Germany Brings Home a Bad Report Card | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 04.12.2001
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Germany Brings Home a Bad Report Card

Germany is shocked after an international test reveals that the country's schools do not live up to their reputation.


German students need to hit the books

The bubble has burst. Germans who have claimed that attending school in their country meant getting a good education are now confronted with the hard facts. German students are not as qualified as others, according to an international study presented in Berlin on Tuesday.

The so-called PISA study (Program for International Student
Assessment) compares the quality of education in different
industrialized countries. It reveals that German students show weak reading skills and are doing worse in mathematics than students in other countries.

Students from Finland, Korea, Canada and Japan rank at the top of the list in the study, published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Germany, on the other hand, scores below the OECD average. It joins the ranks of Italy, Poland and Hungary in the bottom third.

The prerequisites for life

The survey measures the capacity of 15-year-olds to apply knowledge and skills in reading, mathematics and science. The organization says it sees these as "essential prerequisites" for students to be well-prepared for adult life.

The OECD surveyed some 265,000 students from 32 countries. It concentrated on testing performance in real-life situations and not "school" knowledge, which assessment tests in the past had focussed on.

Educational reform

The OECD study is the biggest ever international comparison of school performance. The weak marks of German students in the survey have sparked a debate about education reform in Germany.

The Confedation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) argues that the curricula of German schools need to be totally reworked. "The German educational system has failed," says BDA president Dieter Hundt.

German Education Minister Edelgard Bulmahn demands speedy reforms, but does not want to take federal action. The German school system is controlled by the individual states or Länder.

Several critics, such as the teachers’ union GEW, are calling for all-day schooling. This could allow for more practically-oriented curricula. At present, most schools are only half-day and focus strongly on pure academia.

A further point which has shocked education experts is Germany’s treatment of the socially weak. Germany, which boasts of its strong welfare structure, does too little for children of poorer families or immigrants, the study reveals.

Finnish students read best, while US just average

The PISA study shows that students from Finland have the best reading skills of all those polled in industrialized countries. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Korea, Japan and the United Kingdom also rank in the top third of the class.

In mathematics, Japanese students come out best. Runners-up are Korea, New Zealand, Finland, Australia and Canada.

In the field of science, Korea and Japan tie for first place. Finland and the United Kingdom follow closely.

The country where students show the weakest performance in all of these subjects is Brazil. Mexico and Luxembourg also show poor results.

The United States is average across-the-board.

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