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German teacher in classroom
There will be a retirement wave among German teachers soonImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Absent teachers

July 21, 2009

This fall, German schools could find themselves short some 40,000 teachers, according to a teachers' organization, which recommends importing German-speaking teachers from eastern Europe as a stopgap measure.

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The DphV teachers' organization has warned that the teacher shortage in Germany is increasing dramatically, jumping some 60 percent from the first half of the year and reaching particularly acute levels in the fields of math, computer science, biology, chemistry and physics.

According to DphV president Heinz-Peter Meidinger, the situation will likely get worse over the next ten years, around 300,000 of the current 770,000 teachers in German schools will retire.

Meidinger has suggested bringing in teachers from eastern Europe to classrooms in Germany as an emergency measure.

"Particularly in the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania, there are science teachers who speak German well that we could bring over for an interim period," he said, pointing out that there are already trained teachers from the Czech Republic working in private schools in Germany.

However, he said many such teachers still use a "traditional style" in the classroom and would need to undergo further educational training to bring them up to speed on the newer educational methods used in Germany.

He said it was essential to make the teaching profession attractive to young people - either through a new focus on education as a career choice or an image campaign to dust off teaching's reputation.

State matter

In Germany's federal system, teaching is within the jurisdiction of individual states, which has made large-scale education reform in Germany difficult in the past.

teacher in classroom
The teaching profession is not as attractive to young people as it once wasImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The chair of the conference of state ministers of cultural and educational affairs, Henry Tesch, would not confirm immediately the figure of 40,000. However, he would say that Germany had to address its teacher shortage urgently and that while importing teachers from abroad was a possible strategy, it was not a long-term solution.

German teachers are among the oldest in all of Europe, according to a new study presented by EU Education Commissioner Ján Figel last week. One in two German teachers is over 50 years old and will retire in the next 10 to 15 years.

Younger people who study the natural sciences and foreign languages, fields in which the German teacher shortage is acute, tend to opt for the private sector rather than become teachers in public schools - often for financial reasons.

The looming teacher shortage does not come as news to many, as the average age of teachers has been rising for some time and experts have long said Germany is not training enough new teachers to replace those entering retirement.

However, the number 40,000 has rung alarm bells again.

"This is a pathetic display for a highly civilized industrial nation," said Cem Ozdemir, Green Party chairman.

jam/dpa/AFP/Reuters/AP

Editor: Neil King

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