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Education for all

Five bloggers, five countries, one dialogue

Not so sunny outlook for Germany’s school switchers

Picture: Kathrin Biegner

The elementary school Simon attended until 4th grade

We’ve got warm weather and sunny skies right now in Germany. Most kids here are now going to open air pools, looking forward to six weeks of summer holidays. But some are also afraid of the end of the school year. Their grades aren’t good enough to go on to the next class level or to stay at their school. I talked with one of my mom’s friends, Gaby, about such worries.

Her son Simon is in ninth grade at a Gymnasium (German high school) in Rhineland-Palatinate. In Germany, there are different educational systems because every state’s parliament decides about educational politics (Jürgen commented on this here). In Rhineland-Palatinate, there are three options kids have after finishing fourth grade at a Grundschule (elementary school):

  • Realschule Plus: 5th to 10th grade
  • Gymnasium: 5th to 12.5th grade, ends with what’s called an Abitur (a certificate allowing students to go to university)
  • Gesamtschule: combines the other two kinds of schools into one

After Simon had finished fourth grade, he went to a Gymnasium. His grades have become worse over the years, though.

“His Latin teacher said that he has to make up more than one year of lessons,” Gaby told us sadly.

In other subjects, Simon’s grades are also too bad to go on to grade 10 at his school after summer break. So, what to do? Simon’s mother doesn’t know where to turn in this situation. She would prefer to send her son to a Gesamtschule which has a very good reputation. But Gesamtschulen don’t have to take all pupils who apply.

“Last year I registered Simon already. He was put on a waiting list. But in the end, there were no free spots,” Gaby said. She had already bought all of the school books.

Picture: Kathrin Biegner

A German Gymnasium (high school)

Should she now register him for a Realschule Plus? Or should he repeat his class level on the Gymnasium he’s attending now? Gaby doesn’t consider the second option workable because Simon would still struggle with Latin. And he wouldn’t be able to make up the missing lessons during summer break.

If Gaby and her husband decide for a Realschule Plus, they can register their son for ninth grade. Here, Simon wouldn’t need to take a second foreign language besides English. So his problems with Latin would be solved. But will this enable Simon to concentrate on the other subjects and to balance his other weaknesses so that he will have a good diploma after tenth grade?

Situations like this are very difficult for children and their parents. It is especially hard for kids to separate from their classmates they’ve known for years. In a new class at a new school, they will have to integrate into an existing class community. And besides these kinds of social difficulties, they have to study hard to be more successful at school. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Simon will find a good place and will master the challenges awaiting him.


May 29, 2012 | 8:10 pm