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Education crisis in Germany over

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Jens Thurau
September 16, 2016

The OECD report shows that Germany's education system is on the upswing, but there's still room for improvement. Also, the much maligned teaching profession in Germany should be treated better, writes DW's Jens Thurau.

Symbolbild Bildung Deutschland Schule Lernen Lesen Schulbuch
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Eisenhuth

What is the education system like in Germany, one of the wealthiest industrialized nations in the world? A few years ago, the OECD's PISA study sent shockwaves through the country. Many countries, not only in Europe, were producing much better students, more young people who spoke more languages than Germans did, and better scientists. The latest report released by the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) no longer contains alarming information for Germany.

The dual system has proved its worth

Most of the praise can be attributed to the fact that there is no other industrialized country where so many young people are already in the workforce or are working in vocational training programs. The reason for this is Germany's dual education system, which consists of regular schools and vocational schools. Years ago, the idea of vocational training was looked down on as antiquated, for elsewhere anyone who had any self-respect would urge their child to embark on an academic career at university. Germany itself was also not able to buck this trend for years. Now, the OECD believes that that vocational training is the reason for ongoing economic success and many job opportunities in a country that was considered to be the "sick man of Europe" in the early 2000s.

But politicians shouldn't take it easy just yet. The report also revealed weaknesses: for example, the state spends much more on the university education of individuals than other countries do, also because tuition fees are unpopular. In early childhood education, the state demands disproportionately high fees from parents.

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DW's Jens Thurau

Yet preschool is the place where social and cultural differences are most likely to be evened out. For a long time, the question of going to preschool or not created an arena for fierce cultural and political debates in Germany. Those days are gone. Now, 94 percent of three-year-olds attend preschool. Gone are the days when parents were accused of "dumping" their little ones. Only now, German parents have to spend more on this phase of education than parents in other countries do.

Respect teachers more

And finally, we come to the subject of teachers. After the PISA "debacle," Germany started debating the size of school classes and whether high schools should go to grade 12 or 13. Now and then people listened to what the education experts had to say: No matter what structures are in place, we must pay more attention to the quality of teaching staff, for the quality of education depends on them. The OECD report notes that in the senior grades of high school, German teachers taught 714 hours a year, while Japanese teachers only taught 513. The Japanese counterparts have more time for their own development as teaching professionals. The salary structure in Germany does not reward dedicated teachers. The pay is based on years of service and the age of the teachers. This can only change if the teaching profession in Germany is upgraded – this includes preschool teachers.

All in all, Germany has caught up and no one can speak of an education crisis. But there is still room for improvement.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau