schools.

The German educational system is run by the individual provinces and while all may not necessarily be on the same page of the same book at the same time, students who move will not have to struggle with an entirely different school system although some adjusting would seem inevitable.

One exception might be Munich in Bavaria where I'm told standards are higher and students moving to this area from other parts of Germany may struggle to catch up.

According to my cousin-in-law Hubert, "Education in Germany used to be run centrally, but that was changed after W.W.II, by the Allies.

Public school education is free in Germany and universities used to be free also but some of that is changing." Hubert added, "A few provinces have decided to have their universities charge tuition fees. Our son Theo, is going to university in Aachen in Nordrhein-Westfalen. His first semester was free and I think the next one will be also. After that, he is going to have to pay 500 (Euro) per semester."

That's approximately $600 per semester. Students loans are available to those in need and I'm told 50% of it must be repaid.

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