Origin of Prussian Education System

The basic foundations of a generic Prussian primary education system were laid out by Frederick the Great with his Generallandschulreglement, a decree of 1763, authored by Johann Julius Hecker. Hecker had already before (in 1748) founded the first teacher's seminary in Prussia. His concept of providing teachers with the means to cultivate mulberries for homespun silk, which was one of Frederick's favorite projects, found the King's favour. It expanded the existing schooling system significantly and required that all young citizens, both girls and boys, be educated by mainly municipality-funded schools from the age of 5 to 13 or 14. Prussia was among the first countries in the world to introduce tax-funded and generally compulsory primary education. In comparison, in France and Great Britain, compulsory schooling was not successfully enacted until the 1880s.

The Prussian system consisted of an eight-year course of primary education, called Volksschule. It provided not only basic technical skills needed in a modernizing world (such as reading and writing), but also music (singing) and religious (Christian) education in close cooperation with the churches and tried to impose a strict ethos of duty, sobriety and discipline. Mathematics and calculus were not compulsory at the start and taking such courses required additional payment by parents. Frederick the Great also formalized further educational stages, the Realschule and as the highest stage the gymnasium (state-funded secondary school), which served as a university-preparatory school.

Construction of schools received some state support, but they were often built on private initiative. Friedrich Eberhard von Rochow, a member of the local gentry and former cavalry officer in Reckahn, Brandenburg, installed such a school. Von Rochow cooperated with Heinrich Julius Bruns (1746-1794), a talented teacher of modest background. The two installed a model school for rural education that attracted more than 1,200 notable visitors between 1777 and 1794.

The Prussian system, after its modest beginnings, succeeded in reaching compulsory attendance, specific training for teachers, national testing for all students (of both genders), a prescribed national curriculum for each grade and mandatory kindergarten. Training of teachers was increasingly organized via private seminaries. Hecker had already in 1748 founded the first "Lehrerseminar", but the density and impact of the seminary system improving significantly until the end of 18th century. In 1810, Prussia introduced state certification requirements for teachers, which significantly raised the standard of teaching. The final examination, Abitur, was introduced in 1788, implemented in all Prussian secondary schools by 1812 and extended to all of Germany in 1871. Passing the Abitur was a prerequisite to entering the learned professions and higher echelons of the civil service. The state-controlled Abitur remains in place in modern Germany.

The Prussian system had by the 1830s attained the following characteristics:
Free primary schooling, at least for poor citizens
Professional teachers trained in specialized colleges
A basic salary for teachers and recognition of teaching as a profession
An extended school year to better involve children of farmers
Funding to build schools
Supervision at national and classroom level to ensure quality instruction
Curriculum inculcating a strong national identity, involvement of science and technology
Secular instruction (but with religion as a topic included in the curriculum)