Cracks emerge in Germany’s coveted education system
A new study found that nearly two million young people have no qualifications
Germany likes to think of itself as the land of poets and thinkers. It enjoys a global reputation for excellent craftsmanship. The label ‘Made in Germany’ continues to evoke high standards. But, behind the scenes, Germany’s rigid education system is creaking at the seams, creating a shortage of skills and an imbalance in life chances that have begun to undermine an economy reliant on a well-trained workforce.
A study published on Monday revealed that the proportion of pupils leaving school without anything to show for it has risen to 6.2%, while there are 1.7 million young people between 20 and 30 years old who have no professional qualifications at all — that’s nearly one in five of the total. Klaus Klemm, who led the team that conducted the study, warned of a “huge waste of human potential”.
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But the warning signs have been there for a long time. International studies, such as those conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), have suggested that social mobility in Germany is lower than in most comparable economies. Its 2018 report warned that it would take a child whose parents’ earnings are in the lowest 10% bracket six generations, or 180 years, to earn anywhere near the average income. It concluded that “this has severe social, economic and political consequences”.
Part of the problem is the country’s tiered school system. Education is a devolved issue over which each German state presides, but in most cases secondary schools offer either general, vocational or academic education, and it is difficult to switch between school types. Usually only the highest tier grants access to university and specialised apprenticeships. Many students are therefore set on predetermined life paths at the age of 12 or younger based on their teachers’ recommendation and their parents’ expectations.
This calcified system is unsuited to support those who develop their talents at a later stage, those whose parents or teachers have limited ambitions for them, and those who don’t understand how it works. Academic achievement becomes a matter of outlook as much as ability.
In the eastern states of Thuringia and Saxony, for instance, drop-out rates are particularly high, despite higher-than-average academic ability in the segments most at risk. A spokesperson for the Thuringian Social Democratic Party (SPD) suspects this is due to the fact that “perspectives for young people just aren’t as good as, for example, in North Rhine-Westphalia”, a state in the far west of the country.
Such stark regional and social imbalances not only leave an awful lot of young Germans behind, but they also exacerbate a shortage of skilled workers, which industry captains in Europe’s largest economy have bemoaned for years. Over half of them deem this to be the biggest threat to their businesses.
Supposed quick-fix solutions like more immigration, which many have called for, are not the answer. Unsurprisingly, an education system that lacks flexibility for those who have lived with it for generations is even more ill-suited to coping with people who come from different social, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Children without German citizenship are nearly three times more likely than their German peers to leave school without any qualifications.
Germany needs to face up to the fact that its education system requires nothing short of a complete overhaul if it wants to build a fairer society and repair the cracks in the foundation upon which ‘Made in Germany’ is built.
Just 6.2% of pupils leave school without qualifications, yet nearly 20% of 20 to 30 years olds have no qualifications. Presumably the difference is migrants with no qualifications? The solution proposed here seems to risk lowering standards at the highest level. If over 94% of pupils can gain a qualification, then that qualification may not be worth very much. Do Germans want “a fairer society” or a prosperous and successful one?
Maybe they’ll do like the Americans and decide that Equity is all that matters, thus the entire system must be dumbed down until the Blacks and the Arabs can succeed.
“its education system requires nothing short of a complete overhaul if it wants to build a fairer society”
This quote highlights the usual mindset of the left. A complete disruption of a working system to creat a “fairer society”. A Marxist program that invariably ends badly.
The German system works fine, precisely because of this tiering. Adding morepeople to university would just lower academic stadards and put brakes onthe german economy.
The demagoguery that every pupil can and should go to university is a very costly lie.
This to me is an article which is about nothing. If it was news, it would be fake news. Somebody has an algorithm which shows that youngsters in the lowest tier will take 180 years to get somewhere useful – 6 generations. No calculation or algorithm can project forward in this way. The danger is that you can write an algorithm to give you an answer which supports your thesis – or one which gives the opposite answer. Douglas Adams knew this.
Within and before 180 years have passed, different skills will be needed. People will return to training for the church (which church?), more people will be needed locally, like handy-people (Did I really type handy-people? Oops, did it again). Germany still has factory workers and managers but they will disappear. Every other person will become a hairdresser or a manicurist. To solve the ‘hairdresser problem’ they will have to develop a space industry.
It reminds me of the climate change algorithms. You get your laptop, feed in a few facts, design an algorithm and the answer is, of course – 42.
What about the glut of telephone sanitisers that may well arise in 180 years tine?
We can launch them off into a space in a giant Ark.
We can have equality of opportunity but not equality of outcome, unless you want to live in a type of Stalinist Russia or Maoist China.
According to an analysis by the Children’s Commissioner for England in 2018, 18% of children in England (that’s nearly 100k) left education at 18 without reaching Level 2 attainment, i.e. without obtaining five GCSEs grade A* to C, or equivalent. I couldn’t find out how many had nothing what-so-ever, but, given the continual grade inflation for GCSEs, if they haven’t got Level 2 attainment then it’s pretty much nothing anyway. So, 6.2% would be a massive achievement in England.
“it would take a child whose parents’ earnings are in the lowest 10% bracket six generations, or 180 years, to earn anywhere near the average income”
This is a problem to the extent that it’s a lack of connections or inherited wealth that keeps capable poor children down, but in a society that has been meritocratic for a long time you wouldn’t expect much social mobility, because traits that lead to success are highly heritable.
its education system requires nothing short of a complete overhaul if it wants to build a fairer society and repair the cracks in the foundation upon which ‘Made in Germany’ is built.
That doesn’t make sense to me. If the system has produced the ‘Made in Germany’ premium branding (and products hopefully!) why would it need a complete overhaul?
Streaming kids at 12 doesn’t appeal to me however, but maybe it works?
No evidence is presented that tiering is the reason for the low attainment, or to explain why tiering, which has worked so well for so long, is suddenly a bad thing.
I suppose that, based on arguments like this, Germany is going to make the same disastrous mistake Britain did in the 70s. Accelerating the cultural and economic dominance of Asia, where tiering is very common and arguments like this don’t get the same traction.
I dislike Germany as a place, and their people, but given our ” Ejjukayshin” system, we are hardly in a position to criticise them?
pipl att skole him Englund gett veri gud lernin an ejjukayshin innit?
I suggest the author read “Coming Apart” or one of an abundance of other good reference material on why social mobility has decreased in modern society. There are logical reasons that can’t be blamed on lack of opportunity or social supports. IQ is a very strong predictor of lifetime earning potential. People with high IQ marry others with high IQ. IQ is highly heritable. Society is highly technical and hard to navigate if your IQ isn’t high. One could argue that all of those facts “aren’t fair”, but they are facts nonetheless. Blaming the school system is facile and evades all of these realities.
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