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A mixed report card on Germany's education system

June 22, 2018

More children are enrolled in German schools today as a result of higher birth rates and immigration. Still, a stark divide exists between those who are likely to attain a higher education and those who are not.

School children sit in a classroom
Image: imago/photothek/F. Gaertner

When Germany's Ministry of Education presented its 2018 Education in Germany report in Berlin this Friday, three things stood out: more citizens are getting an education, a teacher shortage looms, and a person's educational opportunities are closely linked to their social and economic background.

Researchers found that rising birth rates and an increase in immigration have resulted in many more youths in Germany attending school than did 10 years ago. They also noted that a shortage of facilities and teachers could become a serious problem in the not-too-distant future. Researchers also warned that education opportunities were still unevenly distributed throughout German society.

Read more: Opinion: The education crisis in Germany is over

The report by numbers

  • 17.1 million children, youths and young adults were enrolled in German schools.
  • 94 percent of children between three and six years of age attended preschool or kindergarten.
  • 31 percent of students 15 or older attained a high school diploma or equivalent degree – 8 percent more than in 2006.
  • 6 percent of students left high school without receiving a diploma – in 2015 that number was 5.8 percent.
  • 17 percent received a college or university degree – 5 percent more than in 2006.

Opportunity determined by family background

The report noted that youths with immigrant backgrounds and those from low-income families were less likely to move up the education ladder. Education in rural areas was also found lacking in comparison to cities.

Speaking on that topic, Education Minister Anja Karliczek said, "I believe every German citizen has the right to upward social mobility resulting from a good education, regardless of their social background. And that is exactly why I find it important that all German citizens have good educational opportunities." 

One of the overarching conclusions of the report was that those who receive an education are more likely to find better jobs and earn more. They are also more likely to be politically interested as well as be more involved in volunteer work in their communities. Those factors, said researchers, led to healthier and happier lives.

Read more: Germany needs billions to educate refugees: report

PISA results show better results for German children

Test scores improving but disparity persists

Germany's education system has long been criticized for sharp divisions in educational opportunity between children from affluent families and those from poor families or with immigrant backgrounds.

Germany has a three-tiered system for secondary education, which ranks pupils by ability when they finish elementary school. It can determine early on whether a child will have access to university or college. 

The biggest shock came in 2000, when the first installment of the OECD-sponsored PISA educational rankings was published.

The study found that Germany ranked below average among developed nations both in test scores and in educational opportunities for children from disadvantaged households.

The study also found that the country's dual-track school system, which divides students into those who are deemed fit to go on to higher education and those who are channeled to vocational schools when they have completed 10 years of school, perpetuated inequality.

Germany has drastically improved test scores since the 2000 PISA report was published, yet disparity persists. Observers point, among other things, to housing ghettoization as a driver of disparity, with many poor and immigrant families living in neighborhoods with less access to good education.

The Education in Germany report, which is compiled every two years by a group of independent researchers, is the seventh of its kind and is largely based on data from 2016.

js/ng (dpa, KNA)