Schooling for International Students
International parents normally focus their interest on international schools. But recent experiences show that international parents are increasingly looking into the local school system, as not all foreign families are able to pay high tuition fees. This article offers parents some basic information on both options and outlines some recent developments in German education. .
THE GERMAN SCHOOL SYSTEM
German schools, both public and private, have gone through major changes in the last two and a half decades. Occasionally foreigners still expect the Prussian-type school with a rigid learning environment, no extracurricular student life, traditional teaching methods and classrooms equipped with just furniture and a blackboard. The reality is quite different.
There is a changing classroom environment: classrooms in elementary schools no longer display the tristesse of rooms designed for nothing but reading and writing. Educational environments increasingly offer abundant stimuli for the young learner.
Research and inquiry-based learning strategies have entered the classrooms in many schools; "chalk and talk" is less and less the predominant teaching methodology.
Unlike many other countries, Germany's educational system is based largely on the independent decisions of its sixteen states, while the federal government is responsible for university affairs and post-secondary education. The states cooperate - or try to - within the KMK, the Standing Committee of Departments of Education. For that reason, a transfer from a school in Hessen to one in Baden-Württemberg may be challenging.
Germany's constitution guarantees the right to run private schools. By law, public and private schools are considered equally important. This is the basis for an undisputed system of governmental subsidies to private schools, of course, with the prerequisite that the schools follow basic guidelines and keep up required standards. No one would be allowed to establish a school in this country or even receive subsidies, who could not prove the use of a proper curriculum, the existence of appropriate facilities and the presence of a qualified staff, who have been offered legally correct contracts. Because of this constitutional guarantee, all parents paying taxes in Germany can credit 30% of their annual school fees against their tax burden. This tax break seemed in danger recently with the new federal government, but meanwhile negotiations have assuaged these fears.
German schools used to completely lack modern technology, but things are now changing. More and more schools are being connected to the virtual classroom with huge investments planned for the future. By 2001, all schools in Germany should be equipped with Internet access.
Catching up with international developments, the German educational system also offers these features:
1. Vocational offerings are still among the cornerstones of the German educational system. (After nine mandatory years of schooling (Hauptschule), students may go on to vocational training. This option is also open to those choosing ten (Realschule) or thirteen years (Abitur) of secondary schooling, although the Abitur also enables university entry).
2. Extra-curricular activities are no longer the privilege of a few schools, the average high school offers them as well. Also, a range of activities for young people are available outside of the schools - private associations, Vereine, offering theatre, sports and many other activities.
3. International relations have become a mark of quality for many schools. Students from many countries visit German schools and German students go abroad, usually for a year of student exchange. One downtown Berlin high school - John Lennon Gymnasium - has currently about 20 % of all 11th grade students participating in exchanges with US high schools for one year.
4. The most important, yet quite unkown development is the increase in bilingual education in German state schools. Throughout the republic, schools are deciding to offer bilingual programs or at least bilingual instruction in some of their subjects. The reason for this is quite simple: English is a world language, and if Germany wants to do well economically and culturally, a school has to allow students to use as much English as possible. Most bilingual schools offer a combination of German and English, with other languages represented less frequently. A recent account showed up to 700 public schools in Germany with bilingual programs.
5. Dramatic changes in IT technology. There are about 42 000 schools in Germany. About 20 000 have meanwhile been equipped with Internet Access, mainly through help of SAN, Schulen ans Netz, a common effort of the Federal department of Education and Deutsche Telekom AG. Amoung the 800,000 German educators, about 60% are believed to have internet access. Several of the German states claim that all of their secondary schools meanwhile have Internet access. One big step forward was Telekom´s offer of favorable conditions to all German schools to allow schools and students a constant use of Internet technology.
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