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“Ideologues are at work at school”

Bernhard Krötz looks into the camera, raises both arms and greets his viewers: "Welcome to a new contribution!" A bookshelf can be seen in the background.

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“Ideologues are at work at school”

Bernhard Krötz looks into the camera, raises both arms and greets his viewers: "Welcome to a new contribution!" A bookshelf can be seen in the background. Krötz is a professor of mathematics at the University of Paderborn. He has been posting videos on his YouTube channel for almost three years. At first it was math exercises.

In 2020, during the lockdown, the universities were closed. The students stayed at home and, like many of his colleagues, Krötz switched to the Internet for teaching. The mathematician has been using his channel for a year to publish articles on mathematics and education policy. At the end of February, the native Bavarian goes online with the video "School Mathematics: Comparison of India and North Rhine-Westphalia". The comparison is devastating.

The professor begins his video by presenting the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), a test that young Indians must take in order to be admitted to one of the country's engineering colleges. The test consists of a main test, which 1.5 million young people in India took last year. The best 400,000 of them were then admitted to the second part. Calculators are forbidden during the exam.

This test is primarily about mathematics – including the physics and chemistry questions. Only 10,000 participants solve more than 50 percent of the tasks correctly, and they are then guaranteed a place at the country's elite universities. But no participant solves less than 15 percent of tasks. Krötz goes through the test. The mathematician can be enthusiastic about many of the questions, finds them well and cleverly asked. His conclusion: In Germany, almost nobody would pass the test, he says.

This is mainly due to what and how children and young people in Germany learn mathematics at school. In the video he shows the new, not yet published core mathematics curriculum for secondary level II in North Rhine-Westphalia. According to politicians, this curriculum will soon determine what is taught in schools. According to Krötz, the mathematical goals are not challenging enough. Also, this curriculum is not just about teaching children math. So-called gender-sensitive and intercultural education are now also topics in math lessons.

At the end of the video, Krötz shows the math problems of a Realschule final exam that was set in Baden-Württemberg in 1971. After the professor has compared these with the exams for today's Realschule teachers, he is certain: "It is almost impossible that a newly trained Realschule teacher would pass these exams from 1971 today."

Krötz' videos usually have between 300 and 700 viewers. Now it's different: "The video was viewed more than 30,000 times within a good ten days. The number of subscribers to my YouTube channel has increased tenfold. I got letters from all over the country, also from other university teachers.” The video struck a chord.

“Mathematics is the basis for being able to train good engineers, physicists or chemists. Mathematical knowledge is the basis of our prosperity and people know that,” says the professor. One cares less and less about this basis. It is frowned upon today for teachers to explain something to their students, children should acquire knowledge themselves. "Teachers are pushed into a moderator role," says Krötz.

Children should learn a lot at home by watching videos: "They should acquire the theoretical knowledge themselves, but that doesn't work. Ideologists are at work at school.” Even “writing by ear”, a method that supposedly made it easier for children to learn to write, had proved to be a disaster. "In math lessons, other mistakes are made, but they are of the same size." This is primarily at the expense of children from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds: "It's difficult for those who can't rely on their parents' help."

Children from families with a migration background are also disadvantaged: “Mathematical symbols are international. A plus or minus sign means the same in Turkey or Syria as in Germany. Mathematics was once the subject in which many immigrant children excelled.” Today, word problems are modern. A disadvantage for everyone who does not have a perfect command of German.

Krötz wants math lessons to get better again. This requires groups of students who are at a similarly high level. And teachers who have a solid mathematical education. The Abitur, says the mathematician, no longer has anything to do with a university entrance qualification. "Education for all sounds good, but the promise is not kept." The professor is in favor of universities holding entrance exams.

However, India is not his educational policy role model: “We have a different educational tradition, it relies heavily on evidence and justification and less on learning by heart. In India, hard work is also popular with students, but we all need time to reflect and reflect on what we have learned.”

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