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Education For Members

Four things foreigners in Austria need to know about the education system

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
Four things foreigners in Austria need to know about the education system
A school class. Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP

Every country has its own structure for an education system, and it might be one of the most daunting things for immigrants (especially those with children) to navigate. Here are the basics of Austria's education system.

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The good news is that Austria has a very good public school system, and immigrant parents can enrol their children in Austrian schools for free - all the way up to the university level. 

The bad news is that the school system in Austria can be very complicated to understand, especially if you haven't grown up with it and are just learning the ropes.

So, here are five things people need to know to better understand Austria's school system.

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School is mandatory

Education in Austria is mandatory for at least nine years, from the age of six to around 15, which comprehends the primary level (Volksschule) and secondary education (MH or AHS). However, parents can choose other options, such as private education, including international schools and even homeschooling. 

Private schools or homeschooling must be “at least equivalent” to the education a person receives at state schools, according to Austrian law.

Parents who want to homeschool their kids must inform the regional school board (Bezirksschulrat) at the start of each year. Parents do not need special qualifications to homeschool their kids, but standards are maintained by a requirement for each child to pass annual state exams - the same exams sat by children attending schools. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is homeschooling legal in Austria?

There are many choices to be made

The main thing that makes it complicated to understand the school system is that there are many choices and different paths that a person can take, starting as early as age six, when they might be required to stay for a year in pre-school (depending on results of a "school readiness screening" which takes into account German skills among other criteria).

From ages 10-11, the child moves from primary level to secondary and will then choose between more vocational training (Mittelschule, or MS) or academic (Allgemeinbildende höhere Schule), which divide further into several types of training or study. Here is an overview of the mandatory schooling:

The mandatory schools years in Austria has many possibilities (source: Bildungssystem.at)

You can check the complete image HERE.

The mandatory subjects starting from the Mittelschule secondary level are German, Mathematics and English (as the modern o foreign language). There are other compulsory subjects, but the focus is decided by the individual school - so more choices are to be made. From the age of 10, children, parents and teachers evaluate which focus areas would be best for the child: linguistic-humanistic-arts, science-mathematics, economic-life studies, or music-creative.

After the student completes the compulsory secondary school (MS), they can attend a pre-vocational school or further academic secondary school, school of intermediate vocational education, or college of higher vocation education, depending on their educational targets.

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However, if the child went to Allgemeinbildende höhere Schule (AHS), the focus will be more on in-depth general education while also readying them for university entrance (after they pass the Matura exam).

To enter AHS, the child needs to have completed primary school with "very good" or "good" grades in German, reading, writing and mathematics or have a school council evaluation that despite "satisfactory" grades, the pupil will meet the requirements of AHS, or sit an entrance exam.

Also in the AHS, children can attend different types of schools, focusing on humanities, natural sciences and math, or economics and life skills.

READ ALSO: What is Austria’s Matura exam and why do some want it abolished?

Compulsory school ends with the final year of MS or AHS. From them, students may move on to several vocational schools or several types of universities to pursue a higher education degree.

Anyone who has passed the Matura, the Vocational Reifeprüfung or a Higher Education Entrance Exam or who has obtained the so-called "general university entrance qualification" through recognition of relevant foreign qualification can also study for a university degree. 

This means that even if your child recently moved to Austria or went to Mittelschule instead of AHS, there are still paths to university if they wish to.

Photo by BBC Creative on Unsplash

What about education before schooling?

In Austria, there are several types of elementary educational institutions. The most well-known are kindergartens. Public kindergartens are seen more as childcare than schooling, and offers will depend on each province. By federal law, part-time daycare is free for children from the age of five (until they reach the school age of six) throughout Austria.

In Vienna and Burgenland, though, there is all-day care free of charge for children up to age six.

READ ALSO: Which Austrian states offer free public kindergartens?

Besides kindergartens, children can go to crèches or toddler groups (up to the age of three) or frequent other mixed-age institutions, such as children's homes or groups. These models may have different names in various Austrian provinces.

Additionally, children can go to a Tagesmutter, which provides education and care on private premises for very small groups.

Attendance at such institutions is compulsory for all children who turn five before August 31st of any given year - they need to go to an elementary institution for at least four days a week for a total of 20 hours. Even though there are certain bilingual kindergartens in Austria, it's during compulsory school that children will get support for their language skills in German from the age of four.

Those skills will later be verified through a nationally standardised language proficiency assessment, so you can learn your child's strengths and areas that need improvement ahead of compulsory education.

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German skills

Austria has some primary level schools (Volksschule) and further that offer bilingual education, usually with classes in English and German. However, German skills are necessary for children to attend any public school. 

These skills are assessed when children are admitted to school using a test known as MIKA-D. Kids will receive German support classes with a separate curriculum depending on the results. 

They will attend only some classes (such as sports) with the other kids. Or they might participate in regular classes and only receive further German language support as needed.

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