The Germanic people in Central Europe have a rich and colorful history, with many ideas and people shaping the country's development in many different ways throughout history. However, there is one thing that remains true about Germanic people and that is their thirst for knowledge and education. The German education system can trace its roots back to the early days of Martin Luther's teachings. It is the belief of Martin Luther, that every man, woman and child must be able to read and write in order to interpret the bible independently. Religion has always found a foothold in education and that is why the bible is often the cornerstone of learning and teaching. In this brief walkthrough of the German history of education we will explore five periods or eras that the German nation has passed through on its way to becoming the industrial and economic powerhouse it is known as today.
First is the Prussian Era, the foundations of the German education started as early as this period, but it was not until 1763 when the public education system recognizable today was established by the Prussian king, Fredrick the Great. He established the foundations for public education for children from the age of 5 until either 13 or 14. Almost all of the schools were Church supported and funded and teachers were often Church members such as clergymen or sextons.
Secondly, throughout the German empire, the education system constantly evolved. It became more centralized and developed with a more detailed structure. Having four different types of school, each designed for a specific purpose to help cultivate children into becoming productive and responsible members of the society. These different types of school are: the Gymnasium, the Realgymnasium, the Realschule and the Oberrealschule. The studies ranged from the classical languages, modern languages, or mathematics and science.
During the era of the Weimar Republic after World War I, the republic established a free, universal four-year elementary school (Grundschule). For a small fee, students could pay an extra fee to able to attend an extra one or two years in Mittleschule. After that, students had a choice, to stop studying or continue completing the exams and apply for a place at one of the four types of secondary schools.
In the years under Nazi governance, the education system known by that time to be very effective and strong, did not change with many reforms; instead it adopted many Nazi ideologies and teachings during that period.
And finally, the period before the modern Germany known today saw the separation of West and East Germany. Each nation went through a different phase of reforms during the next 30 years or so. After World War II, Germany was left divided, causing widespread destruction on both sides. The East and the West were separated and differences became more common as East Germany was under the dominion of the USSR whilst the West was overseen by the allies. The allies only sought to remove the Nazi ideas from the country and did not attempt to alter the education majorly as it was praised and admired back then, even at those difficult times. On the other hand, East Germany started its own standardized education system in the 1960s. The East German equivalent of both primary and secondary schools was the Polytechnic Secondary School (Polytechnische Oberschule), which all students attended for 10 years, from the ages of 6 to 16. After the 10th year, the students were offered a choice once more. To drop out and finish their education or undertake an apprenticeship for two additional years, followed by the Abitur.
The German people withstood the test of time by remaining true to themselves and coming out on top of the game after a varied and challenging 300 years. One thing that has remained true of the German national character over the years is the passion for improving oneself through education and collective learning. This nation's pursuit of knowledge has led to advancements in both science and technology, helping us humans to achieve more and be better than we were yesterday.