Preprimary & Primary Education
Although preprimary education is not part of the Austrian compulsory education system, it plays an important role in two respects. First, the number of nursery schools and accredited day care facilities continues to increase as working parents seek supervised, structured, and high-quality care for children who are not old enough yet to enter primary school. Second, the demand for appropriately qualified staff in preprimary education has created additional educational and career-training opportunities for students. Of the 27,389 staff members employed during the 1999-2000 school year in 5,321 preprimary facilities, more than one-half (13,794) had some form of appropriate certification. The specific needs of preprimary education have also given an impulse to secondary and postsecondary vocational and professional schools to devise specifically targeted curriculum options and certification modes.
Compulsory education begins with enrollment in a primary school on September 1 of the year following a child's sixth birthday. Exceptions may be made for early enrollment in the case of children who are born between September 1 and December 31, provided that they possess the requisite physical and intellectual maturity to participate successfully in instruction.
Similarly, enrollment may be deferred in the case of students who are deemed not to be ready yet for regular instruction. Such children may receive instruction in a preschool group (Vorschulgruppe) or a preschool year (Vorschule), both located in primary schools, to acclimate them to regular classroom instruction and, thus, avoid potential failure in early schooling. Preschooling is also available to early-admission students who are not, in fact, ready yet for regular classroom instruction. Performance is not assessed or graded.
The principal educational objective of Austrian primary education is to provide all children with a basic and well-balanced general education that promotes social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development. Primary schooling is divided into two essential levels. The first two years are taken together as a unit. Students who have attended the first year may move to the second year without regard to assessment. In addition to required subjects, students may also pursue special interests in nongraded classes, such as singing in a school choir.
Beginning in the third year, or Elementary Level II, compulsory but non-graded foreign-language study begins. With the exception of English and French, the choice of languages clearly reflects Austria's ethnic diversity and geographic context, since they include Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, Italian, Slovak, and Slovenian.
Given sufficient demand, remedial classes may be offered to add an extra period of instruction per week in compulsory subjects like language and mathematics. In addition, tutors may be employed to assist special-needs students and students whose native language is not German. With the exception of religious education, classes are taught by classroom teachers.
Following completion of the last, or fourth, year of primary school, there is an assessment of the student's aptitude for one of several types of secondary schools. This preliminary "tracking" has important implications for the student's future educational and career options.
The premise of a comprehensive and uniform education in the primary school calls by law for the integration of normal and special-needs students. Special-needs schools are available to students whose parents or guardians choose such instruction instead of conventional schooling, but the emphasis is clearly on an integrative approach to education wherever feasible. The integration of normal and special-education schools has been aided by the establishment of Special Education Centers, which assists in developing and implementing integrative measures by working in cooperation with experts, regional compulsory schools, other special education centers, the district education board, the special education administrator, and community agencies. In addition to integrated classes, special tutors supplement normal classroom instruction within the context of the student's specific needs.
In certain cases students are mentally or physically disadvantaged to the point where they are unable to participate in normal classroom instruction. In other cases parents or guardians prefer to have disadvantaged children taught in special schools. For such students the special school provides an alternative to the integrative model. The curriculum of the special school varies to some degree from the normal primary school, since it includes grades that already fall into the range of normal secondary schools. The first level comprises grades 1 to 3, the second level grades 4 and 5, and the secondary level comprises grades 6 to 8. Special-needs schools are available for a variety of disabilities, including physically handicapped, speech impaired, hearing impaired, visually impaired, and emotionally disturbed children.
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