Segregated Education

Most of us, hopefully, believe, everyone is born equal, but surely by the time they are 10 we know if they are idiots or not?




It sounds harsh, it sounds very utilitarian, it sounds like a way to create a generation of emotionally crippled kids. But it seems to work. Listen Direct or on iTunes, the German education system seems harsh, but it really does work. Show 009 of Three Wise Guys.


I suppose I should explain this a little better first… Firstly, I’m originally from New Zealand, our education system is pretty similar to most of the western world, kids go to Kindergarder when they are 3 and 4 for a few hours a day, learn basic ABC’s 123’s, but mostly just developmental things, like playing and being social, leaving Kindergarder most kids can’t read or write or count past 10 unless their parents taught them individually. Then you have primary school from 5-12. There is no entry criteria for primary school, while it is expected most kids would know basic ABC’s and 123’s, they are still covered in the first year along with the foundations of reading and writing, each year getting progressively harder, by the time you leave, you should have decent literacy, Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and the basics of algebra (More being aware of them more than being able to do them. Throw in some basic social sciences like history and geography and simmer. In primary school you have one teacher for the entire day who handles all the different classes. 


Some schools separate the last two years, when the child is 11-12, and have a intermediate school, kind of a practice highschool, but these are not terribly common. 


Then on to highschool, where for the first time, classes are taught by different teachers in different classrooms. You start having to do every class option for at least one term, then every year you get to drop those you dont want and pick up more specialized classes, for the first two years there is just basic, Math and Science, but after 15, they split into different disciplines like Statistics, Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, ect 


Then on to university or a trade school at 18 if they wish. 


This by in large, is similar to how most of the western world handles education, with slight differences in testing and what year certain things are done. 


The Germans couldnt be more different if they tried.


When I first came to Germany 3 years ago I thought their system brutal, harsh, liable to destroy any student thrust into it. But after seeing the system in action for 3 years, I think we should hold it up as the ideal.


They have kindergarden, but theirs runs to 6, and in the last year tends to be a little more proactive in real teaching. 


Primary School starts at 7 and goes to 10-11. Now by in large it is fairly similar to most of the west in what they teach and how it is taught.


Where the real difference comes in is the final year. At the end of the final year, the teacher evaluates the student, and recommend them what level of highschool to go to, yes they have different grades of school. Before I get into that, I will point out, it is only a recommendation, and while it would obviously be smart to follow it, many parents dont, forcing their children into a higher grade than they can handle, this system has been tweaked several times over the last few years, taking power away from teachers and giving it to parents, which sadly, while we would hope to be a good thing, has resulted in chaos as demanding parents push their children more than they can handle. 


For their equivalent of highschool, the German separate into three different levels, the bottom is called “Hop school” and is very basic level of education, focusing more on classes, such as design drawing, woodwork ect, also classes are more designed to be fun and interactive to keep the children amused and paying attention. Students placed here are not of high academic prowess, and usually end up in blue collar work or trade professions. This level finishes at 15, where they can then leave to the work force or get tested into the next rank, which is…


The middle rank is “Real School” which is pretty much the equivalent of what most of the western world does for highschool, maybe a bit easier or more focused on “interactive learning” than the standard western school. These schools finish at 16, and children who go to them often move on a work/learn system that is very popular in Germany, where you study for 10-15 hours a week at a school, and spend the rest of the time at on the job learning/working. Jobs such as secretarial work, admin, computer tech, offer are common from this grade. If a child wishes to they can test at the end of this school to continue to…


The final grade of school is Gymnasium, which doesn’t have a translation really. This runs all the way up to 17. While they do receive students who are graduated from the lower level schools, it is not terribly common, and they usually lose more through dropping out to the lower grades than they get from people moving up (Especially since parents have been able to over ride teacher recommendations). Gymnasium is a step above what most western schools are, and in the final few years, are more similar to university courses than standard high school. The students are lectured at and are expected to motivate themselves. While a teacher is able to help, learning is self disciplined by in large. I would place most students who graduation from Gymnasium at or above many 1st or 2nd year university students from other nations.


At the face of it this system seems really hardcore, judging a 11 year old, guiding their future life plans from such a young age? It is harsh. But it has been shown to work time and time again. My highschool which took everyone had very smart kids, and real trouble makers, and thank God those kids dropped out at 15 (as soon as they are allowed to in NZ) because the rest of us could focus more.


How much better would your school have been if the kids who didnt want to learn werent there, and most of the students where at your grade of learning?


If you hated highschool because it was hard or not your thing, would you not have preferred a school tailored to teach you life skills and fun interactive learning?


The system at this moment has been broken a bit by the Green Government who took the power to place students away from teachers who knew the academic prowess of their students, to the parents, who by in large, force their children into high levels than they can handle, causing massive drop outs from the top level and lower learning standards for everyone involved. While the idea of parents having a say sounds right on the surface, teachers in Germany study for years in this system, parents are quite often blind to what is really in their childs best interests. In the old system, if a parent really didnt agree with the decision of the teacher, they could request a meeting or outside testing, but it was rare, as most had been through the system their selves and knew it worked.


I originally though that by placing a child in the mid level school you had decided their fate for ever and denied them access to university (as only students from gymnasium are granted university access), but they always have the option of being tested up if they wish. But most are happy to be placed into any level of school.


There is no real stigma about being in the “Dumb” school, as they are often more than happy to be in that level of school and move onto trade jobs, they never wanted a more academic path.


Considering the problem New Zealand and many western nations are facing with to many university graduates and not enough people in the trades, maybe a system tailored to the skills of the students is best.


Granted it took me years to get used to the system, and to this day, something about it still seems harsh. But with all the options given, and the results that speak for them selves. I cant honestly find a good reason not to support this system of schooling. 


I give a much more detailed description on the levels of schooling in the show here, or listen to iTunes with all the episodes, this is show 009, with questions from Preston and Aaron about the problems many in the west think the system has. At the least it is something to ponder. 

22 thoughts on “Segregated Education

  1. I don’t know… Finland is the country whose system is often lifted up as excellent, so I don’t know where Germany fits into the success data. I do think our ‘western’ system of educating all together is a better preparation for real life where people need to live peaceably with others. But…??? There’s no doubt that educational change is heavily permeating our climate.

    • Finlands system is said to be great, with very little testing and a focus on real education.

      But I find the German system a great way to correct the embalance in our trade and university graduate levels.

  2. Being German educated myself (Gymnasium) I for one can say that it works alright. As is stated, students in all kinds of highschools are mostly with with where they are and eventually where they end up, because that is basicly what they’re supposed to do and where they’re supposed to be, acc. to their qualifications. This does seem harsh but that’s because every child is told they can achieve anything if they try hard, and that usually makes people struggleand unhappy. Well you have to put up with who you are to be content, and parents should emphasize that.

  3. I too was surprised with the German education system, when I came here two years ago from India. Initially, I had my doubts about segregating children into different groups based on their capabilities. It could be possible that a child eventually garners interest in a particular field of study after a certain age.In that case, sending him to a lower grade of school would prevent his future self to explore his potential. However, when I look at a lot of children who clearly have no interest in academics and sincerely want to pursue an alternate career, I fell that this system would indeed be beneficial and prevent them from being pressurized unnecessarily.

    • That was a worry, for me too, that sticking them in a group at such a young age limits them, put there have been quite a few studies that show children are fairly well set at an academic level by the age of 10-12.

  4. I recognize that the American education system is dysfunctional. Unfortunately there is no easy fix. As you mentioned, lumping together all students with varying degrees of motivation is HORRIBLE! Lazy or disinterested students hold back those who are motivated and interested in learning. Unfortunately, American culture seems to be moving in the direction of giving everyone a “seat at the table.” Though no one would say it, part of me wonders if the government keeps trouble-making kids in the school system as a means of keeping them off the streets for 8 hours a day….

    Again, there is no easy fix. It requires a paradigm shift, and those are rare…. I like your concept of trade school as opposed to high school. If kids don’t want to progress in education, make them learn a trade and to become productive….

  5. My experience (Halifax, Canada) students end up sorted into tiers as it is. Math in my high school years, for example, had three levels; arts math, science math and honours math. Same in English and the rest of the “required” courses. Now, in our high schools, there is the IB program for the cream of the crop and then different levels of courses right down to the work/school programs that are geared to get kids into a trade before the finish grade 12…
    Not much different, really. The German model just seems so extreme.

  6. I hope the US will start taking notice of the thriving educational systems and incorporate them into ours. I seems our system just teaches to the test to get people through.

  7. We used to have a similar system in the UK, kids were tested at 11 and then went to Grammar or secondary modern school. It was scrapped in the mid 1970s to give rise to the comprehensive- one school for children of all abilities. The problem with the secondary modern was that it essentially predetermined that those childern would have manual or technical careers aged 11, without them having any say themselves. If you differ the type of teaching that each child gets, you take away their ability to improve their lot in life, along with any incentive to try. Certainly the tiered system is likely to help the most talented kids, but it surely isn’t worth it if it’s to the detriments of children of lower abilities.

    • I had thought it sounded harsh, but at least in Germany the child always has the option of testing into high grades, either at the end of their current schools education, or when ever they wish. Also tailoring education to their level will more likely help them achive academically rather than forcing them into a high grade than they can handle.

      • Being able to test up is certainly preferable to being stuck permanently, but it seems like it’s asking a lot of very young children – to have enough passion about their education to actively campaign to leave their peers and move to a new school where they may be at the bottom rather than the top. I can’t imagine that many teenagers have that much drive. The tools to do the best they can should be automatically at their disposal – it’s unfair to ask kids to fight for them

  8. Living in Portugal, I feel that there is a lot to do here concerning education. Thanks for visiting my blog. Be in touch. Browse through the category sections, I feel you may find something of your interest.

  9. I think it’s a matter of being different. Telling our children that it is most definitely ok to be different and to accept, for example, that academia isn’t for everyone is something every parent should do. Beating the system ain’t going to happen but supporting our young ones is something everyone can do. Education isn’t everything. Bringing smart, independent-thinking and creative people into this world, is.
    Great post by the way.

  10. You’re right. The system appears very harsh, but the ability to test up does allow for late-bloomers to change their life course. Flexibility is key in education. Not everybody matures at the same rate and often very brilliant people are the worst students until their education intersects with their brilliance. The United States used to have a very flexible, but rigorous system of education. We produced a lot of technical innovators … far more than Europe or Asia. But if you research some of the folks that brought us our modern age of technological achievement, you’ll find many of them were late-bloomers and educational-seekers. Some of them teachers did label as idiots at age 10. Thomas Edison, for one. But they turned out to be brilliant, mainly because they could move on down the road to another school and get a fresh start with a different set of teachers and continue their haphazard education. Then the Baby Boom happened and we began to “track” people — oh, yes, the United States flirted with this system in some school districts in the 50s and 60s. I think it’s one reason we started to lose our innovators. Because records now follow a student from school to school, there is no fresh start and far fewer accidental intersections with whatever your passion might become.

    Oddly, it was the push for everyone to go to college/university that seems to have created a rigid system that destroys innovation. Everyone should have the opportunity to seek higher education, but not everyone should do it. I know a young man who was salutatorian of his high school who chose to go to trade school because a local company would pay his tuition. He’s now pulling down high-five figures as a diesel mechanic and going back to school in the evenings to explore his intellectual options.

    That’s a good thing!

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