History of German education
The Prussian era (1814 – 1871)
Historically, the Lutheran denomination had a strong influence on German culture, including its education. Martin Luther advocated compulsory schooling so that all people would independently be able to read and interpret the Bible. This concept became a model for schools throughout Germany.
During the 18th century, the Kingdom of Prussia was among the first countries in the world to introduce free and generally compulsory primary education, consisting of an eight-year course of primary education, Volksschule. It provided not only the skills needed in an early industrialized world (reading, writing, and arithmetic), but also a strict education in ethics, duty, discipline, and obedience. Affluent children often went on to attend preparatory private schools for an additional four years, but the general population had virtually no access to secondary education.
In 1810, after the Napoleonic wars, Prussia introduced state certification requirements for teachers, which significantly raised the standard of teaching. The final examination, Abitur, was introduced in 1788, implemented in all Prussian secondary schools by 1812, and extended to all of Germany in 1871. The state also established normal schools for the training of teachers in the common or elementary grade levels.
German Empire (1871-1918)
When the German Empire was formed in 1871, the school system became more centralized. In 1872, Prussia recognized the first separate secondary schools for girls. As learned professions demanded well-educated young people, more secondary schools were established, and the state claimed the sole right to set standards and to supervise the newly established schools.
Four different types of secondary schools developed:
A nine-year classical Gymnasium (focusing on Latin and Greek or Hebrew, plus one modern language);
A nine-year Realgymnasium (focusing on Latin, modern languages, science and mathematics);
A six-year Realschule (without university entrance qualification, but with the option of becoming a trainee in one of the modern industrial, office or technical jobs); and
A nine-year Oberrealschule (focusing on modern languages, science and mathematics).
By the turn of the 20th century, the four types of schools had achieved equal rank and privilege, although they did not have equal prestige.
Weimar Republic (1919-1933) to the present
After World War I, the Weimar Republic established a free, universal 4-year elementary school (Grundschule). Most students continued at these schools for another 4-year course. Those who were able to pay a small fee went on to an Intermediate school (Mittelschule) that provided a more challenging curriculum for an additional one or two years. Upon passing a rigorous entrance exam after year four, students could also enter one of the four types of secondary school.
During the Nazi era (1933-1945), indoctrination of Nazi ideologies was added to student education; however, the basic education system remained unchanged. See also: Nazi university.
After World War II, the Allied powers (Soviet Union, France, Britain, and the USA) ensured that Nazi ideas were eliminated from the curriculum. They installed educational systems in their respective occupation zones that reflected their own ideas. When West Germany gained partial independence in 1949, its new constitution (Grundgesetz) granted educational autonomy to the state (Länder) governments. This led to a widely varying school systems, often making it difficult for children to continue schooling whilst moving between states.
More recently, multi-state agreements ensure that basic requirements are universally met by all state school systems. Thus, all children are required to attend one type of school on a full-time basis (i.e. five or six days a week) from the age of 6 to the age of 16. A student may change schools if a student shows exceptionally good (or exceptionally poor) abilities. Graduation certificates from one state are recognized by all the other states. Training qualifies teachers for teaching posts in every state.
Education in East Germany
Main article: Education in East Germany
The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) started its own standardized education system in the 1960s. The East German equivalent of both primary and secondary schools was the Polytechnische Oberschule (poly-technical high school), which all students attended for 10 years, from the ages of 6 to 16. At the end of the 10th year, an exit examination was given. Depending upon the results, a student could choose to end their education or undertake an apprenticeship for an additional two years, followed by an Abitur. Students who performed very well and displayed loyalty to the ruling party could change to the Erweiterte Oberschule (extended high school), where they could take their Abitur examinations after 12 school years. Although this system was abolished in the early 1990s after reunification, it continues to influence school life in the eastern German states.[left][center][right]