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OECD report card on German education: Needs improvement

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Add it up. Source: DPA

Education Minister Anja Karliczek was somewhat justified in her fulsome praise this week of the German education system. There has been a huge increase in the percentage of children enrolled in preschool, and the so-called dual training system, a combination of classroom learning and on-the-job training, is a model for other countries.

“It enables everyone to increase their own capabilities, to take the right career path and thereby to lay the foundations for a good life,” she said at the presentation of the OECD’s annual education report on Germany.

But for all its strengths, Germany’s education system still fails to provide equal opportunities for all, as pointed out by Heino von Meyer, the head of the OECD’s Berlin Centre. The proportion of students who leave school without qualifications is at 13 percent; Canada, Poland, Russia and the US all have rates below 10 percent. Even though Germany remains slightly below the OECD average of 15 percent here, it’s wasting economic potential, Mr. von Meyer warned.

The OECD also criticized the fact that educational opportunities in Germany remain strongly linked to social background. Some 49 percent of children with mothers who have university degrees are enrolled in preschool, whereas it’s just 37 percent of children of less educated mothers. That’s got to change, Mr. von Meyer said.

That divide continues throughout school — the more educated a child’s parents are, the higher the chances are that he or she will obtain qualifications and go to university.

Migrants struggle if they have come to Germany as adults, and the country needs to do more to offer them schooling and training, Ms. Karliczek said. On the plus side, there’s virtually no difference in employment rates for Germans and migrants who immigrated when they were young when compared by qualification.

The minister said migrants were increasingly enrolling their children in early childhood education, which helps them learn German and boosts their chances of success when they go to school. Some 37 percent of all children under 3 and 95 percent of children age 3 to 5 in Germany go to preschool, significant increases from the rates of 17 percent and 88 percent recorded in 2005.

That’s a success story. But the key now is to recruit more preschool teachers, said Helmut Holter, the head of the conference of regional education ministers. The German government plans to boost funding for kindergartens starting next year when €5.5 billion ($6.4 billion) will be made available to regional states by 2022.

Education experts are hoping this support becomes permanent. Mr. Holter said the federal government must take a bigger role in funding education in Germany, which remains the domain of the regional states. But that would require a change in the constitution. The government of Baden-Württemberg this week reiterated its opposition to giving federal authorities a bigger say in education policy.

Germany could do better on overall investment in education. The OECD said the country spends just 4.2 percent of its GDP on education, less than the OECD average of 5 percent. And it would be lower if it weren’t for the “massive investment by businesses in dual training,” Mr. von Meyer said. The government needs to increase spending on schools and universities, he added. “Saving on education will backfire badly.”

Frank Specht is based at Handelsblatt’s Berlin bureau, where he focuses on the German labor market and trade unions. To contact the author: specht@handelsblatt.com

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