By Katie Heimberg
Katie Heimberg is a junior German exchange student who will, in a series of writings, offer her unique perspective of German culture and how it translates in America.
High School education in the United States versus Germany
You will notice the first difference as soon as you step foot into the school. In American high schools, there are lockers and wide hallways. In Germany, students rarely have the option of using a locker, at least not the typical American locker.
In addition, American teachers have their own dedicated classrooms. In Germany, the respective teacher comes to the students in the room where all the students are.
After a class is over, which is typically about 50 minutes, students have 5 minutes to get to their next classroom. This is quite stressful because there are always a lot of people in the hallway and the rooms can be quite far away.
It is more relaxed in Germany. Students usually have lessons that are between 45-90 minutes and have 15 minutes to get to the next class. In my opinion, that is a lot better because it is less stressful and allows students the opportunity to talk with friends or meet new people and take restroom breaks.
The writing tools are also very different. Students in Germany use ballpoint pens, pencils, felt-tip pens, and especially fountain pens. In the U.S., most write with a pencil, not pens. German students also have easier access to higher-quality, thicker notebook paper.
In the United States, students customize much of their education, especially at higher grade levels. Students must study a core curriculum, including math, english, and science, but also can choose electives such as what language they take, whether they take art classes, shop class, and so forth. They make decisions about what interests they wish to explore, and they can change that decision if they discover they do not care for it.
On the other hand, German students have a much more prescribed curriculum and are not able to explore as many of their own interests in the classroom, which I do not really like. German students learn many of the same basics as American students, but their education paths diverge earlier than students in the U.S. Starting in 6th grade, students are divided into those who go to ‘Gymnasium’, ‘Realschule’ or ‘Hauptschule’. Each of these has its own focus and curriculum, which is pre-determined for the students.
In the United States, students go to school for extended periods of time, sometimes coming home from a regular school day at 4 p.m. or later. Lunches are scheduled into the day as a regular feature, and many students arrive so early that they eat breakfast at school.
In contrast, German schools keep students until 1 p.m. and then students go home for lunch. Students do not return to school after lunch; instead, they stay at home and do homework. The homework load is intense, often taking two or more hours each day to complete. Students have to structure homework time into their afternoons to ensure they do well in school.
Summer vacation functions differently in Germany and the U.S. as well. While U.S. students have 8-9 weeks of summer vacation, German students have 6 weeks off.
When American students are dismissed from school, they either have after-school activities like sports or clubs or they go straight home. When they leave school property, they are typically escorted by an adult, either the school bus driver or their parents, and are seldom on their own. They do not have much freedom to explore the city or hang out with friends without a parent accompanying them.
In contrast, German students tend to have more freedom after school. While students must account for time needed to complete homework, they are also able to spend much of their time the way they wish to (with their parent’s permission, of course). Moreover, it is not possible to participate in team school sports because everyone has their own hobbies outside of school.
The German public transportation system makes it safe and easy for everyone, even children, to get around. German students will often meet up with friends for homework sessions or to enjoy coffee or shopping after school.
There are also some differences in school events. In Germany, there are no weekly football games, homecoming, or prom. Germany only has an ‘Abitur’ graduation party when students have passed their ‘Abitur’ diploma. In addition, in Germany students go on many regular class trips, visit museums, or go on a sporting excursion together as a class such as canoeing or climbing.
The German and American school systems both have their pros and cons, and each produces well-rounded students. While the two systems do certainly have their differences, any student would be lucky to attend either.