Monday, October 12, 2009

School differences, part 1

The cold from hell lingers on still, but at least I'm not having to take drugs to cope with it & my nose isn't as red and shiny as Bobo the clown's (thank you Kleenex Balsam)!

Today is the first day of the school autumn holidays, in England it would be called 'half-term' and be 1 week long. Here its 'Herbstferien' (autumn holidays) and is 2 weeks long, excessively long most parents would agree but this 1st term of the school year is a long one, we started back in the middle of August and run right up to Christmas Eve, so the children need a 2 week break, especially as they go to school so early in the morning - 1st lesson is usually at 0750, meaning they're leaving the house around 0715. Don't feel too sorry for them as they are home at lunchtime usually, German schools have a last lesson that ends at 1410, that's if they have a full timetable that day and if all the teachers are there...they have a very relaxed view to schooling structure when you consider how serious they are about so much else...

In England children start school at the age of 4, spending a year in reception class which is mostly play, then into year 1 where the learning starts (with a little roleplay thrown in). School usually starts at 900 and finishes around 1530, there's a lunch break in the middle of the day and usually the children are on the school grounds all day and usually the grounds are locked. Children can't get out and visitors have to speak to the school secretary to be admitted to the premises. At the end of the day the younger children (years 1, 2 & reception) are handed over only to a recognised guardian.

The school day starts with registration when the child's main class teacher takes the register, then there is often assembly (although this sometimes happens at the end of the school day also) which used to be of a religious nature but in this day and age is more to do with the engendering of the school community.

In Germany children start school at the age of 6 (the precocious can start a year earlier, but this is on the sayso of the kindergarten staff) these children have, however spent 3 years at kindergarten (which can be 900-1300 or can be 900-1600) prior to school but there is little formal learning at kindergarten.
Years 1 & 2 are not a very serious learning experience but in year 3 the pressure suddenly appears because in year 4 the school will decide whether your child has what it takes to go onto gymnasium or whether realschule or worse beckons.

School starts, as previously mentioned, early, before 800 if the child has a first lesson, (sometimes they don't) and ends anytime between 1130 and 1410.
Everyday the timetable is a different length and if a teacher is absent the children are sometimes sent home early...with no warning - this can be 6 year olds we're talking here, sent home alone possibly to an empty house...

There is no registration and no assembly the children are expected to walk themselves to school - they walk in groups, not alone, but it is not usual for the parents to accompany them (we foreigners always stand out as we're the ones escorting our children to and from school) and the school grounds although fenced are not gated, anyone can walk through them, on and off the premises.
A child who decides he doesn't want to go to the next lesson can easily walk out and take the long way home to arrive home at the expected time (if you're lucky). This system of trust works well enough with older children but for children who've only just started school to be entrusted with getting from one building to another, possibly to a lesson they don't like, is it any wonder some bunk off?

So at the end of the day there is no official handover of the child to the responsible guardian, they slip out of their classes and wander home, hopefully in the company of their friends.

There are of course many more differences between German and English schooling, but I think I'll leave those for another day...

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