Germany's education system seems to have been beset with bother ever since the 2000 Pisa study revealed its learning difficulties. Now the nation's schools are facing a new problem in the shape of a teacher shortfall.
An age-old, but fading image?
The equation is simple, no teachers, no learning. And that is the way things could go in Germany if something is not done to plug the growing hole in teacher numbers. The German Philology Association says there is currently a national dearth of 10,000 teachers, but worse than that, has predicted a shortfall of more than 80,000 by the year 2015.
Speaking in Berlin this week, the chairman of the association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, stressed the importance of supplying Germany's schools with qualified teaching staff if the country is to enjoy a reputation for being a good educator. He said 40 percent of all teachers would have retired within the next ten years, meaning that at least 290,000 positions would have to be filled.
'Where's the teacher?
Better planning, Meidinger said, could have averted the impeding disaster. "Politicians are chiefly to blame for this shortage. Almost everywhere in Germany, they failed to introduce a forward-looking personnel policy. They should have taken precautionary measures between five and seven years ago. But they didn't," he said. Consequently most states in the country are facing the same problem, albeit with different subjects.
In the former West Germany, particularly in rural regions and areas with little by way of infrastructure, the scarcity is most apparent among science teachers, whereas the former east is struggling to fill language teaching positions.
Meidinger holds out little hope of enticing new teachers to schools in the eastern states, not least because they can often only offer part-time contracts and no incentives. That said, the situation in western states such as Bavaria is not much better. There are few supply teachers left to cover permanent staff in the event of sickness, and the names on the lists of qualified teachers waiting to take their place at the blackboard have almost all been crossed off.
Finding an quick-fix solution
It's a grim picture for Germany's education prospects, so just what can be done to avert an all out disaster situation? The philology experts suggest making it easier for graduates of other subjects to do a conversion course and relaxing admission criteria for teacher training courses. Anything else could simply pave the way for a repeat situation a few decades from now.
The recruitment process has to be relaxed
"If we were to take on massive numbers of young people now, we'd be faced with the same problem again when they all retire in 30 years time. The advantage of accepting people who once applied to do teacher training, but were rejected, would be that it would bring older people into the education service," the chairman said.
But the Philology Association also stresses the value in increasing the attractiveness of the teaching profession, and suggests the way to do that would be to improve the social climate in schools and encourage team spirit.