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Germany

UN Probes German School Inequality

The UN believes Germany has a human rights problem -- at least where its schools are concerned. An envoy is on a fact-finding mission this week to explore shortcomings in educational equality.

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Are immigrants getting enough of a chance at a good education?

When it comes to their educational performance, Germany just can't seem to cut a good figure on the world stage.


Six years after the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development slammed German schools in a worldwide comparative study, the Paris-based organization released a study claiming inequality in access to education. The numbers show that a 15-year-old student whose parents have an academic background is likely to be two years ahead of a working class student in scholastic achievement. And the chances of going to a university are four times greater.

The numbers raised the eyebrows of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. This week, UN envoy Vernor Munoz will investigate the possible inequalities during a 10-day fact finding mission. Upon landing in Berlin, he first met with Minister for Education and Families Annette Schavan, who appeared unconcerned by the UN's interest.

No reason for concern

"There may be the impression in public that Germany's low achievements in international education studies are the reasons for this visit," she said following the meeting. "But that is simply not so. We have changed much in recent years and the visit comes at a time when a number of thorough reforms are beginning to take hold … There is no reason to be worried about it."

Annette Schavan

Minister Schavan isn't worried

In 2000, German society was shocked out of decades of false satisfaction concerning its education system when the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment -- PISA -- gave pupils here mediocre marks at best. They were found to be unable to reach even the worldwide average in reading, mathematics and natural science.

The Pisa Study also highlighted inequalities in the German school system, especially with regard to the children of immigrants and manual workers.

Germans kids under too much pressure

OECD researcher Andreas Schleicher said Germany's stringent and sometimes elitist school selection procedures are largely to blame for the discrepancy. Countries like Finland and Japan, which performed best in the study, don't force students to decide at age eight or nine where to go to college.

Deutschland in Japan - Jahr

Japanese children: less pressure early on

"In all those countries social background has much less of an impact on outcomes than it does have in a country like Germany," said Schleicher. "They are providing students with equitable opportunities."

Schleicher went on to praise the two countries' results-oriented approach.

"They have clear objectives, well defined and clear to all stakeholders who are pursuing these objectives systematically," said Schleicher.

Parents' groups waiting for results


But Schavan appeared resolute after the meeting that there was no need for massive reform in Germany's education system. Parents' groups largely agree, but say they are curious to see what the UN envoy digs up.

The parents admit that a drop-out rate of 10 percent and the fact that 25 percent of school students lack even basic knowledge and skills can no longer be tolerated and should be seen as a disgrace for a highly industrialized country like Germany.

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