There had been a lot of criticism of this so-called education summit by Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP). A summit at which no other of the 16 Ministers of Education will take part, apart from Hamburg Education Senator Ties Rabe and the President of the Conference of Ministers of Education (KMK), who will soon be leaving Berlin Education Senator Astrid-Sabine Busse (both SPD)?
Which lacks a “professional structure” and thus becomes a “pure PR show”, as Hesse’s Minister of Education Alexander Lorz complained, and which therefore has to be “listlessly processed through the coalition agreement”, as his colleague Karin Prien (both CDU) argues Schleswig-Holstein seconded?
Expectations could not have been any lower before this meeting, which, as moderator Armin Himmelrath admitted in his welcoming address, was “as it were grafted on” as a morning program to the educational research conference of the Federal Ministry of Education, which takes place every two years anyway.
With regard to format, preparation, agenda and participants, this summit does not meet the challenges, 50 foundations, trade unions and educational associations had criticized in a joint appeal beforehand. And called for a real "national education summit", involving Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and the heads of government of the federal states.
And yet Stark-Watzinger was relatively unimpressed by the loud criticism. “I really appreciate the Chancellor. But the work is not done in one meeting. It's a bit old-school to think that you make a summit and the problems are solved," said Stark-Watzinger. "It's about naming topics." You will now start with five theses in a joint work process. "And if at the end of the process there is a meeting in which the chancellor is also present, that's fine with me too."
To this end, Stark-Watzinger plans to propose the establishment of an “education task force” to the Conference of Ministers of Education, in which the federal, state and local governments as well as science and civil society should participate. At the moment we are not yet at the summit, but are starting in the “North German Plain”, added KMK President Busse.
When the task force intended by Stark-Watzinger will be founded, who will belong to it, when the first results will be presented - all of this remained vague on Tuesday. However, the Minister of Education laid down the task in a position paper. "The educational republic of Germany is in a deep crisis," it says.
In the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, every fifth child does not meet the minimum standards, and children from socially disadvantaged families are particularly affected. “We need a turnaround in education policy that renews the promise of advancement. There can be no business as usual.”
Stark-Watzinger sees nothing less than a "Herculean task" for those responsible. A new culture of cooperation is therefore needed. "Many problems are structural," said the Minister of Education. “You point at each other, federal and state governments. But no child has ever learned from that.”
In view of the scarce resources, a "rejection of the watering can principle" is also necessary, according to the Minister of Education. “Programs worth billions can come to nothing if we don’t have clear goals and data and indicators. Even the best initiative will come to nothing without a critical review of its success.” That was a clear reference to the “Starting Chances Program” with which the federal government wants to support selected schools in socially disadvantaged parts of the city. So far, however, the countries have been waiting in vain for specific information about equipment and the starting point.
Hamburg's education senator Rabe pointed out as a precautionary measure during a panel discussion that the Königstein key, since federal money is normally distributed to the states, is not the appropriate standard here. "Disadvantaged countries should definitely get more from the program." Great applause from the specialist audience.
And Rabe noted something else: In view of the education crisis and the rampant shortage of teachers, politicians do not have time for lengthy federal debates on responsibility. "There hasn't been a majority for a necessary amendment to the Basic Law for 70 years - this pointless debate would really be a waste of time. The current system may not be perfect, but it gives everyone who wants to trade great opportunities to do so.”
After the meeting, however, opinions differed widely on the chances of success for the “Task Force Education” that was now to be set up. The educational policy spokeswoman for the Greens parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Nina Stahr, described Tuesday as the “start of an urgently needed reform process. We want to get away from the ban on cooperation and towards a new, cooperative educational federalism.”
For her colleague Nicole Gohlke from the left faction, however, the task force is nothing but "the cherry on the cake of the listless summit".
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