More evidence of the desperate state of Germany's education system was revealed on Wednesday, with the pre-publication of statistics from a new "Education in Germany" report.
According to the report, which is to be presented Thursday by the German education ministry and the state conference on education, an assembly of Germany's state education ministers, 17 percent of young Germans aged between 20 and 30 have no vocational qualification and are no longer in the education system. This marks a new high - in 2007, the figure was still at 15.2 percent.
The situation is particularly dire among young people with an immigrant background, 30 percent of whom have no formal training and no prospect of achieving further qualifications.
In the face of increasing pressures in the job market, the researchers warned that Germany could be facing a long-term unemployment problem for those without formal qualifications. One forecast predicts that the supply of unqualified workers would exceed the number of jobs in this sector by some 1.3 million for the next 15 years.
For Cem Oezdemir, education spokesman for the Green party, the deficits in Germany's system are appalling. "We're talking about a sort of risk-group that leaves school lacking basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills - they are functionally illiterate," he told Deutsche Welle.
Problems have been endemic for years, and the report's findings provide few surprises for those concerned with German education. Stephanie Odenwald, director for vocational training at the educational workers' union GEW, said, "It's not a surprise - everyone who knows the education system has known this problem for years."
Odenwald can also identify one of the main causes of the problem: "It is mainly the fault of the misguided development of this massive transitional system, where young people leave school and don't get into job training programs and instead get put into these waiting loops, or 'job preparation schemes' as they are known. There is a very wide body of opinion that says we need to get rid of this system."
This transitional system has often been blamed for leaving many of Germany's young people in limbo after leaving school, but Oezdemir says that the problems are much deeper. "What this study makes clear is that we need to question our whole education system - from kindergarten all the way to university," he said. "The interim system is just one element of it."
The sacred cow Gymnasium
The new report is one of many that have indirectly brought attention to the injustices in Germany's three-tiered school system, which divides students according to ability into one of three different schools after the fourth grade - these are the Hauptschule, the Realschule and the elite Gymnasium. International comparisons like the PISA studies have highlighted the social inequalities that are caused by this system.
The report shows that Hauptschule students continue to have problems finding job training places, even though the competition for them is said to be decreasing. As far as Oezdemir is concerned, Germany's conservative government resists reform because it is clinging to the Gymnasium.
"There really isn't a recognition problem," he says. "These studies always come out with similar results. There is an application problem. We know the problems, but the politicians get bogged down in financial questions, and the taboo of the Gymnasium. The schools need to fit our children, not the other way round."
Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Michael Lawton