UN special envoy Vernor Munoz has concluded a 10-day visit to Germany to review the country's school system. He said the structure of the German education system fosters inequalities.
Munoz took a close look at Germany's youngest pupils
The investigation was prompted by allegations that school students with immigrant and low-income backgrounds are hugely disadvantaged in primary schools in Germany and that they have little chance to obtain academic qualifications.
Munoz said that it was difficult for outsiders to see through the German school system. Since all of Germany's 16 federal states run their own systems of primary and secondary education, he said that one cannot speak of equal opportunities.
However, he added children's rights to education were not violated in Germany.
"There is no automatic link between the individual achievements of pupils at school and their social background," he said. "But here as anywhere else poor people tend to care less about education. In Germany, however, this tendency is further aggravated by the fact that individual selection of specific schools starts very early in life."
OECD study highlights problems
Munoz pointed to an OECD study in the year 2000 that in his view showed a correlation between the German school system and poor results of its pupils. In the study, German 15-year-olds were found to be unable to reach even the worldwide average in reading, mathematics and natural science.
Will their backgrounds decide their academic future?
The study also highlighted major inequalities in the school system, especially with regard to the children of immigrants and manual workers. Munoz said that compared with other countries strikingly few of these children would be able reach academic qualifications.
Also, stringent school selection procedures, starting at as young an age as eight or nine, foster school careers based on the will of parents rather than pupils' merits, he said.
"I would recommend a careful rethinking of the federal structures in the German school system," he said. "They are inhomogeneous and lead to inequalities. The same applies to the school selection process. At such an early stage it is unable to use the full potentials of pupils to their best."
Reforms already under way
Germany's education minister, Anette Schavan, underlined that major reforms to the system were already underway in all federal states. They would resolve some of the problems touched on by Munoz, she said.
Will school uniforms serve as equalizers?
"Our education system will change so that all pupils can decide on their school careers at every age," Schavan said. "This will overcome the differences and inequalities that still exist today."
German parents organizations welcomed Munoz's visit and said that hints from outside were needed at this stage. The parents also said that a drop-out rate of 10 percent and the fact that 25 percent of school students lack even basic knowledge should be seen as a disgrace for a highly industrialized country like Germany.