The past month and a half, there has been a friendly, new face at Butler Tech’s Bioscience Center, in West Chester.
Saskia Schneider, a third year student at the University of Muenster, in Muenster, Germany has been observing the education system in America, and because she has a connection at the Bioscience Center, she has been able to see a Career Tech school in full capacity.
Saskia knew English teacher Jodie Wilmot through family connections. Since Saskia is required to spend three months observing English in another country, in order to get her Bachelor’s Degree, in Germany, she contacted Mrs. Wilmot to see if she could observe her classes in West Chester.
“I’m so happy it worked out,” said Saskia. “It has been really good to see how school works in America.”
“For any future educator, seeing various models of education is very beneficial to opening up opportunities for teaching and learning strategies,” said Bioscience Center Principal, Abbie Cook. “Saskia being able to see a blended learning model embedded into Career Tech is something she can bring back to her continued learning experience.”
Presently, Saskia studies English, Biology, and Religious Education at the University of Muenster and plans to become a teacher. Becoming a teacher in Germany however means deciding which secondary school to pursue, to teach in, and in Germany, it’s more complicated than the American school system.
“I like the system in Germany better for overall education, but there is a lot I like here inside the classroom,” she said. “I really enjoy the teacher and student interaction.”
In Germany, Saskia describes more of a traditional learning environment where as the teacher lectures, and the students sit at desks listening and taking notes. Sometimes group work is involved.
One of the most surprising observations for Saskia has been seeing the use of laptops and cell phones in the classrooms.
“It’s not like that in Germany, not every student is given a laptop like here,” she said.
And about observing at a Career Tech school rather than a traditional high school, Saskia has enjoyed seeing the differences.
“It’s great that the students have this choice for school,” she said. “It’s also nice for them to have time during the day to study on their own.”
She also appreciates the grading system in America which is often a combination of exam scores, homework, labs, and participation. In Germany, grading is based solely on exam results, so there is a heavy focus to prepare for exams.
In America, students attend school in the district in which they live, unless they choose a private, parochial, or home school. In Germany however, there are 5 types of secondary schools that students can attend based on their academics and recommendations by the teacher. So after completing Kindergarten, then Grundschule which is grades 1 through 4, it’s then, the transition to the secondary school begins which will continue from grades 5 through graduation which could be in grades 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13 depending on the school and depending on which state in Germany one lives in. (There are 16 states in Germany.)
The secondary schools include:
Hauptschule (grades 5-9 or 5-10)
The main objective here is to prepare the students to enter the world of work with focus on vocation-oriented courses and apprenticeships. It is generally considered the least demanding type of the secondary schools and has gotten less and less popular throughout the nation as an option.
Realschule (grades 5-10) The “Realschule” is designed for students who pursue mid-level and nonprofessional careers, while also allowing them with the possibility to access secondary level education (Abitur) and a university entrance.
Gymnasium (grades 5-12 or 5-13)
The “Gymnasium,” not to be mistaken for a gym in the U.S., prepares students more specifically for a university education. The curriculum is more academic in comparison to the other schools and also has a long history in Germany, dating back to 1528. Here, at least two foreign languages are required (one is English and the other is most often French, Spanish or Latin).
Gesamtschule (grade 5-10 and 11-13)
The “Gesamtschule” is another concept which has different goals. This school is meant for children with all sorts of different abilities and combines elements from the other school systems already described. It was introduced later than the other school types. Students can gain their certificates from all the different schools. And depending on their school level, they can also do their “Abitur” from grade 11-13. This model would come nearest to the U.S. high school system.
The last type is designed for children with special educational, mental and physical needs. Here, the teachers have to be trained specially and the classes are usually smaller than in regular schools.
Saskia herself attended Gymnasium for her secondary school.
After graduation, she will be able to teach grades 5-10 in Hauptschule, Realschule and Gesamtschule.
She says that when students attend school in Germany, it is 100-percent for their education. She has noticed that in America there is a heavy focus on sports and trying to obtain sports scholarships.
“In Germany, sports aren’t as big as in America, and people do the sports outside of school at clubs and such,” she said.
Also, in Germany, homeschooling is forbidden. The country has a compulsory school attendance law that requires school attendance from age 6 until age 15.
Saskia was able to present the German school system and it's methods to teachers and staff at the Bioscience Center.
“It has been great for our staff to understand the variety of models around the world, how we are similar and different,” said Principal Cook. “We all have a lot to learn from each other in the world of education.”
Saskia has enjoyed reading literature, alongside the students, in the English class she is observing. The latest novel the students read is Unwind, by Neal Shusterman.
“I enjoyed the book and then watching the students pick a research topic,” she said. “There was a lot of good discussion.”
And now for her last few days in America, it is Saskia who will continue to “unwind” all of the strengths, weaknesses, and perhaps similarities that make school systems and students different, yet the same.