Germans Mull Sweeping Education Reforms | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.09.2004
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Germans Mull Sweeping Education Reforms

After getting bad grades from the OECD, German politicians are calling for extensive reforms of the nation's schools. It's not enough to spend more money, the education system needs to be completely re-worked, they said.


Will they stay together for most of their school careers?

A day after Germany brought home failing grades from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for its education system, the nation's politicians responded like worried parents.

It was the second time in two years that the country, which prides itself on producing some of the world's leading philosophers and scientists, had received negative marks for government spending, number of hours spent in the classroom and pupil-teacher ratios.

On Wednesday, education experts in the government coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens minced no words in calling on Germany to prepare itself better for the future. In addition to increasing much-needed government investment in the education system (only about 9.7 percent of total spending goes towards schools), the politicians called for far-reaching reforms of the nation's traditional school structure.

School for all

Kinder in der Vorschule

Teachers need to spend more time with each pupil in the elementary schools.

Krista Sager, parliamentary fraction leader for the Greens, told the Berliner Zeitung Germany needed to move away from its three-tiered school model and introduce "a school for all," where pupils would stay together in one system for nine or ten years. The current division into three different schools, each tailored to specific education abilities and skills, is "more befitting of a medieval feudal system than a modern society," criticized Christoph Matschie, head of the SPD for the eastern state of Thuringia.

A general school for all pupils is better equipped for promoting common education standards than a system that "sorts" children at an early age according to their abilities, explained the former state secretary for the education ministry. Matschie told the paper that the traditional division into college-prep highschool, secondary school and vocational school, was partially to blame for the poor results in the OECD study. Pupils performed better when they learned together, he and Sager argued.

Schleswig-Holstein's State Minister for Culture and Education was also convinced that the three-tiered education system is no longer beneficial to the country. Ute Erdsiek-Rave said her party of Social Democrats would campaign together with the Greens during the next state election for a reform that supports a "school for all." However, a complete revamping of the school system would take between 10 and 15 years, she admitted.

More financial support needed

Opposition leader Angela Merkel dismissed calls to introduce such far-reaching reforms. The head of the conservative Christian Democrats Union said the OECD in no way implied that Germany's traditional three-tiered school model was to blame for failures in German education. The international study indicated specifically that Germany had done too little to improve standards in Kindergartens and elementary schools, she argued.

Schüler in einer Klasse

A typical German classroom?

Germany's problems were largely the result of large classrooms and too little instruction time, she said, both of which could be rectified with more investment. The pupil-teacher ratio needs to be improved, Merkel said, pointing to the statistic that Germany had 24 pupils per teacher in elementary schools, the highest number among the 30 industrial countries surveyed. T

With a view to government plans to expand the number of all-day schools, Merkel said Germany was on the right road to increasing the amount of time children spend in the classroom. The OECD study showed that German pupils aged seven and eight attend school on average for 626 hours a year, compared with 788 on average in the OECD. Germany needs to invest more in building all-day schools, she said and called for a speedy introduction of tax reforms that would open up more funds for education.

Money is not the answer

"We must once and for all start investing in the education system," Merkel told RBB information radio on Wednesday.

But the head of the German union for teachers and researchers, Eva-Maria Stange, cautioned against thinking only in terms of financial support. German politicians needed to "do their homework," she said. The OECD report clearly showed "German schools need not just more money, but fundamental reforms."

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