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Education Report 2020: Bad Report for the German Education System

Around ten million schoolchildren will receive their certificates these days. The German education system as a whole received a certificate of a somewhat different kind. The national education report 2020 is the most important compilation of all those indicators that provide information on whether Germany has achieved its class goal. It was presented yesterday by Federal Minister of Education Anja Karliczek together with KMK President Stefanie Hubig and the spokesman for the group of authors, Professor Kai Maaz (DIPF / Leibnitz Institute for Educational Research). In Corona times, the report deserves special attention, of course, because in recent months it has sometimes appeared as if the transfer was even at risk. This year's focus of the report on digital education is therefore more than appropriate.

It was astonishing that Minister Karliczek in the press conference particularly emphasized the increasing link between academic and vocational training and also praised the increasing flexibility of educational qualifications. These have long been core liberal demands, which the Friedrich Naumann Foundation has already addressed in a publication on dual education. Karliczek also praised the universities of applied sciences, although from a purely financial perspective they are still neglected by politicians. It is gratifying that the federal government has now also recognized the potential for better linking theory and practice, but there is still a lot to be done when it comes to the modularization of educational qualifications. So it has to be easier to acquire new qualifications even during working life - from pupils without a secondary school qualification to postdocs who want to switch to a professional qualification after completing their doctorate. In the field of digitization, too, liberal ideas are suddenly becoming more attractive. Liberals have long been calling for schools to be better supplied with digital aids, and in the wake of the corona crisis, digital schools have now become the order of the day. But here, too, the list of homework is long: it is about data protection-compliant school clouds, the comprehensive supply of end devices and useful concepts for imparting digital skills.

Worrying numbers

Apart from these basic considerations, it remains to be said that German educational policy failed in the most important performance subjects this year. The report notes somewhat hidden: there is one “stagnation at the upper end of the school qualification spectrum, growing problems at the bottom” (p.9). A look at the - as always very informative - statistics section shows what is going on. Anyone who calls up the Excel table D8-1web can read in black and white that between 2014 and 2018 the proportion of graduates without a secondary school certificate rose from 5.8% to 6.8%, while the proportion of those with an intermediate degree with a technical college entrance qualification and with a general university entrance qualification have all fallen. The future prospects of tens of thousands of schoolchildren have therefore deteriorated in the last four years.

Education is not a priority in Germany

Every explanatory approach must necessarily be multi-causal. Another key figure, however, catches the eye: although education expenditure has increased in absolute figures - which can be explained by the good economic situation and high tax revenues up to March of this year - expenditure is stagnating in relative figures. The total budget for education, research and science has increased from 237.4 billion euros (2010) to 310.2 billion euros (2018), but as a percentage of GDP, expenditure stagnates at 9.3% (p.57):

The figures in the education report must therefore be read in an international context. According to the latest figures from the OECD, when it comes to spending on education, Germany is well below the average for all OECD countries and also the EU23 countries. We are still a long way from the “active education policy” that Ralf Dahrendorf called for 55 years ago.

The parental home decides

In the corona crisis, the parents were particularly challenged to support their children during "distance learning". Here, like in a magnifying glass, what has become clear in recent years: the family structure has a very significant impact on the framework conditions for successful learning. The education report highlights three so-called “risk situations” for education: formally poorly qualified parents and the social and financial risk situation of families (p.6). In single-parent families - the proportion of which has now risen to around 20% - the risk of growing up at risk of poverty is more than twice as high as in couple families. Children in families with a migration background are also disproportionately affected by a risk situation - this applies to almost half (47%) (in contrast to 17% for children without a migration background). In other words: the parents' social, financial and cultural capital still has a decisive influence on the educational pathways of children and young people. In practice, this can be seen, for example, in the fact that working mothers, despite their double burden, on average read more to their children than mothers who are not working (p. 8). The greatest challenge for a liberal education policy that wants to give all people the same opportunities to develop their own talents freely and to advance through education lies in these unequal conditions. Education policy, as Jürgen Kaube wrote in his bestseller, is therefore by no means the best social policy. Rather, it shows that social and educational policy must go hand in hand.

The “migration background” is a difficult term, not only because of its lack of flexibility, and sometimes it covers more than it actually explains. Whether the child of a professor or the son of a factory worker, the child of refugees or that of Humboldt Fellows - the “migration background” is too coarse a brush for a complex picture. There are great differences between the educational opportunities of children and young people, depending on which country they immigrated from and at what point in time. There is also a strong polarization (page 7). A significant proportion of the 30 to under 35 year olds have a university degree (37%), an equally large proportion (40%) but no vocational qualification at all. Globalization, migration and an increasingly heterogeneous student body are then also the reason why the national education report should be read across from the UNESCO education report, which was also published yesterday. Almost 260 million children have almost no access to education at all, in many countries there are hardly any laws and measures (“policies”) that ensure the inclusion of all children and young people in the respective educational system. It is a great challenge for the German education system to absorb these inequalities in their own classrooms and also to take the students with them, who may not only have to overcome a language barrier, but can also count on little support from their parents. The corona crisis, as the UNESCO report also emphasizes, has made this task even more difficult, as the socio-economic background of the parents' house had a significant influence on the "learning continuity solutions" (p.58) - i.e. on the media that were also used during guarantee continued learning during the pandemic.

The sleepy digitization

The researchers devote a good sixty pages to education in the digitized world (pp. 231-302). This level of detail is to be welcomed, especially with a view to the corona crisis. It turns out that the starting position in Germany was anything but brilliant to set up digital lessons quickly. At many schools, the switch was surprisingly successful - not least thanks to the outstanding commitment of individual parents and teachers. But beyond these “best practices” there are worrying gaps which, as is so often the case, have to do with the socio-economic background of the parents. The table H2-5web has it all. Based on data from the federal and state statistical offices, the ICT survey and our own calculations, it is shown that nine percent of all households have no access to the Internet. what is a matter of course for the richest (4th) quartile does not apply to a full 20% of households in the poorest (1st) quartile. This results in an essential task for politics. It is already foreseeable that the corona crisis will exacerbate educational injustice in Germany. Overcoming the corona crisis will only succeed if the switch to the hybrid school succeeds - the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom has already provided ideas for this. It is particularly important that the students who are already struggling with “risk situations” are not disadvantaged any further.

The technical equipment in schools is "still not connectable", especially mobile devices are hardly available (p.240). Building on the figures from the 2018 ICILS study and the work of Professor Birgit Eickelmann and her team, it can be seen that Germany performs below average in terms of digital equipment in an international comparison. In Denmark, for example, there is one laptop for every 7.8 students, while German students either sit in stuffy computer rooms or argue with 67 others over a laptop.

The situation looks a little better at universities, where 84% of all universities have a service unit for e-learning. (P.275). But here too, besides the infrastructure, the competence development of the teachers remains the big bottleneck. At the moment, qualification in this area is mainly self-taught, which leads to large fluctuations in the quality of digital teaching. Here, too, a digital offensive is needed to finally make universities fit for the 21st century.

Universities and Lifelong Learning

In other respects, too, the figures from the universities give a mixed picture. The number of degrees has increased rapidly to around 500,000, but this is mainly due to the increase in follow-up degrees, especially master’s degrees (p.199). On the other hand, the number of first degrees - with the exception of technical college degrees - fell slightly between 2017 and 2018 (p.199). From a liberal point of view, this shows above all that a diversification of the educational offer is gladly accepted by the students. A look at the return on education also shows (pp. 303-322) that a wide range of options pay off. It is particularly interesting, for example, that the job satisfaction of those who have made up a university degree is higher after eight years than the job satisfaction of those who have chosen the first educational path. (P.307). Above all, this underlines the importance of lifelong learning. With the help of liberal ideas such as mid-life Bafög, even more people could get the chance to participate in the second education system - and thus enjoy a demonstrably higher level of job satisfaction.

The corona crisis and its consequences

It is not yet possible to foresee what consequences the corona crisis will have on the German education system. The first numbers are worrying. A look at the unemployment figures shows, for example, that between March and April a disproportionately large number of people with an academic education became unemployed. However, it is still true that education is the best protection against unemployment.

A rescue package is now needed for the German education system during the summer holidays. The funds provided by the federal government for the digitization of schools must be accessed quickly and unbureaucratically. Every school must be equipped with end devices, service e-mail addresses and sensible software solutions so that the hybrid school can start after the summer holidays. As is currently evident from the infection rate in Göttingen, it is important that schools can react quickly to a dynamic change in the situation. A central challenge will be to ensure that individual educational paths do not suddenly become dead ends. Students whose financial foundations have broken down need quick and unbureaucratic help just as much as those students who are largely cut off from the Internet. Student teachers and other “education reservists” could be deployed to specifically close the gaps of the weakest students during the summer holidays. This will undoubtedly require considerable financial resources - but John F. Kennedy's dictum still applies: the only thing more expensive than education is no education.