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Education for all

Five bloggers, five countries, one dialogue

“The future of education is in Web 2.0”


Thorsten uses the internet for his studies

My family members have taken different paths through the German educational system. To offer you more insight, I interviewed my cousins and my brother. In my first interview, I’m speaking to my cousin Thorsten, 26, who went to school in Germany and Canada. He thinks schools should offer a broad-based education to further society’s cohesion.

What are you doing at the moment?

Thorsten: I’m working on my Master thesis in IT Management at a University of Applied Sciences.

How do you finance your studies?

I’m doing a dual program which means I’m working for a company, earning money there, and I’m studying at the same time.

Did you receive your high school diploma in Germany?

No, I got my diploma from Bishops College School, a Canadian boarding school. Before that I had gone to a Gesamtschule in North-Rhine Westphalia. [An overview of the German school system is available here.]

Comparing your experiences from a Canadian boarding school with those from your German Gesamtschule: What aspects should the two countries learn from each other?

Well, when I compare sixth form in Canada to the Abitur in Germany, I think there are two approaches: The German system still tries to give their pupil a very broad education, while the Canadian (Ontario equivalent) system at my school tried to prepare us for university. In Canada, that meant I only had six main subjects which prepared me for a scientific degree at university, while the German system has many more subjects.

So, which system do you prefer?

It really depends on what one wants to achieve: Do you want your pupils to have very broad knowledge and to deepen their understanding in a specific subject at university? Or should the subject area narrow itself at the end of sixth form to prepare for university? I personally believe it’s better to have a very broad knowledge base at the end of your school career and deepen your knowledge in specific subjects at university.

Why do you think so?

Because I think that society can be more united if everybody is able to communicate with one another. Moreover, everybody personally can profit of a better education because you can develop your own opinion.

Have you felt lost out because you went to a sixth form and got a more specialized degree?

No, thanks to today’s technology I was able to acquire a lot of knowledge. If I want to know something, I can Google the basics of a particular subject within minutes.

In Germany, children of parents without a college education have fewer opportunities to receive an Abitur or to study. What should be done against this inequality, in your opinion?

A football game at Thorsten's Canadian school

I think one of the problems is the way the German system divides students very early into three different kinds of schools after elementary school. I believe every school system should leave it open up to the end whether pupils want to do their Abitur, whether they want to study or not. Thus, all children should be taught together at one school which supports children according to their individual strengths, as the school did that I went to in Germany until tenth grade.

Should the Gymnasium be abolished?

No, it can be kept. But what is important is that all children are individually supported, and this is required at all schools. And here the way of teaching becomes important.

How should teachers teach their students?

I think it’s time to completely re-think schooling. This will happen anyways. It’s only a matter of time. Technology opens new opportunities.

What kinds of opportunities do you mean?

For example, means that enable us to learn from any location. By using those, a five-year-old could theoretically already participate in a university course. In particularly, I’m thinking of models of the Khan Academy, which are already used at schools.

What is the Khan Academy?

Speaking broadly, it is an online platform to study. Kids can acquire the theoretical basics of a subject with videos and digital exercises. Afterwards they put it into practice in group works, discussions, and so on. Teachers follow their students’ progress with the help of the platform and see what kind of individual support their students need.

Do you, therefore, see the key to more equality in the smart use of technologies?

Yes – combined with a good mentoring system. The future of education is in Web 2.0, and the country that uses this potential first will be the first to profit from it – first within its society and then in an economic way.


June 21, 2012 | 8:00 am