Schools Around the World #1: Germany

Obviously, school is different around the world. But how different is it?


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Recently, a group of students who are now in eighth, ninth, and tenth grade went to Germany on an exchange program, (including me) and we all got to experience the German and Swabian way of life, and it was quite different to life here at Burlington-Edison, especially when it came to school. ‘Swabia’ is a region within the German State of Baden-Württemberg that includes the main cities of Stuttgart, Rottweil, Tübingen, and Reutlingen. It is very unique from Germany in terms of language, customs, and food, and Swabians do not like to be compared to the more famous Bavaria.

Sam Nus, ‘21, recalls his trip, telling how his trip was not only packed with events every day, “but fantastic cultural learning experiences as well. From language differences to historical museums, I was exposed to many different views across cultures.” He was grateful for all of the friendships he made through the program, especially with the Americans.

In Germany, secondary school is called realschule. Realschule starts in fifth grade, and goes all the way to tenth grade. It is probably the most comparable type of school to our high school, but there are still many differences between ninth grade there and freshman year here. The name of the school we attended is named Witthauschule

“Each day we had a different schedule and got out at a different time,” said Mila Hoagland, ‘22. “Instead of the students moving from classroom to classroom, the teachers would rotate from class to class.” Because her partner came to America, some of her classes were in English. The rest were in German.

In terms of timing, they start at 7:30, and they get out at different times depending on the classes they have. They have different classes for every day of the week, instead of blue/gold days. The students get out of school between 11pm at the earliest and 1pm at the latest.

Since school is out before lunch time, the students can eat lunch after school in a small cafeteria in the main building, or they can go across the street to a grocery store or a meat shop.

They do not have school buses in Germany, so students who do not have a ride and cannot walk are required to take public buses (which stop in the schools), but only students ride them on the school routes.

Another difference is the dances. In Germany, “Prom” is a group of students and adults in the gym watching young dance teams or dance partners dancing to music. The watchers do not do any dancing, but it is a very formal affair.

As for the classrooms, because many teachers use each one and different subjects are taught, the walls are white and mostly blank. There are tables in place of desks. There are two columns and four rows, and two people at each table. The classrooms have SmartBoards, and the teachers are quite adept at using them. The number of students in a classroom is quite comparable to America.

School in Germany is almost year-round, with a shorter summer break, but the other breaks are twice as long. The school’s field trips are like vacations, too. For example, the tenth graders at Witthauschule are going to London for a few days on a field trip. Some of them are there right now, like my partner and some of the partners from other students here at Burlington-Edison. It would be like us in Burlington going all the way to Missoula, Montana.

The schools have a large, spread out campus with ten buildings and a considerable amount of space in between each, with hopscotch and basketball hoops laid about. For the most part, a specific grade stays in their respective building. There are ten buildings at Witthauschule, and the higher the number, the newer and nicer the building. The ninth graders are in building 10, which is the nicest and newest building in the school.

Fußball is a big part of German sporting, but basketball and tennis are also popular. Despite students at Witthauschule being near many Bundesliga (German professional fußball league) teams in their area (Freiburg, Stuttgart, Hoffenheim), they cheer for teams all over the country, like Bayern, Schalke, and BVB. Bayern and BVB are the most dominant teams. Fans are very passionate in Germany, and they were visibly disappointed when their country was knocked out of the World Cup early.

Some families, like the one I stayed with, are split between teams. The brother is a big supporter of Dortmund, while the sister often goes to Munich to watch her team play or practice. She also runs an Instagram fan page for Spanish fußballer Juan Bernat, her favorite player who recently left Bayern Munich for PSG. The Instagram page has thousands of followers, and she keeps in close contact with him via Instagram despite him leaving Germany for France.

And finally, what kind of classes do students in Germany take? The ninth/tenth graders have classes like ours, like English, Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, P.E, and Geography. However, they do have required classes like German and Religious Education, and most take French or Digitools as well. They can also stack periods together, so the class may have one period of English, one of French, and then two of Chemistry on Wednesday, but on Thursday it is one period Math, two periods German, and then one period of Religious Education. There is not much choice or variety when it comes to classes, but it fits when it is taken into account that realschule is not meant to prepare students for university like gymnasium is.