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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Teaching and learning in general upper secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.5Teaching and learning in general upper secondary education

Last update: 27 March 2024

Curriculum, Subjects, Number of Hours

In accordance with the resolution of the Standing Conference “Agreement on the structure of the gymnasiale Oberstufe in the upper secondary level” (‘Vereinbarung über die Gestaltung der gymnasialen Oberstufe in der Sekundarstufe II’), teaching in the gymnasiale Oberstufe (upper level of the Gymnasium) imparts an in-depth general education, general study skills and scientific education. Of particular importance are in-depth knowledge, skills and abilities in the basic subjects German, foreign language and mathematics.

In addition, teaching in the arts, social sciences, natural sciences and technology, sport and religious education (or a substitute subject) makes a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the gymnasiale Oberstufe.

Teaching in the upper secondary school is subject-related, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary. It provides an exemplary introduction to scientific questions, categories and methods and conveys an education that enables students to develop and strengthen their personality, to shape their own lives in a socially responsible manner and to participate in a democratic society.

In addition, lessons in the upper secondary school are about mastering basic subject knowledge as a prerequisite for developing connections between areas of knowledge, working methods for the systematic acquisition, structuring and use of information and materials, learning strategies that support independence and personal responsibility as well as teamwork and communication skills. A further task of teaching in all subjects is to impart the skills required to participate actively, reflectively and maturely in a society shaped by digitalisation.

Teaching in the upper secondary school includes appropriate information about courses of study, occupational fields and the structures and requirements of studying and the professional and working world.

In the gymnasiale Oberstufe, as a rule, classes take up at least 30 periods a week. Whilst the compulsory courses are designed to ensure that all the pupils receive a common general education, electives, in conjunction with the compulsory curriculum, are intended to enable pupils to develop an area of specialisation. In the gymnasiale Oberstufe of the eight-year Gymnasium, the number of weekly periods is generally increased by two to four.

Building on the foundations laid at lower secondary level, the classes in the qualification phase are usually structured in relation to half-year terms. Whilst still required to take certain subjects or subject combinations during the qualification phase, they now have scope for individual specialisation.

Related subjects are grouped together under main areas. The three main areas with examples of subjects they include are listed below:

  • languages, literature and the arts
    (e.g. German, foreign languages, fine art, music)
  • social sciences
    (e.g. history, geography, philosophy, social studies/politics, economics)
  • mathematics, natural sciences and technology
    (e.g. mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, information technology)

Each of the three areas has to be represented right up to the gymnasiale Oberstufe and in the Abitur examination. Religion in line with the provisions of the Land and sport are also compulsory. German, a foreign language, mathematics and physical education as well as, as a rule, history and one of the natural sciences must be taken throughout the qualification phase of the upper level of the Gymnasium and results must be indicated and taken into account in the certificate of the Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife in accordance with the determinations of the Standing Conference.

The subjects at the gymnasiale Oberstufe are taught at different levels of academic standards in accordance with the educational standards for the Allgemeine Hochschulreife or the Uniform Examination Standards in the Abitur Examination. They are divided in courses at a basic level of academic standards and courses at an increased level of academic standards. The courses at a basic level of academic standards teach the propaedeutics of scientific work, and the courses at an increased level of academic standards provide in-depth teaching of the propaedeutics of scientific work by way of specific examples.

Pupils choose or three subjects at an increased level of academic standards. The courses at a bsic level of academic standards in the subjects german, mathematics and foreign language comprise three or four weekly periods, three weekly periods in the natural science subjects biology, chemistry and physics, two or three weekly periods in all other subjects. The subjects at an increased level of academic standards are taught for at least four hours, and in the case of two subjects at an increased level of academic standards, for at least five hours. At least one of the subjects German, mathematics, a foreign language or a natural science must be taken at an increased level of academic standards.

Generally, the pupils are required to take two foreign language courses during the introductory phase. Pupils who have not or not continuously been taught a second foreign language before entering the gymnasiale Oberstufe are required to take a second foreign language course throughout the gymnasiale Oberstufe.

The four or five subjects of the Abitur examination must include:

  • at least two subjects at an increased level of academic standards
  • two of the following three subjects: German, foreign language or mathematics
  • at least one subject from every main area of compulsory subjects (the Länder may decide at their own discretion whether or not religion can represent the social sciences area)

Foreign language lessons in the upper secondary level build on the competences acquired in lower secondary level. The focuses of teaching and learning are in-depth intercultural understanding, written language in terms of competences involving different text types, corresponding oral discourse abilities and language awareness. These competences are based on the educational standards for the Allgemeine Hochschulreife or the Uniform Examination Standards in the Abitur Examination (Einheitliche Prüfungsanforderungen in der Abiturprüfung – EPA) and aim to achieve, ath the end of the uper level of the Gymnasium, at least reference level B2 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) for languages that have been studied since lower secondary level, and reference level B1, in parts also B2, for new foreign languages. Languages lessons attended throughout the upper secondary level may be replaced 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 as well as the report "Concepts for bilingual teaching ('Konzepte für den bilingualen Unterricht') of October 2013.

The comments in the section on teaching and learning at lower secondary level apply to cross-curricular topics addressed in upper secondary education.

Teaching Methods and Materials

Based on the curricula an core curricula, which also contain some guidance on teaching methods, the teachers take responsibility for teaching in their classes, taking the background and aptitude of each pupil into consideration. Use is made of digital media (multimedia, electronic dictionaries, graphing calculators) and telecommunications (Internet etc.) in the classroom both as teaching aids and as the subject of teaching and learning. By utilising new resources and methods and by strengthening the individualist character of teaching, the aim is to promote creativity and independent learning skills.