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Germany

Germany Assesses Its Education Reform

On Thursday, ministers will present their own findings into the state of Germany's education system. It is hoped that the report will show improvements in problem areas identified by consecutive damning studies.

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Has Germany learnt its lessons from the PISA studies?

It was one of the hardest lessons German education had to face. Last year, the educational system that produced thinkers like Albert Einstein and Max Planck suffered another humiliation in the worldwide school comparison studies conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) was designed to test how well individual countries were able to educate their primary and high school students at a basic level in reading, mathematics and natural sciences. In keeping with the previous year, Germany failed miserably.

Germany not only came far behind several Asian and other European countries in the PISA rankings; it fell well under the OECD average in all three categories.

Since the PISA study began, Germany has consistently received poor grades on issues such as government spending on education, number of hours spent in the classroom and pupil-teacher ratios.

The country was aghast. How could Germany, a country with a rich history of thinkers, artists and poets, continue to perform so badly? The shock of the second damning report in as many years rippled through German politics and the media and stoked a sense of national urgency to improve education. The result was a concerted effort to reform the German system.

Reform program to be assessed in internal report

Schüler üben die neue Rechtschreibung

The German government responded to the last report by increasing government investment in the education system and calling for far-reaching reforms of the nation's traditional school structure.

On Thursday, education ministers representing the German states will announce the results of their own internal comparative study of how well things are progressing.

However, before the results were announced, the German education system received yet another rap on the knuckles. Andreas Schleicher, the PISA coordinator for the OECD, criticized Germany on Wednesday for its lack of movement on the issue of the country's three-tiered school model, one of the major points in the suggested reform package announced in 2004.

PISA coordinator unhappy with progress

OECD PISA Studie 2003 vorgestellt Andreas Schleicher

Andreas Schleicher

Schleicher complained that the OECD has yet to see any progress. But German education ministers have argued that a complete revamp of the school system would take between 10 and 15 years.

Schleicher also called for the introduction of "a school for all," where pupils would stay together in one system for nine or ten years. The current division into three different schools, each tailored to specific education abilities and skills, was referred to by one German politician at the time of the last OECD study as one "more befitting of a medieval feudal system than a modern society."

It is a widely held belief that general schools for all pupils are better equipped for promoting common education standards than a system that "sorts" children at an early age according to their abilities. Initial research into the PISA results showed that the traditional division into college-prep high school, secondary school and vocational school, was partially to blame for the poor results in the OECD study. It also showed that pupils performed better when they learned together.

All-day schools remain a prominent issue

Another factor that the OECD is hoping to see being addressed by the German study is school hours. The last OECD study showed that German pupils aged seven and eight attend school on average for 626 hours a year, compared with 788 on average in the OECD. It recommended that Germany invest more in building all-day schools.

Schüler in einer Klasse

The OECD will also be looking for solutions to Germany's problems of large classrooms. The pupil-teacher ratio at the time of the 2004 review had 24 pupils per teacher in elementary schools, the highest number among the 30 industrial countries surveyed.

The results published in Berlin on Thursday are unlikely to placate the OECD in every area but could at least show improvements in the three core categories of education in which German schools have failed. Any improvements will be seen as progress after such dismal report cards over the past few years.

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