Education and Schools in Berlin

Expats will find that, as in greater Germany, education and schools in Berlin are considered very important. Teachers are paid honourable salaries and university employees are often given higher regard than esteemed businessmen.

Berlin has a particularly pointed emphasis on higher education and boasts numerous universities, colleges and polytechnics, and over 200 research institutes.

Unlike many countries, Germany's education system gives a good deal of independent power to individual states (lander); the federal government mainly retains responsibility for university and post-secondary education. Thus, those moving to Berlin from another part of Germany may need to once again acquaint themselves with the ins and outs of the system.


Public schools in Berlin

Expats who have children young enough to pick up the local language quickly, or who foresee themselves relocating to Berlin on a long-term basis will certainly want to consider standard German public schools. There are no tuition fees attached to these institutions, but there may be registration or minimal extras that will need to be financed.

Expats may initially find the system complicated, but it is ultimately based on achievement. 

In Berlin, parents and students can choose the school they wish to attend. There are no catchment schools, and students are not "zoned" to a particular place of learning. It follows that it is necessary to do adequate research about which institutions best align with a particular child's needs and priorities.

Children attend Kindergarten at the age of three, and start Grundschulle (primary school) at age six. From this age pupils learn a standard set curriculum; which lasts six grades in Berlin. After this point they attend one of three types of secondary schools: HauptschuleRealschule or Gymnasium. German education is thus not divided according to age from this point forward, but rather according to what direction a student chooses to take their education.

A child's academic ability usually determines which school they attend, but the final decision also often rests with the parents. Bear in mind though, regardless of which school a child attends, all students are required to complete at least nine years of education. Also, as schooling is usually conducted during the morning, students often receive a lot of homework and are thus unable to involve themselves in too many extra-curricular activities.

Hauptschule, while offering the same subjects as Realschule and Gymnasium, teaches children at a slower pace and includes vocational courses. During grade 10 students study at a vocational training school, and then attend Berufsschule, where they receive further education and apprenticeship training up until grade twelve.

Realschule, on the other hand, is attended up until and including grade 10, after which students go straight to Berufsschule. Depending on their academic progress, Realschule students can go to a Gymnasium upon graduation.

Gymnasium is generally accepted as the type of school for top students. Subjects covered include mathematics and natural science, as well as classic and modern language studies. The grades range from 5 to 13 and successful scholars receive a degree called an Abitur, which offers university and college preparatory classes, or combined academic and vocational training.


International and bilingual schools in Berlin

Berlin has a few private international schools and public bilingual schools. These are often the best options for expats as they eliminate concerns around the language barrier.

Private international schools catering to a variety of nationalities can be found in the city. Expats can choose the school that offers their preferred language of learning and the curriculum of their home country.

These schools tend to uphold high standards of learning, boast smaller class sizes, have first-rate facilities, and often offer a larger variety of extra-curricular activities than bilingual schools or German public schools. Students tend to find their comfort zone easily in these spaces; however, in some cases they will be missing an opportunity to have a positive multi-cultural experience.These schools also tend to come with a hefty price tag, depending on age and institution.

As an alternative, the public bilingual schools come with no fees attached and act as a good middle ground, allowing for integration and cultivating a comfort zone for kids. The Nelson Mandela School and the JFK School are two examples that are well-respected by the expat community.

In these state-sponsored schools there are usually two streams of curricula based on a child's mother tongue, the difference being the language of teaching.

Space does tend to fill up quickly at popular bilingual schools in Berlin; thus expats preparing for a move to the city would do well to start making arrangements as far in advance as possible.

In the case of both school types, preference may be given to students based on nationality; this does not apply at all institutions though, and does not guarantee entrance. Admission and enrolment procedures vary from school to school.