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We must be open to reform

Election posters support preserving the Gymnasium in Germany

Today I’m writing my last post for this blog. For two months we’ve been blogging about education in our home countries. I’ve learned a lot about education in other parts of the world, but also about the German system.

When talking about these subjects, I recognize a certain pattern: Often an education system’s performance is only evaluated by looking at the numbers of students who go on to get higher degrees or earn better marks – in other words, those who seem more prepared for the job market. But there is another factor that makes the educational system tremendously valuable to a society. And this factor is related to the discussion with my friend Katharina that I posted: Pre-schools and schools offer a very important opportunity to bring the members of a society closer together. Yet, Germany doesn’t fully seize this opportunity. On the contrary, the three-tiered school tracking system in many German states furthers the division of our society.

While I had contact with children from all across the social spectrum during my time in elementary school, I stayed friends mostly with students who were also able to go on to a Gymnasium after fourth grade (To have a better idea of what I mean, have a look at my overview of the German school system here). Only at 17 did I hang out with my old classmates again. By then, they had finished other kinds of schools known in German as Hauptschulen or Realschulen. These reunions are traditional in our village: Those who are 18 years old organize a festival each summer. In many cities, traditions like this don’t exist anymore, and neighborhoods and social clubs tend to be divided up along class lines. Schools could be one of the few places left to work against our society breaking apart into separate classes because all children have to attend them.

Politicians often neglect this fact. In the state of Rhineland Palatinate they have abandoned the concept of the Hauptschule. There wasn’t a lot of resistance against this reform. The existence of the Gymnasium wasn’t questioned. Many students attending a Gymnasium and their parents regard their school as a symbol of their achievement and status. Yet, these students miss a lot of opportunities for learning how to socialize with other groups of people. They can also lose sight of the realities faced by many people living in their country.

My high school - a gymnasium - offered a rather cloistered environment

It is still understandable that many parents don’t worry about this as long as their children will have better chances in the job market. They think that their children will learn more easily in this protected environment. Research to the contrary is often powerless against such convictions. For this reason, many parents organized demonstrations when the Gymnasium was to be abandoned in Hamburg. And politicians in Germany’s liberal party proclaimed on their posters during the election campaign in North Rhine-Westphalia: “Keep the Gymnasium!”

Can we thus regard the fact that politicians don’t touch the Gymnasium as an election strategy? After all, the most politically active people usually send their children to one. In the socially disadvantaged parts of society, on the other hand, children often don’t make it to a Gymnasium, and there are very few people who would organize any kind of demonstrations or collect signatures or step up in front of a camera to make their point. Additionally, these people vote less often than those with a higher income and a better education.

I would like for committed politicians throughout Germany to no longer regard the Gymnasium as “untouchable” in the future. I also want them to support reforms that will really bring about fair opportunities and stronger cohesion in our society. After all, we have so many more financial resources in Germany than many other countries have. Shouldn’t it be possible to come closer to realizing these goals?

Bild1: FDP-Wahlplakat währen NRW-Wahlkampf

Bild2: Mein Gymnasium bot ein sehr behütetes Umfeld: Es war ein katholisches Mädchengymnasium


July 9, 2012 | 5:15 pm