German Youth Betrayed by Education System | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.09.2006

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German Youth Betrayed by Education System

The same day President Horst Köhler described the state of German education as "shameful," the 15th Shell Youth Study presented in Berlin revealed that young people today are increasingly beset by fear of the future.

Many German teens aren't exactly feeling good about their future

Many German teens aren't exactly feeling good about their future

Thursday saw Köhler give his first of what have become known as the presidential "Berlin speeches" at a high school in the capital. While his predecessors Roman Herzog und Johannes Rau gave these annual keynote talks at the upmarket Hotel Adlon, Köhler's choice of venue reflected his first priority -- addressing one of Germany's most urgent problems, the state of its education system.

"Adequate education is a prerequisite of democracy as well as a highly effective form of social insurance," he said.

Young people fearful

Schüler und Studierende

Young people are well aware how much education matters

Meanwhile, just a few kilometers away, Germany's Family Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen and sociologist Klaus Hurrelmann were unveiling the 15th Shell Study on German Youth. Published every three to four years, it is considered the definitive survey of its kind -- and the news this year lent weight to the president's call for an educational revamp.

Researchers from Bielefeld University and the Infratest Social Research Institute questioned over 2,500 young people between 12-25, two thirds of whom admitted they were unnerved by the struggling economy and spiraling poverty.

Four years ago, only 45 percent said they were apprehensive about their future -- 8 percent less than in 2006. So what's gone wrong?

The majority of those questioned said they saw education and qualifications as key to later success -- but as Köhler pointed out in his opening sentence, some 80,000 young people leave school in Germany without a qualification.

Only 38 percent of pupils from the lowest level of high schools in Germany's three-tier educational system were optimistic about the future, while 57 percent of students at the academically more demanding "Gymnasium" said they expected to fare well in life.

Girls take to the fast lane

Schüler üben die neue Rechtschreibung

Girls are harder working than boys

Almost as striking as the discrepancy in outlook between students from the three different school types was the gender divide, with 7 percent more girls making the grade to "Gymnasium" than boys and 55 percent of them aiming to leave school with a diploma compared to just 47 percent of their male peers.

But both girls and boys showed a marked reluctance to start families, despite the fact that 72 percent agreed that family was important, and 39 percent thought marriage was "great."

"Most of them are well aware that today it's harder than ever to juggle education, a job, a career, a relationship and children," said von der Leyen.

Political and economic fall-out

NPD in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Rostock

Disaffected young people are easily swayed by right-wing sloganeering

Her comments were reflected in further statistics contained in the study, which demonstrated a rise in psychological problems among both young people and their parents. Hurrelmann attributed this primarily to Germany's economic troubles.

"Financially weak parents can have problems raising children," he said. "But all of us -- including economists -- have to realize that badly brought up children are an economic disadvantage to the country."

Equally, he added, they can be a political disadvantage. Far-right parties such as the NPD are notoriously quick to take advantage of disaffected young peoples' anger at society and win them over to its cause.

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