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The German educational system has its roots in the Prussian era. Now it has evolved and includes the following three tracks/outcomes for students: apprenticeship (Berufschule) that leads to blue collar employment; Realschule that leads to white collar/salaried employment; and Gymnasium, which is followed by university study and then professional employment.
In general, the German education system is set up to offer a highly trained and qualified workforce for its graduates. Everyone, no matter their financial ability, has the ability to attend college at no cost to the individual, if he qualifies based on academic merit.
For the Berufschule student, the benefit is that he receives a very practical, hands-on education where he is trained by master craftsmen in his field. Students who struggle with academics but have skills in other areas, such as mechanical pursuits, can find their place in education and in society by learning a trade. If the student does well, he is able to pursue additional schooling and eventually become a master craftsman himself.
The Realschule student is on the track for white collar/salaried employment, which is now commonly IT staff, as well as the “Kaufman und Kauffrau.” These students benefit from academic studies as well as, with a successful completion of the 10th year, the opportunity to study further, work in public service at the secretarial or executive level, or be trained while working for a company. This track is good for students who don’t qualify for Gymnasium but still maintain an acceptable level of academics. They receive training in their chosen field and are ready to enter the workforce after graduation.
Gymnasium offers a professional track for its students, who go on to become doctors, teachers, dentists, etc. It is the most academically rigorous and concludes with the Abitur test and the option of attending University. A major benefit of this track is that passing the Abitur will allow the student the right to apply to any university and attend, tuition-free. They will have access to professions with higher salaries and prestige.
Some of the advantages to society as a result of this system include school graduates who are well trained and educated. The students will be ready, after completing their studies, to either immediately enter the workforce, or to continue their education to finish learning the relevant
An advantage to the individual student is that he will be schooled in a level that matches his ability and not waste his time in studies that are not relevant. For example, a student who is not strong in academic but who possesses mechanical abilities would have the opportunity to learn a trade.
Another major advantage to the individual student is that no matter his financial situation, if he has the aptitude, he is able to attend university because tuition is included as a benefit to society. Therefore, academically talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds can still attend university.
However, the German education system does have some disadvantages, as well. For society in general, the system might not produce a nimble enough workforce if the training can’t keep up with technological advances and there might be a glut of workers who don’t have marketable skills and need retraining. The job market is changing so much more than it has in the past, especially with technology that is constantly evolving. The German educational system can be slow to react to these changes and might not stay relevant.
For the individual, these effects can be especially devastating. If his job becomes obsolete, a craftsman, for example may have few other options, especially if he hasn’t had education in other areas. It is decided very early in a person’s education which direction the education will take.
Another disadvantage is that if a student wants to change tracks later, it can be difficult, especially if he wants to pursue university later on and hasn’t had the correct foundation; there is not much flexibility for the undecided. Additionally, even though there is no tuition for university, which in theory levels the playing field for all students to have the opportunity to attend, it is usually the students from the middle and upper classes who go to university.
The German education system has prepared strong and well-educated young people in the past; it can continue to do so in the future if it will stay flexible and be ready to change when needed.