Crèche crisis

Plans to tackle kindergarten shortages are flawed, say critics

Beitragsfreies Kita-Jahr ab 2018
Who wouldn't want to work here? Source: dpa

The German government plans to boost funding for kindergartens from next year when a total of €5.5 billion ($6.5 billion) in federal money will be made available to regional states by 2022.

It’s a flagship project by Family Minister Franziska Giffey, who wants child daycare centers to recruit more teachers, open longer, boost German language teaching for immigrant children and cut fees for parents.

The cash is sorely needed. Kindergartens face a shortage of around 300,000 staff up to 2025 and staff to child ratios are suffering. A new study by the Bertelsmann Foundation found the average number of children per teacher in nurseries for under-threes amounted to 4.3 in March 2017, above the Foundation’s recommended maximum of three.

For kindergartens catering for children aged between three and six, the number was 9.1, above the maximum of 7.5.

The study warned that the ratios haven’t improved in the past two years, and that western German nurseries have more teachers on average than the former communist east.

Not child’s play

Ms. Giffey has so far balked at setting national standards for the number of children per teacher. That risks widening the gap between east and west as the new cash needs to be targeted at nurseries that need it most, said Jürg Dräger, a member of the Bertelsmann board.

“Without uniform nationwide standards and legally mandated standards the patchwork in kindergarten quality will persist,” he said.

The move by a number of German states to offer free childcare will hurt the quality of care because they aren’t devoting enough funds to it, he said. He also called for the federal program, which only runs until 2023, to be made permanent.

Ms. Giffey has said many kindergartens are failing to give children the language and social skills they need for school, which starts at six years in Germany.

Business leaders have also called for improvements. “With small children you lay the foundations for successful schooling — that is why there has to be increased investment in the quality of childcare in addition to expanding the quantity,” said Gerhard Braun, deputy president of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA).

He called for more teachers, better children-to-teacher ratios and a permanent federal subsidy for kindergartens. “Children’s prospects for a good education shouldn’t depend solely on where they live,” he said.

There’s another factor. The better the childcare facilities are in a region, the easier it becomes for companies there to attract skilled workers. “Satisfactory full-time daycare enables parents to join the job market without having to worry about it,” said Achim Dercks of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

He said the government’s new childcare plans would give parents and employers more flexibility by requiring kindergartens to lengthen their opening times. The German economy is suffering from a huge shortage of workers with 1.6 million vacancies. “That’s why people who want to work more should be able to,” said Mr. Dercks.

Ms. Giffey’s next project is a recruitment drive for kindergartens with the aim of attracting more young teachers. Federal money will be made available for that too from 2019, to help regional states and local authorities train and retrain new staff.

Heike Anger is an editor for economics and politics. Barbara Gillmann writes about education, research, family policy, demographic development and Germany’s Green party. To contact the authors: anger@handelsblatt.com, b.gillmann@handelsblatt.com

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