The German education system is different in many ways from the ones in other countries, especially America.
Children in Germany start school at the age of 6, and from grades 1 through 4 attend elementary school (Grundschule), where the subjects taught are the same for all. Then, after the 4th grade, they are separated according to their academic ability and the wishes of their families, and attend one of three different kinds of schools: Hauptschule, Realschule or Gymnasium. So basically at the age of 10 you are tested and that determines your future. Age 10 can you even imagine at the age 10 having your future decided and laid out for you, according to your abilities.
The Hauptschule (grades 5-9 in most German states) teaches the same subjects as the Realschule and Gymnasium, but at a slower pace and with some vocational-oriented courses. It leads to part-time enrollment in a vocational school combined with apprenticeship training until the age of 18.
The Realschule (grades 5-10 in most states) leads to part-time vocational schools and higher vocational schools. It is now possible for students with high academic achievement at the Realschule to switch to a Gymnasium on graduation.
The Gymnasium (grades 5-13 in most states) leads to a degree called the Abitur and prepares students for university study or for a dual academic and vocational credential. The most common education tracks offered by the standard Gymnasium are classical language, modern language, and mathematics-natural science.
Grundschule teachers recommend their students to a particular school based on such things as academic achievement, self confidence and ability to work independently.
The Gesamtschule, or comprehensive school, is a more recent development and is only found in some of the states. It takes the place of both the Hauptschule and Realschule and arose out of the egalitarian movements in the 1960s. It enrolls students of all ability levels in the 5th through the 10th grades. Students who satisfactorily complete the Gesamtschule through the 9th grade receive the Hauptschule certificate, while those who satisfactorily complete schooling through the 10th grade receive the Realschule certificate.
No matter what kind of school a student attends, he/she must complete at least nine years of education. A student dropping out of a Gymnasium, for example, must enroll in a Realschule or Hauptschule until nine years have been complete.
German children only attend school in the morning. There is no provision for serving lunch.
A free higher education could lie beyond a German Abitur. No tuition is charged at Germany's hundred or so institutes of higher learning, but students must prove through examinations that they are qualified.
There are several varieties of university-level schools. The classical universities, in the tradition of Alexander von Humboldt, provide a broad general education and students usually attend them for six and one-half years. The Technical Universities (Technische Hochschulen) are more aimed at training students for specific careers and are usually attended for four and one-half years. There are also Hochschulen for art and music.
In my daughters International School they have many German children that after finishing their Grundschule switch to International School for learning English and not test for placement that decides their fate for the future at such a young age.
So in her ninth grade alone you would typically have 14-15 year old and she has some Germans that are 16-17 years old which means a typical German will be 20 years old by the time they reach the University Level.
It’s all so different but could you imagine a free college to all as long as you pass the entrence test. I like the idea of that. Makes me wonder how good the colleges are?