The first-ever nationwide education report for Germany released Friday has castigated the country’s “fault-riddled school system” and urged policymakers to make education a priority despite budgetary constraints.
The writing is on the board for Germany's education system.
The much-awaited national education report drawn up by the top education officials of Germany’s 16 states and released on Friday in Darmstadt contained few surprises.
The document did deliver a damning verdict for the country’s education system, but it essentially reiterated the conclusions drawn by a report by the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development and the 2000 international PISA education comparison -- that Germany’s education system is outmoded, overburdened and desperately in need of an overhaul.
Bloated classrooms and few computers
Friday’s report warned of "grave erroneous trends" in the school system and pinpointed a host of problems that had cropped up as a result of years of faulty education policies. They included classrooms that are much too large in international comparison, outdated school textbooks, a paucity of computers and teaching methods that rarely encourage talent or outstanding students.
The authors also pointed to the rising number of school drop-outs, a shrinking graduation rate and too little individual attention for students from poor and immigrant families. The report cautioned that Germany couldn’t afford "this waste of human potential" in face of a rapidly declining birth rate and said that discontent was rising among the population about school standards.
The education researchers commissioned with drawing up the report also criticized the fact that students in Germany often began too late with targeted learning and spent too much time in educational establishments, where they hardly received any constructive encouragement.
"These are hardly beneficial prerequisites for achieving challenging education goals," the report said. The researchers also warned that it had become difficult to recognize any kind of unified German school system amidst a bewildering plethora of timetables, lessons and curriculums across the country.
Report not the first wake-up call
Karin Wolff (photo), education minister of the state of Hesse and chairwoman of the state-level education officials’ working group emphasized on Friday that the results of the report weren’t that startling.
"This is not something that has suddenly been thrust upon us in a new brutal form," she said and added that Germany’s miserable performance on the international PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) in 2000 had already hinted at the full extent of the underlying failings of the education system. At the time 15-year-old students in Germany ranked 25th out of 32 countries in overall reading, mathematics and scientific literacy on the test.
Wolff pointed out that education officials had already begun taking steps earlier this year to draw up national education standards that would establish a minimum level of performance for a student at a certain age.
The move has been prompted by Germany’s complicated education structure whereby each state sets its own agenda and guidelines when it comes to framing education policy. As a result, school grades, certificates and assessment tests vary greatly.
Wolff also stressed that the new attempt to create national education standards had led to the implementation of routine comparison tests in schools nationally to ascertain the level of pupils' knowledge. In addition, concerted programs have been initiated to fill the additional needs of children from migrant families and to bring their German-language skills up to the level they need to study successfully here.
No panacea for ailing schools
Despite modest progress in acting upon the wake-up call of the PISA report, state education officials admitted there isn’t any surefire cure for Germany’s education woes.
Proffered solutions include "comprehensive measures" when it comes to reinforcing the implementation of national education standards, raising the number of high school graduates, early attempts at promoting German especially among students from migrant families, better networking of kindergartens and primary schools, introduction of all-day schools and regular teacher training programs.
More money would help
The one measure that all education ministers agreed could provide a real trend reversal is money. Wolff said that the present education woes could be countered if education was made a priority in states’ policymaking. That would require sparing funds allocated for education from the deep cuts that have become rampant in state budgets as coffers dry up and Germany’s economic malaise puts a freeze on spending.
A separate OECD report published last month found that investment in Germany's educational establishments is, despite federal reform efforts, still far behind that of the OECD aggregate.
Germany's education expenditures amount to 5.3 percent of its gross domestic product, compared to an OECD average of 5.5 percent. (By comparison, the United States ranked as the heaviest investor in education, with 7 percent of its GDP earmarked for schools.)