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Germany

German Minister: People Must Invest in Their Own Education

Just days after Germany's controversial education summit, the country's education minister tells DW-TV in an exclusive interview that people can't just rely on the state to pay for their university.

A person taking euro bank notes out of a wallet

Individuals should be willing to contribute to their own education, Schavan says

DW-TV: Ms. Schavan, plenty of planning went into the recent high-profile education summit. But the meeting only lasted two hours -- then it broke up in disarray. Was it worth it?

Annette Schavan

Schavan has been German education minister since 2005

Annette Schavan: We did not break up in disarray. The federal government and the states, all political parties included, reached an unprecedented level of agreement. That included content and goals for the educational system, and we also agreed to think about ways of improving the financial side of the equation. The consensus is good for the educational system and it's good for schools. In two years time, we'll issue our first progress report.

But there has been criticism from the state premiers. Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit pointed out that Chancellor Merkel made only provisional financial commitments. Why hold back if education is so vitally important?

I thought Mr. Wowereit's comments were surprising, because we agreed to devote 10 percent of GDP for education and research. Everyone knows from the debate about research funding, that the 3 percent set by the European Lisbon Strategy, was agreed as a goal to mobilize funds. If Mr. Wowereit was thinking the federal government would be the only source of funding, then, of course he was mistaken. These are medium-term objectives we're talking about, because the federal government has already earmarked several billion euros for additional spending on education in 2009 and 2010.

When we consider that the summit agreed to halve the number of people who break off their studies before their school-leaving examinations - well, these goals aren't new. What can you achieve now that's not been achieved before?

Up till now it hadn't been agreed. This is the first time the government and the states have agreed, and there's not just one primary goal, there's consensus on concrete measures. As was previously the case -- incidentally with federal funding -- we want to encourage the provision of better incentives for those who leave school with no qualifications -- or weak ones. Also with federal funding, we'll be ensuring these people get a better start in further training. So this is a very good example where for the first time a clear aim has been set and concrete objectives agreed.

Scientists maintain that human brain development is fastest between the ages of three and six. But critics say exactly this age group is just not being challenged. In your paper -- the conclusion of the summit -- you propose a closer interlocking of pre-school education with scholastic education. Does that mean that kindergarten teachers will need a university degree?

A kindergarten teacher with children sitting around a table

Well-qualified educators are needed in kindergartens

We have further developed the student loan system to promote ongoing training of kindergarten teachers. That's an important point. Our second point is to praise as good practice the presence of other qualified staff alongside the usual kindergarten teachers, who, can, for example, take on management tasks after completing appropriate higher education courses. The two will be complementary, and it would certainly be wrong to hinder the professional chances of those who have a good school leaving certificate. The mixture will ensure that kindergartens really can be education centers of excellence.

The three-tier school system that we have in Germany has long been criticized -- above all, the vocational schools, and not just by international assessments. Can we reform it, or do we have to keep the school system as it is at present and why?

I'm in favor of a diverse school system. Many countries no longer have a three-stream system -- some eastern German states have a two-stage system. It's worst where we have four fragmented different systems side by side. The decision to attend any one school should not determine the school leaving certificate. And as far as elementary schools are concerned, I'm not solving a problem when I simply close one of them. The central question under discussion is this "Are children being educated enough for their subsequent vocational needs." It's about giving young people the chances, and we owe them that. But their opportunities won't improve if I simply abolish one school after another.

It's often claimed that we should provide children from socially weak or immigrant families with extra support, at all-day schools and not just in the mornings. In view of the government's efforts towards integration, don't we urgently need to introduce schooling for the whole day?

Children eating a school lunch

Many schools lack cafeterias and can't keep their students all day

We do need more day-long schools. That's why the central government is devoting four billion euros to infrastructure improvements -- by that I mean dining facilities, class rooms, extra buildings. Every fourth school in Germany is being extended so that these schools can improve further. Children do need more time in school, especially if they receive little support when they're away from school. The educational system of the future will feature more all-day schools.

Right now, education and schools are the responsibility of the federal states. They're probably none too keen on you as education minister or even the chancellor stealing their thunder. In view of the problems we have in the education and school sectors, is it really appropriate to have disagreements over who does what?

The government has not invading anyone's stomping ground -- education in Germany is a wonderful and varied park which we all have to live in. It's silly to imply that anyone in national politics, either in the Bundestag or in the government, shouldn't be interested in education just because it's in the hands of the federal states. That applies to vocational training, further education and much that has to do with children and the world they live in. We've said from the very beginning that we'll concentrate on what we can achieve together. The federal states will keep their responsibilities. There's no debate over competencies, things should continue as they've been agreed.

The Social Democrats demand free education, above all no tuition fees at universities and colleges. A study from your own ministry states found that a shocking number of school leavers are deterred by fees. Even so, you're still in favor of tuition fees. Why?

Two points are important here. Firstly: Anyone saying that education is important and is worth investing in can't just expect that from the state. That also applies to both companies and individuals. Secondly, no-one should be deterred from studying because their parents don't earn enough -- that's the central issue. If someone doesn't feel financially capable of paying fees -- which amounts about 80 euros a month -- well, you can say it's a lot or not much -- depending on how much you can afford. That's why it's important that we've increased student support grants by 10 percent, and income allowances by 8 percent. It's also important that we're giving considerably more money to the eleven organizations that promote young talent by awarding scholarships. And it's also important for the businesses that are always saying we need more qualified people, to establish scholarships for them. Even now, the federal states are looking at how to extend the current scholarships.

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