Saturday, January 24, 2015

One Mother's Blood Boils

I've written several posts on things I love, particularly in Germany (examples here and here). Now for something here I not only don't love – I hate it.

The Bavarian education system starting with 4th grade.
Grades 1-13, color coded to show the complicated school structure
Fans self. Struggles for objectivity...

To be fair, the school system is considered very successful. Standardized tests show that Bavarian students are stronger than in other the German states, and even internationally.

Enough coolness. Onto the structure of the education system.

Children go to elementary school through 4th grade. During 4th grade, when the kid is 9-10 years old, a decision is made based on grades and personality regarding which path of education suits them.

The initial options
-Gymnasium = university prep
-Realschule = the "middle" option which can lead to higher education or vocational school, depending on classes taken and further education after approximately ninth grade.
-Mittelschule = vocational school

Proponents of this school system say each school is tailored to the students' needs and that it is possible to switch tracks if necessary. But the truth of the matter is that an initial decision about whether a student will go to college is made by the time they are ten years old.

Blood boiling yet?

What if the child had a bad year? An illness? Lost a beloved grandparent? Or had an inexperienced or burned out teacher? How can anyone think that a child's performance at age ten can accurately reflect their potential a decade down the road?

Every time I'm reminded of this pigeon-holing, my pulse races. My American-ness raises its hackles. Where is the equality in a system like this? And how can you expect to breed tolerance when you're segregated at this age and don't get to know anyone not like you?

My daughter is currently in 4th grade. Academically, she's doing fine. But she's faced with the fear of her best friends being torn away to the three different schools. And with her classmates' fears that they'll let down parents who pressure them to make the cut. I've even heard of some classmates who are betting money on which 4th graders will make it into which schools.

Cue maternal instincts ready to erupt like a volcano.

I've heard in some other areas of Germany, the school system is moving more towards one inclusionary school with different types of classes offered for the different levels required. If any of my readers have children in schools like that, I'd love to hear what they think of them. While I know that friends and family have made it through the Bavarian school system just fine, I can't help but think there must be a better way.


  1. Wow! Yes, I can see why you would be concerned. Fourth grade is SO early for deciding where a child should go. They've been exposed to so little by then. What if they are put in the vocational track, and miss the science class that WOULD have changed their lives had they been able to attend it? Or what if they do well academically in elementary school because their parents are supportive or pressure them, and later they decide they don't want to go to college? Good luck navigating the system!

    1. Thanks Caryn. Totally agree about the class that might have changed their lives maybe coming later. I think they just need more time.