As in the rest of Germany, education is highly valued in Berlin. Teachers are paid decent salaries, while university staff are held is particularly high esteem. Berlin has a pointed emphasis on higher education and boasts numerous universities, colleges and polytechnics, and more than 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. So not only expats, but also Germans relocating to Berlin from other parts of the country will need to 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.
In Berlin, students (and their parents) are free to choose which school they attend, as there are no catchment areas and children aren't 'zoned' to a particular place of learning. It is therefore 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, students learn a standard set curriculum, which lasts six grades in Berlin. After this point they attend one of three types of secondary schools: hauptschule, realschule or gymnasium. German education is 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 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 12.
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 generally offer a larger variety of extra-curricular activities than bilingual schools or German public schools. Students find their comfort zone easily in these spaces, but it does tend to slow local integration and hinders the multi-cultural experience somewhat. These schools also come with a hefty price tag, depending on age and institution.
As an alternative, 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.
Spaces fill up quickly at popular bilingual schools in Berlin, so 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.
Special-needs education in Berlin
Children in Germany, regardless of disability, have the right, according to the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), to early childhood education, primary, secondary and tertiary schooling. Children with disabilities are supported as far as possible in mainstream schools and there have been recommendations for increasingly inclusive educational practice in general education and vocational schools.
The goal is to enable children to be educated together regardless of ability and to guarantee and develop the standards achieved in special-education teaching, advising and support services. Ultimately, the government tries to ensure that those with special needs can comfortably attend their nearest school, have access to the same standard of education as their peers, learn and play in a safe environment and are able to make good academic and social progress.
Tutoring in Berlin
Education is extremely highly valued in Berlin, and Germany in general, and tutors are widely used to improve and assist children's schooling. Tutors might be employed to assist in specific subjects such as maths or science, or expat parents will often hire a tutor to improve their child's German language proficiency. Tutors are further used in preparation for important exams or for university entrance exams.
Newcomers to Germany might also find that their child may benefit from having a guiding hand in navigating a new school system or just to build some confidence. Top private tuition companies include Lernwerk and Teachers24 Network.