School and Learning in Germany

“More than just a place for learning” – Pupils explain what is important about the schools they go to

„Mehr als nur ein Ort zum Lernen“; © colourbox.com“More than just a place for learning”; © colourbox.com
“More than just a place for learning”; © colourbox.com

Six children and teenagers from different federal states speak about the strengths and weaknesses of their schools.

The Germans have been arguing for many years about which school system would be the right one for Germany – and in the course of this debate the individual federal states have come up with some very different answers. Should the children go to school for the whole day or half a day? Should primary school pupils be schooled in one class for four, as has been the case in most federal states up to now, or perhaps six or maybe even eight years? Should grammar school pupils take their “Abitur” (German qualification for university entrance) after 12 or after 13 years of school? Should all secondary schools become comprehensive schools, in which the pupils can obtain various qualifications depending on their abilities?

There is a whole range of answers to these questions and each federal state seems to have its own answers and models. It is actually becoming more and more difficult to speak of “the” German school system. On the other hand, however, children and teenagers have their own ideas about the place they have to spend most of their daily life. Read on to find out what six German schoolchildren think about their schools.

Jonas Möller, 8 years old, Hillesheim Primary School in the state of Rheinland-Palatinate

At my primary school I like the special clubs we can join - sport, swimming, “School Reporter” and the projects we do. My favourite one is the “School Reporter” club, because in it we learn, for example, how a camera works and all about close-ups and portraits. I also like it when our deputy-headmaster reads us something after lunch. We listen to things like Arabesk (Arabesque) or Es muss auch kleine Riesen geben (We Need Small Giants, Too). I like it because it calms us down and helps us to relax. What I do not like about my school is all the squabbling and fighting. It is also a shame that the lunch break from the third year onwards is very short and there is not enough time to wind down. When I leave my primary school, I want to go to the Realschule (school preparing students for apprenticeships and vocational qualifications) - and later I want to be a policeman, because they have to do a lot of exciting things and always do sport. For that I am going to need really good qualifications.

Leonard Günther, 13 years old, Elisabeth-Selbert Comprehensive School in Bonn Bad-Godesberg

Leonard Günther; photo: private Everybody gets the same chances at a comprehensive school, provided he or she wants to learn. There are in my opinion no drawbacks to the system of going to school for the whole day. It just means you learn more in school than at home. On top of that there is no written homework on the three long days in the week. One of the main plus points is the wide range of clubs, groups and other free-time activities. One good example of this would be our school band, “Brass Rock”, that has made quite a name for itself in Bonn. One of the bad things about my school is the fact that the school café and canteen are so overcrowded. At lunchtime there are so many people standing in line at the canteen that many pupils have decided to bring their own food from home.

Malin Steinbach and Alexander Källner, both 14 years old, Poppenbüttel District School in Hamburg

Malin Steinbach: What I like about the District School is the fact that it is geared to learning for a profession. Once a year they hold a Job Information Day in the big hall. Companies take part and tell us about what they do, they give us tips on how to put a good application together and sometimes offer placements, too. Occasionally parents come along and talk about their work. Furthermore we often go to trade fairs, we visited the employment agency and also had a talk from a careers officer. Our teachers help us when we are applying for placements and traineeships and, if we want, we can also turn to a special “Job Tutor” for advice. At our school we have to do two placements and beforehand we take part in either “Girls’ Day” or “Boys’ Day”. We have a subject called vocational studies in which we learn to deal with our strengths and weaknesses and then we produce a profile based on both self-evaluation and observer assessments. On top of that we did a six-month etiquette project in which we learned how to train our behaviour and soft skills. A styling consultant gave us tips on how we should look and behave when we go for a job interview. When we are trying to decide on what job to do, we also benefit from a skills training program that lasts for a few days and from a visit to the Mädchenwirtschaft (a special careers event for girls held in Hamburg). The main emphasis at our school is on, what they call, “Social Learning” and this has brought about a really good community feeling in my class. In the process we had to work on ourselves - something that is also of benefit outside school. From the end of the eighth grade we are given a prognosis every six months of the results we might get in the final exams. On the whole I think the school is of great help for my future and for the choice of job I am going to make.

Alexander Källner; photo: private Alexander Källner: For me the annual Job Information Day is important. It is when certain companies or the police come along and talk about the work they do, so that the pupils get an idea about what they might later want to do or in which sector they might want to do a placement. I also think it is a good thing that all the various qualifications that the children have either gained or will gain are also discussed. I would however also appreciate parents explaining their jobs to the kids in more detail, so that they can hear about what the “real” working world is like. Furthermore the spectrum of the jobs and professions presented could also be much broader.

Lena Katczinski, 16 years old, Geschwister Scholl Realschule in Gütersloh

For me my Realschule (school preparing students for apprenticeships and vocational qualifications) is more than just a place for learning - it is a home from home. It is where I feel good. It is not just the teachers that manage to instil this feeling in us, but also the way we learn. Our teachers make sure everybody at our school gets the right, individual support and they accept everybody as they are. What is particularly special about life at our school is the fact that everybody helps each other. We learn how to do this from the beginning of the fifth grade onwards – how to build each other up. The main thing our school focuses on however is helping us to choose the right job. In cooperation with several companies, the German Federal Labour Office and also the parents we are able to find out regularly what it is like to work in various professions. Sometimes we even have personal chats with those people. Our teachers do not just bother about us in the time we are at school, but also afterwards they want to be sure we are in the right hands. Of course our school has a few minus points, but they are strongly outweighed by the plus points.

Rebekka Deuse, 19 years old, Essen-Werden Grammar School

Rebekka Deuse; photo: private The special thing about my grammar school is that it has so much to offer. By promoting and supporting the most varied activities the students are motivated to pursue their interests and at times to venture down more unusual paths. Our dance department, for example, has its own building, housing its own boarding school for dance and offering the possibility to take dance as a subject at Abitur level. A further emphasis is on access to music. Sport and art are equally as promoted as all the various clubs that encourage individual interests. The atmosphere is very open and relaxed and I really like my school’s location - between the banks of the river Ruhr and Werden’s old, historical quarter. Nevertheless, for myself, I would like a little more variety, as many of my classmates all come from the same social background. I want to use my training at school to enable me to go abroad and study at a foreign university. Before that however I am planning to take a gap year doing voluntary work in the social sector.

Arnd Zickgraf
works as a free-lance journalist for, among others, “WDR.de” and “Spiegel Online” in Bonn.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
January 2013

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