When the first results from the international PISA test were published in 2001, Germany awoke to a startling reality about their education system — not only were German students performing significantly below the OECD average in reading and literacy, as a whole, but the country received the unwelcome distinction of showing the most unequal education performance among the OECD nations.
Since then, Germany has adopted a sweeping series of reforms, including lengthening the school day from roughly four hours in most cases to the six and a half hours that is common in most industrialized countries; vastly expanding early childhood education, including making early education and care an entitlement for all children age 1 and older; providing more autonomy to schools; reforming tracking at the secondary level; and creating national standards for student performance—a first in a country where education was the responsibility of the states, called Länder in Germany. These reforms have resulted in the country rising through the international ranks to the top tier of performance on the 2015 round of PISA, in large part due to the improved performance of the lowest performing students.
Germany’s education system is decentralized, with the 16 German Länder primarily responsible for their education systems. While the national government has put in place national standards and assessment for the primary and secondary schools over the last decade, the Länder have been responsible for changes in the structure of the system. Traditionally, German students chose an academic or vocational pathway at about age 10. Länder delayed the choice of pathway and allowed students more flexibility in their paths. Germany also expanded kindergartens, which serve children ages 3-5, across the country, expanding most to serve these children full-day. There was also a targeted effort to expand supports for immigrant students, including more German as a second language programming and academic support. Immigrant families have also been encouraged to send their children to kindergarten to give them an early introduction to school.
While Germany’s relative performance on PISA has improved overall, including among its lowest performing students, Germany still faces challenges in ensuring an equitable education for all of its students. Variation in student performance attributed to socioeconomic status is, at 16 percent, still higher than the OECD average.
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German 91.5%, Turkish 2.4%, other 6.1%
$3.98 trillion; $48,100 per Capita
Services: 69.1%; Industry: 30.3%; Agriculture: 0.6%
Unemployment: 4.3%; Youth Unemployment: 6.5%
Upper Secondary Graduation rate: 82%