Attending school in Europe and in the United States is a major difference. Not only are the school systems set up completely different, but teachers, classroom atmosphere and testing are completely different worlds. In this post I will explore the differences in the way the systems are set up and structured. Growing up in Germany, I went to a regular public grade school. Private schools are not as frequent and popular in Germany, and most private schools are almost always boarding schools. Everyone who lived around me went to the same school, and we stayed with the same group of people for all four years, which was great since all of my best friends were in my class.
After 4th grade however, this changes. Students are separated into different schools based on their previous achievements. There are three schools that students can attend, all of which have different degrees of difficulty and different aims. Depending on the area and the state, other schools might exist as well, but most are very similar. The highest level is called a “Gymnasium” and most students there will move on to attend a University. In the lowest and middle level, students will most likely learn a trade or vocation and attend a technical or trade school after graduating. And even though the students are split into different schools, often times these schools are right next to each other and students share lunch rooms or outside courtyards. (In Germany most students go outside during lunch as opposed to sitting inside like in high school, but that is a different story)
You might think that 4th grade is incredibly early to be separating students- which it is! The student is able to choose what school to attend to for the most part, and the teacher will help parents and the student with this choice. Since the class has the same main teacher for all four years of grade school, the teacher is able to get to know the student very well, which makes it easier for him or her to make a recommendation. Even though this split is very early, it does not seem like a big deal at the time. When I had to make the choice, it was clear which one I would have chosen, and most of my friends felt the same way. If it is determined that one chose the wrong school later on, it is also always possible to switch schools. Unfortunately, I moved to Austria at the end of 4th grade, so I never got to experience the switch. It was a very exciting time, and all everyone at school could talk about, which did make me upset but I was excited for my friends. I did go back to visit twice and attended the “Gymnasium” with my friends. I realized that the split created a very comfortable learning experience, as most students in the class were on the same level. I think if the split happened a few years later, it might be more beneficial as most 4th graders do not have a real idea of what they actually want to do later on in life. I remember wanting to become a pilot but I ended up studying Marketing and International Business…It does however provide more specialized paths for students with varying interests, as opposed to the American middle and high school system, where everyone attends the same schools for all twelve years and no specialization exists for the most part.