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Junior Secondary Education in Germany
Secondary education, the third level of education, is divided into two
levels: junior secondary education (also called intermediate secondary
education) and senior secondary education. Upon completion of the Grundschule,
students between the ages of ten and sixteen attend one of the following
types of secondary schools: the Hauptschule, the Realschule,
the Gymnasium, the Gesamtschule, or the Sonderschule
(for children with special educational needs). Students who complete this
level of education receive an intermediate school certificate. Adults
who attend two years of classes in evening schools can also earn these
intermediate school certificates, which permit further study.
Junior secondary education starts with two years (grades five and six)
of orientation courses during which students explore a variety of educational
career paths open to them. The courses are designed to provide more time
for the student and parents to decide upon appropriate subsequent education.
The Hauptschule, often called a short-course secondary school
in English, lasts five or six years and consists of grades five to nine
or five to ten depending on the Land. Some Laender require
a compulsory tenth year or offer a two-year orientation program. About
one-third of students completing primary school continue in the Hauptschule.
The curriculum stresses preparation for a vocation as well as mathematics,
history, geography, German, and one foreign language. After receiving
their diploma, graduates either become apprentices in shops or factories
while taking compulsory part-time courses or attend some form of full-time
vocational school until the age of eighteen.
Another one-third of primary school graduates attend the Realschule,
sometimes called the intermediate school. These schools include grades
five through ten. Students seeking access to middle levels of government,
industry, and business attend the Realschule. The curriculum
is the same as that of the Hauptschule, but students take an
additional foreign language, shorthand, wordprocessing, and bookkeeping,
and they learn some computer skills. Graduation from the Realschule
enables students to enter a Fachoberschule (a higher technical
school) or a Fachgymnasium (a specialized high school or grammar
school) for the next stage of secondary education. A special program makes
it possible for a few students to transfer into the Gymnasium,
but this is exceptional.
The Gymnasium, sometimes called high school or grammar school
in English, begins upon completion of the Grundschule or the
orientation grades and includes grades five through thirteen. The number
of students attending the Gymnasium has increased dramatically
in recent decades; by the mid-1990s, about one-third of all primary school
graduates completed a course of study at the Gymnasium, which
gives them the right to study at the university level. In the 1990s, the
Gymnasium continued to be the primary educational route into
the universities, although other routes have been created.
The Gesamtschule originated in the late 1960s to provide a broader
range of educational opportunities for students than the traditional Gymnasium.
The Gesamtschule has an all-inclusive curriculum for students
ages ten to eighteen and a good deal of freedom to choose coursework.
Some schools of this type have been established as all-day schools, unlike
the Gymnasium, which is a part-day school with extensive homework
assignments. The popularity of the Gesamtschule has been mixed.
It has been resisted in more conservative areas, especially in Bavaria,
where only one such school had been established by the beginning of the
1990s. A few more were established in Bavaria in the next few years; their
presence is marginal when compared with the Gymnasium, of which
there were 395 in 1994. Even North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous
Land and an outspoken supporter of the Gesamtschule,
had only 181, compared with 623 of the traditional Gymasium.
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