Much of the child’s future, both in terms of education and work, is established a little too early.

At the age of 10, in fact, after only 4 years of school, the child will be evaluated based on the results achieved and is thus directed to the course of study that he will have to follow and which could also penalize him a lot.

The German school system

In Germany, the school system is controlled by the individual Federal States ( Länder ) which makes their own educational and didactic decisions in full autonomy, such as for example in terms of lesson time.

The Länder then agrees to establish certain characteristics that will be common to all of Germany, such as the didactic calendar or the entire duration of compulsory education.

There are also private schools, generally with a limited number and a much lower number than public schools, and these too must comply with the official regulations of the Land in which they are located.

Generally, compulsory education begins at the age of 6 and will last for 9 or 10 years depending on the Land. Before this time children can attend the kindergarten and/or kindergarten ( Kindergarten).

It should also be remembered that the state school is compulsory up to the age of 16 and is free for the entire duration of compulsory education.

A small point that I want to clarify concerns the inclusion of your children at school if they do not have linguistic knowledge.

Often a kind of tutoring is provided to guide the children to school integration. It is very common to lose a year, which will serve to recover the linguistic deficiencies.

As a mother, I tell you not to worry! It will not be a real loss but a way to catch up with other kids and continue your studies without problems.

Kindergarten (Kinderkrippe) and kindergarten (Kindergarten)

The first stop for children is the Kinderkrippe, which is the kindergarten, which is attended before the age of three.

From 3 to 6 years instead you can attend the kindergarten ( Kindergarten ), where generally you can choose a reduced time, that is only in the morning, or all day.

In some Länder there are Vorklassen or Schulkindergarten, pre-school transition classes in which some children, particularly those who are most problematic from an emotional or psycho-physical point of view, are prepared to enter primary school.

Kindergarten attendance is not compulsory: it will be up to you to decide whether to let your children have this experience.

Personally, I recommend it and it will be a great way for your little ones to learn both to socialize and to immerse themselves in the German language, especially if they come from an Italian linguistic and cultural background.

A very important thing that I want to emphasize is the possible difference in height between the places available in kindergartens and requests for access, especially in western Germany.

My advice is, therefore, to enroll the children a long time before (someone has even registered them since birth!) To secure a place at the Kindergarten.

In fact, waiting lists can also be very long.

Finally the Kindergarten price: it changes from Land to Land. In some areas, in fact, you pay a fee for registration, while in others the asylum is free.

Eventually, only the meals that the child consumes at school and the teaching materials will have to be paid.

Elementary school ( Grundschule )

The second step (or first if the child has not attended kindergarten) is the elementary school ( Grundschule ).

It lasts 4 years (from 6 to 10 years) except in Berlin and Brandenburg where the total duration is 6 years.

The first day of school will be a special day: for this reason, the children receive a Schultüte, a large colored cone full of sweets, small games and useful things for school.

As in Italy, in elementary school we pass from play to study: disciplines such as mathematics, German and science will be taught.

In the third class – but in some Länder since the first class – a foreign language is introduced, generally English.

At the end of elementary school, there will not be an exam but the child will still be evaluated and based on the skills he has demonstrated in the 4 years of school, he will be directed to the most suitable course of study for him.

This means that the teachers, together with the parents, will have to decide the fate of the child when he is just 9/10 years old , and here is the big difference compared to Italy, where the choice of the course of study is normally made by the boy himself at the age of 13 based on his own interests rather than his competences.

If the family does not agree with the teachers, they can apply for the child to be admitted to a higher grade school than recommended: in this case, they will have to take an admission test in the new school.

The schools to which the child will be oriented are three: Hauptschule, Realschule or Gymnasium.

Secondary school: Hauptschule, Realschule, Gymnasium and Gesamtschule

Despite the almost obligatory choice of secondary school, the first two years constitute an Orientierungsstufe, or rather a point of passage between the elementary school and the high school.

In these two years, the differences between the three schools are minimal and the students can test if the path taken is really what it does for them.


The Hauptschule is designed for less educationally prepared children and represents a sort of professional school divided into several addresses corresponding to different professional sectors.

According to the Land, it can last 5 or 6 years and form the student with basic education.

The teaching of the Hauptschule tends above all to reinforce the practical skills, obviously alongside them with theoretical learning, a bit like what happens during an Ausbildung.

At the end of the ninth class, the Hauptschule ( Hauptschulabschluss ) license is obtained, after which a training course ( Lehre ) is generally integrated with a part-time theoretical study at a vocational school ( Berufsschule ) which lasts 3 years.


The Realschule is something comparable to our technical institutes and its training offer is wider and more articulated than the Hauptschule.

Generally, it lasts between 4 and 6 years and at the end of the educational path, a diploma is obtained. The best students can also have the possibility to access the Gymnasium.

At the end of the studies, the Realschulabschluss is obtained.


In total, the Gymnasium lasts 8 or 9 years and represents the most complete and specific educational path in view of the entrance to the university, a bit like the Italian high schools.

In Bavaria, the distinction remains between humanistic, mathematical-scientific and modern languages, although everywhere there is a tendency to combine practical training with the theoretical study path.

The teaching proposed at the Gymnasium is very intense and includes 32 to 40 hours of lessons per week in addition to many home exercises.

At the end of the Gymnasium (12th or 13th class depending on the Land) an exam ( Abitur ) is held which corresponds to our final exams, which gives access to the Allgemeine Hochschulreife, that is the permit for access to the university.


There is also a fourth type of school, the Gesamtschule, which is a comprehensive school present only in some states and attempts to overcome the rigid division between the various types of schools.

In the Gesamtschule the students are not divided by class but courses with different levels are followed.

At the end of the scholastic cycle, the diploma of the Hauptschule or of the Realschule can be obtained or to continue for another 3 years up to the Abitur.

The University

Higher education institutions include not only the actual universities but, for example, also the Fachhochschulen , also called universities of applied sciences ( University of Applied Sciences ), the institutes of artistic education (Kunstschulen), which offer courses in figurative arts , design, graphics or music, or the higher institutes of theology, which award a degree equivalent to a degree.

After the university reform, which tends to standardize courses at European level, also in Germany there are 3 + 2 degree courses:

  • Bachelor’s degree ( Bachelor’s degree )
  • Master / Degree ( Master )
  • Research Doctorate ( Promotion )

The Master, therefore, is a real master’s degree course and not a master’s degree course as we understand it.

To cover certain tasks in the public sector, for example in the faculties of medicine, law or pharmacy, a Staatsexam will have to be taken for the exercise of the profession.

This type of degree course includes a single-cycle course lasting 5 or 6 years.

A big difference between the Italian university and the German university lies in the lesson mode.

To put it in a very simplified way, every single exam course is divided into modules. For each module, which therefore corresponds to an exam, you can generally choose a lesson ( Vorlesung ) and one or two seminars ( Seminar ) to attend.

The exam – often – will consist of writing a term paper ( Hausarbeit ) of about 15 pages concerning one of the topics covered in one of the seminars.

The lectures that we Italian students are used to, with the professor at the chair showing the topics and the students taking notes, occupy only a minimal part of the entire course of study and often of this Vorlesungen, as already mentioned, not there are even no exams to take.

The real strength of the lessons is held in the so-called Seminars, where the frontal lesson turns into a real debate. It is generally carried out by the students themselves and where the professor (much more often in reality a young doctoral student) speaks very little and limits himself to guide the discussion.

A system is so very different from the Italian university system that – like everything else – has its pros and cons.

Recognition of Italian qualifications

The qualifications obtained in Italy must be validated and recognized in Germany through a recognition practice called Anerkennung.

The practice for the recognition of qualifications is not the same throughout Germany but changes from Land to Land. This means that it is always advisable to do the recognition in the same Land of the university where you want to apply for matriculation.

The recognition, therefore, is not automatic but depends directly on the evaluation of the competent offices.

However, it is unlikely that a diploma recognized in a Land has no value in another Land. What may differ is the possibility of having to take the integration exams or not.

Further information on the awards can be obtained on the Anerkennung website in Deutschland and on the ZAB website (Zentrallstelle für ausländische Bildungswesen).


Well, we have come to the end of this journey to discover the German school system. I hope I have clarified all the doubts I had and made some clarity in this world a little distant from ours.

Now throw the ball at you. Did you already know the school system in Germany? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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