Gymnasium (school)

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Goethe-Gymnasium in Gera[1] since 1861

A gymnasium (pronounced with a [ɡ] in several languages) is a type of school with a strong emphasis on academic learning, and providing advanced secondary education in some parts of Europe (especially Germany) and the CIS. It is comparable to British grammar schools, sixth form colleges and U.S. preparatory high schools. In its current meaning, it usually refers to secondary schools focused on preparing students to enter a university for advanced academic study.


Friedrich-Wilhelms-Gymnasium zu Neu-Ruppin (seal)

In the German-speaking, the Central-European, the Nordic, the Benelux (Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg) and the Baltic countries, this meaning for "gymnasium", that is a secondary school preparing the student for higher education at a university, has been the same at least since the Protestant reformation in the 16th century. The term was derived from the classical Greek word “gymnasium”, which was originally applied to an exercising ground (sports) in ancient Athens. Here teachers gathered and gave instruction between the hours devoted to physical exercises, and thus the term became associated with and came to mean an institution of learning. This use of the term did not prevail among the Romans, but was revived during the Renaissance in Italy, and from there passed into the Holy Roman Empire during the 15th century.


In 1538, German educator and Protestant reformer Johannes Sturm (1507–1589) founded at Straßburg (Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) the school which became the model of the modern German gymnasium.


In 1812, a Prussian regulation ordered that all schools which had the right to send their students to the university should bear the name of gymnasia. By the 20th century, this practice was followed in almost all German states, in Austria and in Russia.


In the modern-day Federal Republic of Germany, depending on the Bundesland (federal state) and the typ of Gymnasium, the students normally visit the school 8 (Gy8) or 9 (Gy9 in Bavaria, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia as of 2022) years starting at 5th (at age 10/11) or 7th (Gy6 at age 12/13 in the states Berlin, Brandenburg, and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern as of 2022), Abitur (qualification granted at the end of secondary education) in 12th or 13th grade.


During the final examinations (Abiturprüfungen), students are tested in four or five subjects (at least one of which is oral). Procedures vary by state.

Course Type of examination
1st advanced course Written
2nd advanced course Written
Basic course or 3rd advanced course Written
Basic course Oral
Basic course Oral, presentation or BLL (literally "exceptional learning achievement", a 20-page paper or success in a recognized competition)

Although some tested subjects are chosen by the student, three areas must be covered:

Countries with gymnasium schools

  • Albania Gjimnaz 3 Years, after 9 years of primary (4) and "medium" (5) education, ends with Matura Shtetërore at the age of 18.
  • Argentina: Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires, 6 years; Rafael Hernández National College of La Plata, 5 years (formerly 6 years), after 7 years of primary school; and Gymnasium Universidad Nacional de Tucumán 61 years.
  • Austria 8 years, after 4 years of primary school, or 4 years, after primary school and 4 years of Hauptschule, ends with Matura at the age of 18.
  • Belarus
  • Brazil Humboldt Schule of São Paulo is a German School in São Paulo. There are more Gymnasiums in the country and some of them receive recurses from German Government.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (4 years, starting at age 14/15 after 9 years in elementary school, ends with Matura)
  • Bulgaria 5 years, after 7 years of primary school. Currently graduation after passing at least two Matriculation Examinations.
  • Canada Generally called a private school.
  • Colombia Gimnasio Campestre (all-male, traditional and conservative Pre-K to 11th grade private school located in Bogotá, Colombia).
  • Croatia (4 years, starting at age 14/15 after 8 years in elementary school, five different educational tracks: opća gimnazija (general education), klasična gimnazija (focused on Latin and Ancient Greek), jezična gimnazija (focused on modern languages), prirodoslovna gimnazija (biology, chemistry, physics) and prirodoslovno-matematička gimnazija (mathematics, physics and computer science), ends with Matura). Students of all tracks have compulsory classes in Latin and English as well as in at least one additional foreign language (most commonly German, Italian, Spanish and French).
  • Cyprus 3 years, starting at age 12 and following 6 years of Elementary School. Compulsory for all students. Followed by the non-mandatory Lyceum (ages 15–18) for students with academic aspirations or TEL for students who prefer vocational training.
  • Czech Republic (4 years starting at age 15/16; 6 years starting at age 13/14(not usual); 8 years starting at age 11/12; all of them end with a Maturita)
  • Denmark 3 years (4 years for athletes who are part of the Team Danmark elite sports program, or musicians who have chosen MGK ("Musical Elementary Course")), usually starting after 10 or 11 years of primary school). This is more like a prep school or the first years of college than high school. Everyone is eligible to go to a US high school, but you have to be deemed competent to get into a gymnasium. (For more information, see Gymnasium (Denmark).) Gymnasium is also available in an intensive 2 year program leading to the Højere Forberedelseseksamen ("Higher Preparatory Exam").
  • Estonia (3 years, after 9 years of primary school)
  • Faroe Islands 3 years, usually starting after 9 or 10 years of primary school. The system is similar to the Danish system. A gymnasium level education is also available in an intensive 2 year programme leading to Hægri fyrireikingarpróvtøka ("Higher Preparatory Exam").
  • Finland: lukio (educational language is Finnish) or gymnasium (educational language is Swedish) takes 2–5 years (most students spend 3 years), after 9 years of primary school (peruskoulu in Finnish, grundskola in Swedish); lukio starts usually in the autumn of the year when the student turns 16 and ends with abitur after passing the matriculation examination; lukio is not compulsory and its entrance is competitive.
  • In France: , called a lycée.(3 years, after 4 years of primary school and 4 years of secondary school, age 15/18).The last year (terminale), you pass the baccalauréat to enter université (also called faculté)
  • Greece 3 years, starting at age 12 after 6 years of Elementary School. Compulsory for all children, it is followed by the non-mandatory Lyceum (ages 15–18) for students with academic aspirations, or the Technical Vocational Educational School (TEL) for students who prefer vocational training.
  • Hungary (4/6/8 years, starting after 8/6 /4 years of primary school, ends with Matura), see Education in Hungary
  • Iceland (usually 4 years, starting at age 15/16 after 10 years of elementary school, though 3 years can also be chosen. If chosen, students at Menntaskólinn Hraðbraut finish the school in 2 years.)
  • Israel, five schools termed "gymnasium" located in Tel Aviv, Rishon LeZion, Jerusalem and Haifa.
  • Italy, ginnasio is the name of the two first years of Liceo Classico
  • Kosovo (3 years, after 9 years of primary school)
  • Kyrgyzstan (7 years, after 5 years of primary school)
  • Latvia (3 years, after 9 years of primary school)
  • Liechtenstein (ends with Matura)
  • Lithuania (4 years, after 4 years of primary school and 4 years of secondary school)
  • Luxembourg (usually 7 years, starting at age 12-13 after 6 years of primary school)
  • Republic of Macedonia (4 years, starting at age 14 after 8 years in elementary school, ends with Matura)
  • Montenegro (4 years, starting at age 14/15 after 8 years in elementary school, 3 years for those who went in the elementary for 9 years, ends with Matura)
  • Netherlands (6 years, starting at age 11-13, after 8 years of primary school. Prepares for admission to University. Gymnasia in the Netherlands have compulsory classes in Ancient Greek and Latin; the same high level secondary school without the classical languages is called "VWO" (Atheneum))
  • Norway – the traditional but now discontinued gymnasium led to the completion of examen artium. This has now been succeeded by a 2, 3, or 4 year program ("videregående skole"), depending on course path taken, starting at the age of 15/16, culminating with an exam that qualifies for university matriculation ("studiekompetanse")
  • Polandgimnazjum is the name of Polish compulsory middle school lasting 3 years, starting at the age of 12/13, and following 6 years of primary school. Gimnazjum ends with a standardized test. Further education is encouraged, but optional and consists of either 3 years liceum, 4 years technikum, or 2 to 3 years vocational school (which may be followed by a supplementary liceum or technikum).
  • Romania – 4 years, starting at age 10 ends with Diploma de Capacitate at the age of 14. Primary education lasts for four years. Secondary education consists in: 1) lower secondary school education organized in Gymnasium for grades 5 to 8 and lower cycle of Highschool or Arts and trades schools (vocational) for grades 9 and 10. 2) upper secondary school education organized in Ciclul superior al liceului for grades 11, 12 and 13 followed, if necessary, by an additional high school year for those who want to move from vocational training (grade 10) to upper secondary school education. High school education (lower cycle of high school and upper secondary school education) offers three different orientations (academic, technological, specialization).
  • Russia
    • Imperial Russia: since 1726, 8 years since 1871. Women gymnasiums since 1862; 7 years + optional 8th for specialisation in pedagogy. Progymnasiums: equivalent to 4 first years of gymnasium.
    • Russian Federation: 6 or 7 years, after primary school. Nowadays Russian Gymnasiums specialize in a certain subject (or several subjects), especially in the humanities (example)
  • Serbia (4 years, starting at age 14/15 after 8 years in elementary/primary school. There are 3 types of gymnasiums: most commonly 1)general gymnasium (општа гимназија) which offers broad education in either 2) natural (природно-математички смер) or 3) social studies (друштвени смер), available all over Serbia, and a few specialised ones, i.e. science and mathematics (природно-математичка гимназија) -- only one in all of Serbia, in Belgrade; sports (спортска гиманзија) -- just two in Serbia; and language gymnasiums (филолошка гимназија) -- a total of four in Serbia. In the end, everyone has a final exam – Matura. A technical high school (including business/admin. assistant, i.e. економска школа), or a musical high school is a prerequisite for enrollment into a university. English and another foreign language (in addition to the mother tongue, and in case of minorities also Serbian, of course) are compulsory throughout.
  • Slovakia (4 years starting at age 15 after completing 9 years of elementary school (more common); 8 years starting at age 11 after completing 5 years of elementary school; both end with Maturita)
  • Slovenia (4 years, starting at age 14/15, ends with Matura).
  • South Africa (Paul Roos Gymnasium is a well known Gymnasium for boys in the town called Stellenbosch. The school is a boarding school, based on the classic British boarding schools, however it was more influenced by the Protestant faith, hence the German Gymnasium. Foreign languages such as German, French, Mandarin and Latin are studied, Afrikaans and English are compulsory. School in South Africa: 5 years, starting at age 13/14, at a secondary institution, after 7 years of primary school, ends with Matric).
  • Sweden Upper secondary school in Sweden lasts for three years (formerly four years on some programmes). "Gymnasium" is the word used to describe this stage of the education system in Sweden. The National Agency of Education has decided that gymnasium is equivalent to the international upper secondary school. The gymnasium is optional and follows after nine years in elementary school. However, the Swedish term "högskola" (translated to "high school") may cause some confusion. It is in Swedish used almost synonymously to "university", with the only difference being that universities have the right to issue doctoral examinations. A högskola is often located in cities with lower population.
  • Switzerland (usually 3–4 years after 9 years of compulsory schooling (primary and secondary I); in some cantons it is also possible to attend a so-called "Langzeitgymnasium" which lasts 6 years, following a six-year primary schooling; the Gymnasium ends with Matura at the age of 18/19).
  • Ukraine (8 years, starting after 4 years of primary school).
  • United Kingdom: historically, grammar schools have been the English equivalent of the gymnasium, selecting pupils on the basis of academic ability and educating them with the assumption that they would go on to study at a university; such schools were largely phased out under the Wilson and Heath governments, with less than 5% of pupils now attending grammar schools, and the UK now has no widespread equivalent of the gymnasium. The exception is Northern Ireland and parts of England including the counties of Buckinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Kent which retained the system. Many private, fee-paying independent schools, including all those commonly referred to as "public" schools, seek to fulfil a similar role to the state grammar school if the scholar has the ability (and thus to the gymnasium in other countries).
  • United States


  1. Gera, the third-largest city in the German state of Thuringia (after Erfurt, the Thuringian capital, and Jena), lies in east Thuringia on the river Weiße Elster, approximately 60 kilometres to the south of the city of Leipzig and 80 kilometres to the east of Erfurt. Gera had a population of approximately 99,000.