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Bad Grades for German Schools

DW staff (ncy)September 14, 2004

Germany’s school system has gotten bad marks yet again. An annual OECD report suggested that Germany spends too little on learning, students get too little instruction and too few people get university degrees.

Germany has a lot of homework to do to improve its education systemImage: AP

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) annual report “Education at a Glance,” published Tuesday, has dealt another blow to an already stricken German education policy.

The study, which compares education systems in the 30 OECD member countries, indicated that Germany has a lot of work to do if it wants to produce graduates with qualifications comparable to other developed countries. Without significant educational reforms, Germany could forfeit its economical competitiveness, the report warned.

While OECD states increased their investments in primary and secondary schools by 21 percent and in universities by 30 percent from 1995 through 2001, Germany had only spent 6 and 7 percent more respectively, the study said. In OECD countries, the number of college and university students increased by an average of 40 percent. But Germany, Austria and France experienced no growth at all.

"The qualification level in the OECD states has risen dramatically since 1995, while in Germany nothing has happened," German Education and Research Minister Edelgard Bulmahn said. The Social Democrat appealed to the opposition Christian Democratic Union-run states to cooperate with the federal government to eliminate subsidies for homeowners and instead invest the money in education and research. The lion's share of German education funding and policy is determined at the state level.

Below average

The study said Germany spent less money than the average on each student and more on teachers' salaries. Seven- and eight-year-old German pupils receive 160 fewer hours of lessons than the OECD average. The discrepancy decreases in secondary schools, though 15-year-olds still get 66 hours of instruction less than the OECD midpoint. Kindergarten and primary school classes are also larger than the OECD average, which means that the children inevitably receive less individual attention aat one of the most crucial points in their education.

Andreas Schleicher
Andreas Schleicher of the OECDImage: dpa Zentralbild

“What we have observed over time is that some countries have very dynamically expanded and extended their educational services, and in Germany that kind of dynamic has been much less pronounced," Andreas Schleicher, one of the study's authors told DW-RADIO. "Over time, the divergence between the countries that move very fast and those that do not change is becoming bigger,” he said.

No longer the country of poets and philosophers

Three years ago, the OECD's Pisa Study found that German students scored below average in reading, math and science when compared to their peers in other OECD countries. The assessment came as a shock to Germans, who see their land as the “country of poets and philosophers.”

Education Minister Buhlman (photo, below) subsequently initiated a program to increase the number of all-day schools in Germany, which the current report praised. Around 3,000 schools now provide full-day instruction. But the majority of schools in Germany continue to operate on a half-day basis, with lessons ending around lunchtime.

Fleißig lernen Studenten im Lesesaal der Sächsischen Landesbibliothek für ihre Prüfungen
Image: dpa

Although he lauded the program, Schleicher, who also coordinates the Pisa Study, said that all-day schools are already the norm in other OECD countries. He focused criticism on Germany's track system, which separates students into different classes and schools depending on their achievements, thus determining whether they will gain the necessary qualifications to pursue further training or go to university after secondary school.

In other countries "differences between people, between talents are not seen so much as a problem that must be resolved through school structures. Instead they deal with it constructively," Schleicher said.

Intensive discussion

Doris Ahnen, the head of the Education Ministers' Conference, which is made up of the 16 state education ministers and senators, rebuffed the OECD criticism. "In hardly another country has education been discussed so intensively since Pisa," Bavarian public broadcaster Bayerische Rundfunk quoted Ahnen as saying.

BVG - Urteil zur Juniorprofessur Edelgard Bulmahn
Education Minister Edelgard BulmahnImage: dpa

Baden-Wurttemberg's education minister, Annette Schavan, also dismissed the study. "In Germany there's no lack of visions or of concrete reforms," she said. She accused the OECD of ignoring fundamental improvements to the education system.

The GEW teachers' union demanded that the state education ministers take action to stop Germany's education system from deteriorating. "The federal sectionalism of the states promotes Germany's further relegation," GEW head Eva-Marie Stange said Tuesday.