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Germany

Opinion: Education Draws the Short Stick in Germany

Better education for kids and youth in Germany -- that would have been just as important as bailing out the banking sector. But this week's education summit missed the mark, says DW's Ramon Garcia-Ziemsen.

Opinion

Unfortunately, the politicians at the education summit in Dresden on Wednesday, Oct. 22, didn't present any solutions that fit the problem.

Education is often a topic that gets politicians on their soap boxes. But at the summit, the issue was once again used as a means to boost their political images. The result was nothing more than expressions of good intentions.

Ramon Garcia-Ziemsen

Ramon Garcia-Ziemsen

"Education should be top priority in Germany," they concluded. Yes, but wasn't it top priority before? In Dresden, state and federal delegations agreed to halve the number of high school and college dropouts. That's been called for many times, but changes have yet to be seen.

The state and federal governments have also said they want to increase the education budget by 10 percent by the year 2015. That sounds good -- but no one has said how they plan to reach this goal.

Money for banks, not for education

It's amazing that it is possible to decide on a billion-euro rescue package for the troubled finance industry in just a few days, but that it is apparently unfeasible to agree on financing Germany's most important resource -- education.

What was announced on Wednesday was merely symbolic: "Look, we've made it top priority; we'll take care of it."

That sounds good, especially ahead of an election year in the federal parliament as well as several state governments. After all, a committee was established to figure out how the ambitious goals can be financed.

But there won't be any results until after the 2009 Bundestag election. Delay instead of action, that's the motto.

'Education for all' still just a dream

Once again, the main problems with the German education system weren't addressed. It's a disaster that, in a wealthy country like Germany, parents' bank accounts still determine their children's education options.

Former Chancellor Willy Brandt's appeal in the 1970s for "Education for all" has never been fulfilled. The manager's son goes to the college-prep high school and the working class child goes to the third-tier tech school -- that's still often the case. Children with so-called non-academic backgrounds or from immigrant families aren't challenged enough and their potential goes unrecognized.

Germany's education budget is well below the average of many other industrial countries. Particularly in the elementary schools, much less is invested per child than elsewhere. Germany is the only country in the world that demands several hundred euros a month from young parents so their child can attend pre-school.

Education path determined too early

Furthermore, in no other country does the selection process -- the sorting of children into various types of schools -- begin so early. A pupil's educational path is decided after the fourth grade. The familiar learning environment, where children learn well and yet differentiated, gets lost.

Nearly all German education experts agree that the solution is for pupils to spend more time learning together in a positive environment, without pressure to perform.

But in Dresden, concrete steps and strategies weren't discussed. Chancellor Angela Merkel praised Wednesday's resolutions as an important step toward an "Education Republic of Germany." But, as one newspaper commented, the "Education Illusion of Germany" would be a more appropriate term.

Ramon Garcia-Ziemsen heads DW-RADIO's culture programs. (kjb)

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