A lack of teachers, elementary school students who cannot read and do arithmetic properly, school dropouts, upheavals caused by digitization - the education system is under great pressure. In Berlin, educational politicians, trade union, teacher and student representatives as well as scientists and representatives of civil society discussed the problems.
The Federal Ministry of Education had invited under the heading "Education Summit". The meeting was embedded in a regular "educational research conference". About 600 participants attended. There were no concrete decisions, but there was a lot of criticism from outside.
Task force "Team Education" planned
The SPD, Greens and FDP had agreed on an "education summit" in their coalition agreement with the aim of initiating "a new culture in educational cooperation" and closer cooperation between the federal, state and local governments, since the system is very cumbersome due to the different responsibilities.
The Ministry of Education is now planning to set up a "Team Education" task force with representatives from the federal, state, local authorities and experts for better cooperation between the various levels. This should be constituted promptly, said Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger. The exact working method and when possible results will be presented are still unclear.
In her speech, the FDP politician called on those involved in education policy to work together. Many problems are structural. The federal and state governments pointed fingers at each other. No child has ever learned from that. "We are now at a crucial point. It is important that we start together now. We need a turnaround in education policy."
"Education Hill" instead of "Education Summit"
However, critics had already raised the question of what the conference should achieve without concrete resolutions. There was also criticism of the format of the event. It is at best an "educational hill", according to the Education and Science Union (GEW). Astrid-Sabine Busse, Berlin's Senator for Education and current President of the Conference of Ministers of Education (KMK), said she went to the meeting "without too many expectations". "In the North German lowlands of Berlin, many a smaller one is a summit," she said during a panel discussion at the conference.
Ministers responsible for education from Union-governed countries had waved their hands and did not take part. Schleswig-Holstein's Minister of Education Karin Prien (CDU) spoke of a show event. The fact that Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) was not there was also criticized. It is high time that Scholz and the heads of government of the federal states "convene a real national education summit", demanded an alliance of foundations, associations and trade unions on the occasion of the meeting.
Overlapping problems and education crisis
Everyone agrees that the education system is in crisis. The pressure to act is great because the current problems in the system are mutually reinforcing: Tests had shown a drop in performance among elementary school students and repeatedly confirm a connection between the "socio-economic status" of the family and educational success. In addition, there are learning gaps due to restricted school operations during the Corona period. More teachers would be good to reduce deficits and prevent more school dropouts later, who in turn are then lacking as skilled workers. But teachers will probably remain in short supply for years to come, because more staff are retiring than there are new recruits, while the number of students is increasing at the same time. Teachers are also challenged by more than 200,000 children and young people from Ukraine. In addition, there is digitization, which will also change education in the long term.
disagreement in problem solving
As to how the problems are to be tackled, that's where unity quickly ends. The proposals are jumbled up. SPD leader Saskia Esken proposes a 100 billion euro special pot for education, as for the Bundeswehr. Money is important, but must be used in a targeted manner, said Stark-Watzinger. The Minister of Education can imagine more bonus models for teachers to make the profession more attractive. KMK President Busse calls for more money and staff in early childhood education: "Because that's where everything starts." The President of the German Teachers' Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, also sees it that way. He calls for mandatory language tests in daycare centers with appropriate support for children who need help. "The problem is that by the time the children are in school, it's already too late."
VW Golf instead of a racing car
Another federalism reform to advance education is also being debated time and again. According to the Basic Law, the federal states are responsible for education and schools. The federal government must not interfere with them. Germany has 16 education systems, which makes a joint approach extremely difficult. But an amendment to the Basic Law, which would require a two-thirds majority in the Bundestag and Bundesrat, is almost illusory because of the different interests. Hamburg's school senator Ties Rabe (SPD) therefore made this appeal at the summit: "Ok, we might not be sitting in a racing car when it comes to our political system, but in a VW Golf, but it would also drive if everyone did their job might."