A new international study shows Germany's education system has dropped behind those of other industrialized nations. In response, the German teachers' union called for a new education strategy.
Cheery faces deliver the bad news: In the OECD report, Germany fails once more to make a good showing
Germany's education system has dropped behind those of other leading industrialized countries, a study released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said.
Overall, developing nations are making progress much more quickly in terms of higher education than the industrialized West, the report said, noting that China and India threaten to overtake the West in producing elite students.
Increasingly, jobs in the West require a high level of education
The OECD Education at a Glance survey said Germany is not producing enough university and high school graduates to meet the growing demands posed by the international labor market.
The percentage of young people obtaining a higher degree had reached 20.6 percent by 2004 -- well below the OECD average of 34.8 percent.
Critique of further education
In general, while educational levels continued to rise in most OECD countries, "a persistently large share of young people do not complete secondary school, today's baseline for successful entry into the labor market," according to the report.
Only 56 percent of adults without upper secondary qualifications are employed, the OECD found, compared to 84 percent of those who have achieved a college or other postgraduate qualification.
It may not appear so from this photo, but too few Germans are getting university degrees
The report also criticized the state of German continuing education, and education for children from immigrant and poor families.
According to OECD analysts, Germany and other western countries will have to scale back what they called "inherently class-biased and often regressive ways of funding educational opportunities."
The report stressed that countries like China and India, which have rapidly expanded their education systems, threaten to overtake the West in producing elite students.
After the survey results were announced, observers called for urgent action. The disputed system of federalism, which gives enormous control over education to each of the 16 individual states, took the most heat.
Call for new strategy
"Germany needs an overall strategy to reform its educational system -- from kindergarten through continuing education courses," Marianne Demmer, vice president of the German teachers' union GEW told dpa news service.
Critics say immigrant children don't get a fair shake in the German system
Despite the increased responsibility for education the German states have gotten under federalism reform, the "Balkanization" of the German education system must come to an end, Demmer said. States need to "just bite the bullet, and together with the federal government, agree on some common goals," she added.
The education system needs "a new philosophy," Demmer continued. "We have to focus on fostering students, not just selecting the best ones." Up to now, Germany has offered a good education to "far too few" students, she said.
Opposition politicians also took the opportunity to voice their criticisms of German education, specifically federalism. The acting chairwoman of the education committee in parliament, Cornelia Pieper, told the Thüringer Allgemeinen newspaper that the old education structures must be changed.
Federalism to blame?
Pieper, too, blamed the federalist system for Germany's poor showing: "Amid global competition for the best minds, we simply do not need nitpicky discussions between 16 German states." In all, she said, Germany's education system must become more flexible and permeable.
The biggest problem of all, she said, was the federal government's lack of support for education.
In contrast, the OECD report indicated that certain developing nations are investing much more in eduation. As a result, schoolchildren in the developing world may be better equipped for the demands of the 21st century than their European and American counterparts, because they're adapting faster to changing needs.
Parliamentarian Pieper says Germany's federalist system is a problem
Along with the comparison of 30 western nations, the OECD study also compared how those countries stack up with key non-OECD members China and India. That comparison will be crucial in the coming decades, the study's authors contend.
The number of college graduates from China last year -- 4.4 million -- outstripped that of the entire European Union. While college grads still represent a small portion of China's population, the number is growing fast.
The report stressed the pressures on rich countries to meet the fast-growing demand for high-level skills, and warned that the United States and Europe are losing ground internationally because other countries are making faster and bigger gains.