A common timetable ensures a common core of subjects for all types of schools and courses of education in lower secondary education, comprising German, mathematics, first foreign language, natural sciences and social sciences. Further compulsory or optional subjects are at least music, art and sport. The following framework applies to the timetables for grades 5 to 9/10:
The total number of hours per week of compulsory and elective subjects in lower secondary education up to the First School Leaving Certificate (Erster Schulabschluss) after grade 9 is at least 146 hours, up to the Intermediate School Leaving Certificate (Mittlerer Schulabschluss) at least 176 hours.
The weekly number of hours in individual subjects or subject groups for the courses of education leading to the First School Leaving Certificate after grade 9 or to the Intermediate School Leaving Certificate is as a rule:
|Subjects and subject groups||First School Leaving Certificate||Intermediate School Leaving Certificate|
|First foreign language||16||22|
|Natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics)||13||16|
|Social sciences (history, geography, political science/social science or/and a comparable subject||13||16|
|Artistic subjects (music, art and possibly other subjects)||6||7|
|Religion, ethics or a comparable subject||according to the regulations of the Länder|
Pupils with a non-German language of origin may, in accordance with the regulations of the Länder, be given the opportunity to have their language of origin or a foreign language learned abroad recognised instead of the compulsory foreign language if they meet certain requirements.
At the Gymnasium, two foreign languages are compulsory from grade 7 at the latest. The second foreign language is taught in at least four ascending years with at least 14 lessons per week. In the course of the expansion of foreign language lessons in the primary sector, at the Gymnasium lessons in a second foreign language are often given from as early as grade 6. At other types of schools, a second foreign language may be offered with generally the same scope. Foreign-language tuition in other subjects may be credited towards tuition in the corre-sponding foreign language.
An introduction to the professional and working world is a compulsory component of every course of education and is provided either in a special subject such as Arbeitslehre (pre-vocational studies, also called Economics-Work-Technology, Work-Economics-Technology or Economics and Occupation) or as part of the material covered in other subjects or subject groups.
Religion is subject to the respective regulations in each Land, according to which religion is a standard subject in nearly every Land. For the situation of Protestant and Catholic religious education, see the reports of the Standing Conference of 2002. A new update of the reports is planned for 2023. An amended version of the report on the teaching of ethics was published in June 2020.
With regard to the curricula or education plans, generally the remarks for the primary level apply, according to which the Ministries of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder are principally responsible for developing the curricula. As a consequence of the results of international comparative studies, the curricula have been thoroughly revised over the past years. In most Länder the revision focused on the following main areas:
- in the course of education leading to the First School Leaving Certificate: acquisition of basic competences in German and mathematics, orientation towards professional practice and promotion of social competence
- definition of compulsory key areas of learning, provision of scope for measures to activate pupils and inspire problem-solving thought processes
- development of educational standards binding for all Länder, which are based upon the areas of competence for the individual subject or subject group, that determine the capabilities, skills and knowledge students should dispose of at a certain stage of their school career
- To impart those competences that are necessary in order to be able to participate actively, reflectively and maturely in a society shaped by digitalisation.
To implement the Bildungsstandards (educational standards) of the Standing Conference for the Hauptschulabschluss and the Mittlerer Schulabschluss, the subjects in the curricula have been adapted accordingly. The educational standards binding for all Länder specify the goals themselves, whilst the curricula of the Länder describe and structure the way to achieve these goals.
The comments on the subject of physical education in the article on teaching and learning in the primary level also apply to the lower secondary level.
Foreign language teaching
Foreign language teaching is an integral part of basic general education at all lower secondary level schools as from grade 5 and a core element of individual specialisation as from grade 7. On transition to lower secondary level, foreign language learning connects with sound competences acquired in the primary sector and continuously expands on them. The prerequisite for this is institutionally guaranteed cooperation between the primary and secondary sectors. Foreign language lessons in lower secondary level are characterised by systematic learning and a higher level of abstraction. They also aim at increasingly independent and autonomous management of and reflection on learning. Compulsory and elective foreign language offers take account of differences in aptitudes and biographies, and the interests of pupils. The development of foreign language competence up to the end of the lower secondary level is geared to competence level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The objective of functional multilingualism requires that pupils be given the opportunity to acquire fundamental knowledge in at least another foreign language. Language lessons that have been continuously attended since lower secondary level may be supplemented by bilingual teaching and learning in other subjects. More information can be found in the resolution “Recommendations of the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany on strengthening foreign language competence” ('Empfehlungen der Kultusministerkonferenz zur Stärkung der Fremdsprachenkompetenz') of December 2011 and the report Concepts for bilingual teaching (Konzepte für den bilingualen Unterricht) of October 2013.
Teaching in MINT subjects
At all levels of the education system the strengthening of natural science and technical education (MINT – mathematics, information technology, natural sciences, technology) is currently of particular importance. The Standing Conference has repeatedly addressed the development of school teaching in MINT subjects. By introducing educational standards in this area, it has facilitated the description of demanding and achievable objectives in the form of competences. Against the background of the predicted need for specialists in mathematics and natural sciences, the Standing Conference adopted “Recommendations to strengthen mathematics, natural sciences and technical education” (‘Empfehlungen zur Stärkung der mathematisch-naturwissenschaftlich-technischen Bildung') in May 2009 2009 which are currently being updated.
In December 2021, the Standing Conference adopted the comprehensive ten-year programme "QuaMath – Developing Teaching and Training Quality in Mathematics” to strengthen mathematics education in Germany. The QuaMath programme is developed based on research by the German Centre for Teacher Education in Mathematics (Deutschen Zentrum für Lehrerbildung Mathematik – DZLM) at the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (Leibniz-Institut für die Pädagogik der Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik – IPN) and implemented together with the Länder. The programme aims to reach more than 10,000 schools, above all with suggestions for lesson development, subject-didactically sound further training measures and by networking all those involved.
The Standing Conference emphasises the significance of these topics in schools through resolutions and recommendations on individual lesson contents. These are generally interdisciplinary lesson contents that relate mainly to questions of historical-political, economic and cultural education. Apart from this, it is also about topics such as health education, media education and vocational guidance:
- Vocational Orientation
- Sustainable development education
- Formal language competences
- Democracy education
- Digital education
- Educating about Europe
- Gender-sensitive education
- Health education
- National Socialism and the Holocaust
- Intercultural education
- Jewish history, religion and culture
- Cultural education
- Media education
- Human rights education
- Sinti and Roma
- Road safety education
- Economic education and consumer education
In addition, the Länder set their own priorities.
In the "Recommendation on Vocational Orientation at schools" ('Empfehlung zur Beruflichen Orientierung an Schulen') from December 2017 the Länder advocate a curricularly anchored and individual vocational orientation in all lower and upper secondary education programmes in order to set the course for a viable career choice decision at an early stage and thus for a successful transition to training, study and occupation. For the Standing Conference and the Länder, a successful transition is of central importance for the educational and vocational biographies of young people. The activities for Vocational Orientation in the Länder are published in the "Documentation on Vocational Orientation in general education schools" ('Dokumentation zur Beruflichen Orientierung an allgemeinbildenden Schulen').
Education for sustainable development
Within the scope of the United Nations’ World Decade of “Education for Sustainable Development”, the Standing Conference and the German Commission for UNESCO (Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission – DUK) in June 2007 adopted a joint recommendation with regard to “Education for sustainable development at school” ('Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung in der Schule'). Also in June 2007 the Standing Conference and the Federal Government published a Cross-Curricular Framework for Global Development Education (Orientierungsrahmen für den Lernbereich Globale Entwicklung). The cross-curricular framework can be taken as a basis for the development of the curricula, teacher training and work in schools. The revised version of the cross-curricular framework from June 2015 provides concrete recommendations for the inclusion of sustainable and global development topics in the curricula of almost all subjects (natural sciences, foreign languages, mathematics, German, art, music, sports, politics, economics, religion, ethics, geography) and shows what pupils can learn in class if these topics are dealt with. The cross-curricular framework hereby aims at empowering the individual to play an independent and responsible role in shaping the individual and social challenges of the future. In March 2017, the Standing Conference published the report "On the situation and perspectives of education for sustainable development" (‘Zur Situation und zu Perspektiven der Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung‘, which shows the diverse contributions of the Länder to the implementation of the UNESCO World Programme of Action Education for Sustainable Development (2015-2019). The UNESCO programme Education for Sustainable Development: Realising the Global Sustainable Development Goals (ESD 2030) is the global framework programme for the implementation of ESD in the period from 2020 to 2030.The 7th Report of the Federal Government on Education for Sustainable Development, published in April 2021, records the development in the various departments of the Federal Government and in the Länder.
In October 2018, the Länder published the recommendation "Democracy as an objective, subject and practice of historical-political education and upbringing in schools" ('Demokratie als Ziel, Gegenstand und Praxis historisch-politischer Bildung und Erziehung in der Schule‘) in a fundamentally revised form. In the future, the Standing Conference will continue to promote democratic school and teaching development and encourage all participating institutions and people to assume responsibility and participate in shaping schools and civil society. In order to further strengthen the commitment of teachers, specialists and pupils to democratic development at school and in society, the Länder have agreed to support various measures. These include, among other things, expanding the anchoring of democracy education in the guidelines and curricula of all subjects and developing democratic bodies and forms of work in order to enable real participation by pupils. It is seen as the task of school and teaching development and of all subjects as well as extracurricular activities to strengthen pupils' commitment to the democratic rule of law and to resolutely oppose anti-democratic and inhumane attitudes and developments.
With its resolution on "Media Education in Schools" ('Medienbildung in der Schule') in March 2012 the Standing Conference reacted to the new technological developments and their impact on society and on every individual. The attainment of media competence through media education in schools includes the constructive and critical examination of the media world on the one hand, and the sensible use of the possibilities it offers for individual learning processes on the other. Young people should be put in a position where they can handle media autonomously, correctly, in a socially responsible, communicative and creative way, use these for their own education processes and to extend their scope of action, to find their way around in media and non-media environments and to take value-based decisions.
Human rights education
In October 2018, countries adopted a revised version of the "Recommendation on human rights education in schools“ ('Menschenrechtsbildung in der Schule‘). According to this recommendation, addressing and implementing human rights, and thus also children's rights, is part of sustainable and comprehensive education and school development. This is regarded as a task for all teachers and all professionals working in schools and as an important object in the cooperation between schools and the domestic environment. As a cross-cutting theme for the entire school life, human rights education is also the subject of interdisciplinary teaching. Although subjects such as history, politics/business/social studies/professional knowledge, languages, biology, religion and ethics/philosophy have a special potential for value creation oriented towards human rights, all other subjects are also called upon to make their contribution. The Länder have agreed on measures to implement and further develop these recommendations.
Education in the digital World
Against the background of the possibilities and challenges that the progressive digitisation of all fields of life entails, the Standing Conference resolved the “Education in the digital world” strategy ('Bildung in der digitalen Welt') in December 2016. This strategy formulates clear goals for digital education and specifies the content orientation. In addition to the pedagogically sound inclusion of digital teaching and learning materials, the Standing Conference formulates the goal of incorporating the competences for the digital world described in the strategy into the curricula of the individual subjects. The strategy also describes the opportunities offered by digital educational media for creating multimedia learning worlds. For teachers, this opens up new possibilities for the provision of learning media suitable for the target group in increasingly heterogeneous learning groups. Digital educational media can be individually adapted to the level of competence achieved and can be put together specifically on the basis of the learners' interests. For the school sector, teaching and learning in the digital world have to follow the primacy of the pedagogical – in other words the educational mission. This means in particular that a consideration of digital changes serves the objective of supplementing the current educational policy guidelines and of encouraging independence through changes in the content-related and formal organisation of learning processes and of allowing a better development of individual potentials within inclusive education through the use of digital learning environments too.
In December 2021, the Standing Conference published a further "Report of the Steering Group on the Implementation of the Strategy 'Education in the Digital World'" (‘Bericht der Lenkungsgruppe zur Umsetzung der Strategie "Bildung in der digitalen Welt“‘), which presents the measures taken by the Länder to implement the strategy, also against the background of the effects of the Corona pandemic on the education system.
Also in December 2021, the Standing Conference presented a supplement to the strategy "Education in the Digital World" in the form of the resolution "Teaching and Learning in the Digital World" ('Lehren und Lernen in der digitalen Welt‘). The supplement goes into greater depth on individual aspects of the strategy, reflects on the experi-ences from the pandemic phase, and highlights the importance of teaching quality and school development when using new technologies. The supplementary recommenda-tion focuses on the necessary digital school development processes and on the qualifi-cation of teachers in didactic and technical terms. The aim is to improve the quality of teaching.
At the end of 2022, the Standing Conference presented the second update of its recommendation on cultural education for children and young people. It was developed jointly by the Ministries of Education and Culture of the Länder. The update takes into account the diverse initiatives, cooperative approaches and innovative projects in the Länder, which have also received valuable support from foundations operating nationwide. In order to strengthen cultural education and achieve a broad impact on children and young people, the focus of the revised recommendation is on cultural education as a cross-sectional task, which is to be developed, strengthened and consolidated in schools and cultural institutions against the background of current social changes. The target group is children from primary school age up to school-leaving age. This requires a cooperative education, culture and youth policy that recognises the different places where children and young people learn for life, with their specific ways of working, and links them together and relates them to each other.
Building on its recommendations on "Health education in schools" ('Gesundheitserziehung in der Schule') of June 1979 and on "Addiction and drug prevention" ('Sucht und Drogenprävention') of July 1990, in November 2012 the Standing Conference adopted the “Recommendation on health promotion and prevention in schools”. The updated recommendations on health promotion and prevention are consistent with the advanced understanding of modern addiction and the interaction of behavioural and relationship facets, and take up the key aspects of school prevention work such as strengthening pupils’ life skills and the interprofessional networking of all stakeholders involved in health promotion and prevention. Emphasis is placed on local, regional, Land-specific and national cooperation as well as interprofessional networking of all those involved in health promotion and prevention.
The recommendation of the Standing Conference sets out a framework for the implementation of modern health promotion and prevention, and is accompanied by further resolutions relevant to implementation in schools.
Consumer education at schools aims to develop responsible consumer behaviour, by inform-ing about consumption-related content and developing competences with respect to a reflected and empowered consumer behaviour. In September 2013 the Standing Conference adopted a recommendation on “Consumer education at schools” ('Verbraucherbildung an Schulen') which focuses on the following topics:
- finances, market activity and consumer rights
- nutrition and health
- media and information
- sustainable consumption.
The content of the recommendation includes central targets and general principles of consumer education at schools, measures for educational administration and education policy, advice for implementation in school, support and advisory systems and cooperation with non-school partners.
In order to open up the opportunity for learners to form a health-promoting lifestyle, nutrition and consumer education is named as a common field of action in the recommendations of the Standing Conference on health promotion and prevention.
In a globalised world, intercultural competences are increasingly important as key qualifications for all children and young people. The Standing Conference therefore emphasised, in its December 2013 amended recommendation "Intercultural education at school" ('Interkulturelle Bildung und Erziehung in der Schule') the potentials of cultural diversity, and developed cornerstones for the work at schools which are rounded out by suggestions for educational administrations and for cooperation with non-school partners. Intercultural competence here is understood to not simply mean engaging with other languages and cultures but most of all the ability to consider one’s own perceptions of other people and to put them in context, and being aware of and reflecting on the social framework conditions in which these perceptions have developed.
In the "Treaty of Aachen" on Franco-German cooperation and integration of January 2019, Germany and France each agreed to develop a strategy to help increase the number of pupils and students learning the partner language. Cross-border encounters contribute to intercultural education. For more information on the strategies to promote the partner language in Germany and France, see the article on other dimensions of internationalisation in elementary and school education.
Culture of remembrance
In December 2014, the Standing Conference resolved “Recommendations on a culture of remembrance to form an object of historical-political education in schools” ('Empfehlungen zur Erinnerungskultur als Gegenstand historisch-politischer Bildung in der Schule'). The recommendations take up earlier resolutions on individual topics from the field of political education and have been developed with the involvement of relevant institutions and associations. The aim of a common “culture of remembrance” in schools is to enable young people to describe and evaluate historical developments and to understand that they have the ability to shape and change our world with their own actions. The recommendations are directed at teaching staff, at those with management responsibility in education, in teacher-training, further training of teachers or extracurricular education, training and learning venues.
Teaching of Jewish history, religion and culture in school
The "Joint declaration of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Standing Conference on the teaching of Jewish history, religion and culture in school” (‘Gemeinsame Erklärung des Zentralrats der Juden in Deutschland und der Kultusministerkonferenz zur Vermittlung jüdischer Geschichte, Religion und Kultur in der Schule’) of December 2016 aims to present Judaism in schools in its diversity and authenticity, and to provide students with a lively and differentiated picture of Judaism. According to the declaration, awareness and recognition of the diversity and complexity of Judaism are key steps toward gaining understanding and reducing prejudice. The manifold perspectives of historical and contemporary Judaism should be discussed in as many grades and subjects as possible. A special responsibility is attached to subjects and projects of historical and political education. The analyses of current political developments and past events and processes are inseparable in this regard.
In April 2018, the Standing Conference and the Central Council of Jews in Germany (Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland) presented an annotated collection of material on the teaching of Judaism in schools at a joint symposium to support teachers.
In June 2021, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, representatives of the Federal-Länder Commission of Anti-Semitism and the Standing Conference adopted a joint recommendation on dealing with anti-Semitism in schools. The recommendation states that knowledge about the history and present of Jewishness as well as about the origins, manifestations and consequences of hatred of Jews is necessary to prevent and combat anti-Semitism. The first step is to sensitise teachers in all subjects to recognise anti-Semitic incidents as such in order to be able to react accordingly. The inclusion of the perspective of those affected is of particular importance. In this way, pupils should be enabled to recognise anti-Semitism in all its forms and to take a stand against it.
Sinti and Roma
In December 2022, the Standing Conference, the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma (Zentralrat Deutscher Sinti und Roma) and the Alliance for Solidarity with the Sinti and Roma of Europe adopted a "Joint Declaration of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma and the Alliance for Solidarity with the Sinti and Roma of Europe on Teaching the History and Present of Sinti and Roma in Schools" (‘Gemeinsame Erklärung der Kultusministerkonferenz mit dem Zentralrat Deutscher Sinti und Roma und dem Bündnis für Solidarität mit den Sinti und Roma Europas zur Vermittlung der Geschichte und Gegenwart von Sinti und Roma in der Schule‘).
The declaration is intended to encourage schools to intensify their efforts to deal with the history and present of the Sinti and Roma in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. In particular, the aim is to raise awareness of the issue of antiziganism. There are approaches to the topic in subjects such as historical-political education as well as in religion and ethics classes, but also in language, literature and art subjects. This should be taken into account in curricular extensions and instructions as well as in the development of handouts. Elements of the topic can also be taken up in primary school.
In some countries, educational mediation and educational counselling support the children of the German Sinti and Roma minority at school in increasing their educational opportunities. Qualified staff who belong to the minority accompany the children during school lessons and provide support in case of language difficulties. At the same time, the counsellors in the schools provide information about the culture of the Sinti and Roma, mediate in communication problems and try to convince the children's parents of the value of a good education and regular school attendance. They also accompany the pupils on excursions and school trips.
The guidelines adopted by the Standing Conference and the Conference of Ministers for Gender Equality and Women's Affairs of the Länder (Konferenz der Gleichstellungs- und Frauenministerinnen und -minister, -senatorinnen und -senatoren der Länder – GMFK) in October 2016 on securing equal opportunities through gender-sensitive school education and upbringing (‘Leitlinien zur Sicherung der Chancengleichheit durch geschlechtersensible schulische Bildung und Erziehung’) give concrete form to the mandate of Article 3 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) for the effective enforcement of equal rights for women and men and the elimination of gender-related disadvantages in the school sector. Among other things, curricula and textbooks are increasingly raising awareness of the need to break down restrictive gender role models and behavioural attributions with the aim of personality development according to individual abilities and inclinations.
Formal language competencies
In December 2019, the Standing Conference adopted the recommendation "Strengthening formal language competencies in the German language" ('Bildungssprachliche Kompetenzen in der deutschen Sprache stärken'). Formal language (Bildungssprache) differs from so-called colloquial or everyday language by a high degree of conceptual writtenness and is characterized by a specific inventory of lexical, morphosyntactic and textual means. It finds expression in oral and written language use and encompasses the competence areas of read-ing, writing (including spelling), listening and speaking. These educational language competences are individually available. They are developed and strengthened from the beginning through language education and language support. German lessons play a central role in the development of language skills. The joint responsibility of all subjects, learning areas and learning fields results from the respective tasks and goals of subject-related learning.
The recommendation contains common principles of language education and language support for school work across the Länder. It identifies measures of education policy and education administration as well as their implementation in school and emphasizes the contribution of support systems and extracurricular partners.
Language education and language support are anchored in the educational standards of the Standing Conference as well as in the corresponding reference frameworks for school quality and the education plans and curricula of the Länder. At the same time, a wide variety of language education and language support programs are already established in practice in all of the states. The Standing Conference’s ten basic principles for strengthening formal language competencies in German serve as an orientation for the work and assessment of the measures taken by the Länder.
Teaching Methods and Materials
Teaching in schools in Germany is governed by regulations of various kinds laid down by the Länder. The prescribed curricula include guidelines on the treatment of the various topics of instruction, distribution of materials and various didactic approaches. Of increasing importance are interdisciplinary coordination of material taught and teaching objectives as well as interdisciplinary activities in such areas as health education, vocational orientation, computer literacy, environmental education and the treatment of European topics.
In almost all Länder, measures for the promotion of a professional approach to the increasing heterogeneity of learning groups in terms of pre-conditions and performance have been brought on the way. Such measures include, without limitation:
- the internal differentiation of learning groups (Binnendifferenzierung)
- self-regulated learning
- pupil-oriented instruction
The measures aim at enhancing individual promotion on all performance levels, in particular of pupils with migrant backgrounds or non-German language of origin or from difficult social backgrounds but also of particularly gifted pupils. In the further development of in-service training for teachers, the approach to heterogeneous learning groups also plays an important part.
Central importance is attached to the use and thematisation of digital media as a subject of teaching and learning and, in connection with the equipment of schools, also as a digital environment for teaching. In March 2019, as part of the DigitalPact School 2019–2024 (DigitalPakt Schule 2019–2024), the Federal Government and the Länder agreed, among other things, to strengthen the digital infrastructure of schools across the board.The latest information about the use of new media can be found on the Education Servers provided by the Länder Ministries and is also available on the information portal maintained centrally by the federal and Länder authorities, the German Education Server.