Gymnasium - German Education System

Gymnasium, in the German education system, is the most advanced of the three types of German secondary schools, the others being Realschule and Hauptschule. Gymnasium strongly emphasizes academic learning, comparable to the British grammar school system or with prep schools in the United States. A student attending gymnasium is called a "gymnasiast" (German plural: "Gymnasiasten"). In 2009/10 there were 3,094 gymnasia in Germany, with c. 2,475,000 students (about 28 percent of all precollegiate students during that period), resulting in an average student number of 800 students per school. Gymnasia are generally public, state-funded schools, but a number of parochial and private gymnasia also exist. In 2009/10, 11.1 percent of gymnasium students attended a private gymnasium. These often charge tuition fees, though many also offer scholarships. Tuition fees are lower than in comparable European countries.

Some gymnasia are boarding schools, while others run as day schools; they are now predominantly co-educational, and few single-sex schools remain. Students are admitted at 10 or 13 years of age and are required to have completed four to six years of Grundschule (primary education). In some States of Germany, permission to apply for Gymnasium is nominally dependent on a letter of recommendation written by a teacher or a certain GPA, although when parents petition, an examination can be used to decide the outcome.

Traditionally, a pupil attended gymnasium for nine years in western Germany, or eight in eastern Germany. However, since 2004, there has been a strong political movement to reduce the time spent at the gymnasium to eight years throughout Germany, dispensing with the traditional ninth year or Oberprima, which is roughly equivalent to the first year of higher education. Final year students take the Abitur final exam. The Abitur is not comparable to the SAT in the United States; it tests material learned in high school across a wider spectrum than the SAT. Most gymnasia hold an alumni meeting at least once a year.

People unfamiliar with the German system sometimes wrongly assume that only those graduating from a gymnasium are admitted to university in Germany. Although this is normally the case, it is not always true. There are several other ways to earn the Abitur, and there are 50 ways to enter higher education in Germany. In 2008 in some states, less than half of university freshmen had graduated from a gymnasium. Even in Bavaria (a state that has a policy of strengthening the gymnasium) only 56 percent of freshmen had graduated from a gymnasium.

However, in many cases, it is easier to be accepted by an institution of higher education if one has graduated from a gymnasium. For example, many universities require students who want to study certain subjects, such as medicine, to hold the Latinum, a certificate of Latin comprehension. Gymnasium students can be awarded the Latinum by their school. Students attending other schools often don't have that chance; however, they can take a Latin exam, which if passed, allows the student to be awarded a Latinum. This requires extra initiative, however, because many non-gymnasium schools do not offer Latin.

The gymnasium is backed by a strong lobby in western Germany, and conservative politicians, particularly in the southern regions of Germany, claim that the gymnasium is the best school form in the world. Indeed, it is by far the number one in the PISA league table. However some hold the opinion that "this success comes at the cost of a catastrophe in the Hauptschulen"