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It's not. If you finish Realschule you can still get an education at a company for a skilled job and afterwards go get your Abitur (to be able to go to college) at an evening school or something.

The early separation isn't the greatest thing (although there have also been people switching, or a friend of mine who changed from Gymnasium to Realschule and after 10th grade when Realschule finished he continued on the Gym and actually got his Abitur), but I actually think it helps because different students can learn at different levels and speeds.

Your criticism stands, though, and more recent attempts to reform the school system have introduced "Gesamtschulen", where all students learn together in one school, but pick different courses at different levels. The results are mixed (not as easy as black+white), but AFAIK not that bad.

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