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The German school system is reaching the limits of its capabilities

The Corona crisis, the enormous immigration as part of the refugee crisis and increasing social inequality in Germany have pushed the school system to the limits of its capacity.

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The German school system is reaching the limits of its capabilities

The Corona crisis, the enormous immigration as part of the refugee crisis and increasing social inequality in Germany have pushed the school system to the limits of its capacity. At the end of the fourth grade, more and more elementary school students no longer reach the minimum standards set by the Conference of Ministers of Education in the subjects German and mathematics.

This is the result of the IQB education trend for the year 2021, which the Institute for Quality in Education (IQB) presented on Monday. Although the basic findings were presented in July, the detailed results are now available.

And they don't say anything good: Compared to the years 2011 and 2016, the skills of the fourth graders in the subjects German and mathematics have sagged across the board. The proportion of high-performing students who meet or exceed the standard has decreased in both subjects. At the same time, the proportion of students who do not even meet the minimum standards has increased and are therefore at high risk of an unsuccessful educational path.

Since 2016, the overall decline in competence in Germany has corresponded to a learning time of around a third of a school year in reading, half a school year in listening, a quarter of a school year in spelling and a quarter of a school year in mathematics.

The data was collected from 26,844 schoolchildren between April and August 2021, i.e. immediately after the corona-related lockdown. At that time, most schools were still in alternating classes, said IQB boss Petra Stanat. It is true that no clear attribution of causes for the trends is possible on the basis of the data. "However, there is some evidence that the restrictions imposed by the pandemic played a role in the unfavorable developments," Stanat said.

According to the 1,464 participating schools, the examined fourth-graders had received an average of around 32 weeks of distance or alternating learning - three quarters of the school year was not regular. The results have shown that the skills achieved "are mostly significantly related to the learning conditions examined, in particular to the spatial and technical equipment at home," says the report.

Overall, almost 19 percent failed to meet the minimum standard in reading on average across Germany, a good 18 percent in listening and as much as 30 percent in spelling. In mathematics, 22 percent of the students did not reach the minimum standard. Between six and eight percent of the fourth graders had optimal skills in German and almost eleven percent in mathematics. The rest were in midfield. Compared to 2016, all federal states recorded a negative trend.

Nevertheless, the performance differences are sometimes significant. Bavaria, for example, has once again been particularly successful in securing the standard and minimum standards. In Saxony, too, the results are significantly more favorable than the average. In Bremen and Berlin, on the other hand, the standard standards were met less often in all areas of competence and the minimum standards were missed more often than is the case throughout Germany. According to the report, the results were also significantly less favorable in Brandenburg and North Rhine-Westphalia. There are no reliable results for Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania due to the early summer holidays.

The President of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Schleswig-Holstein Minister of Education Karin Prien (CDU) called the results "sobering". “Up until 2016, we were well on the way to improving the educational opportunities for fourth graders in some countries. But now we have clearly fallen behind,” said Prien. The reason for this is not only the corona-related learning losses, but also failures in early childhood support. "We invest too little in the elementary sector in Germany," said Prien.

According to a new study, the educational level of fourth graders has fallen significantly. That should by no means be accepted,” says Karin Prien, Chair of the Conference of Ministers of Education. She thinks it is too easy to attribute the poor performance to the corona pandemic.

Source: WELT / Tatjana Ohm

This requires systematic and early language proficiency surveys. The promotion of German and mathematical preliminary skills must already take place in the day-care center. Due to the strong refugee movements, the composition of the student body has changed significantly since 2016, said Prien. "This has implications for heterogeneity and the associated challenges for teachers."

A look at the numbers shows how massively migration has reached schools. According to this, the proportion of fourth graders growing up in immigrant families has increased by almost 14 percentage points since 2011 and was around 38 percent on average in 2021, with a range of twelve percent in Saxony and 58 percent in Bremen.

Overall, the skills losses for children with an immigrant background were mostly greater, so that even with an overall declining level of skills, the performance gap continues to widen, write the educational researchers. And another well-known but no less unsatisfactory finding persists: the connection between school success and socio-economic status.

The IQB researchers called the results "worrying". "There should be broad agreement that such numbers are unacceptable," they write. Minimum standards are requirements that all students should achieve. "All groups of actors in the education system have to take care of this together." Prien pointed out that the Conference of Ministers of Education had already set up a Standing Scientific Commission (SWK) two years ago, which wanted to present an expert opinion on the primary school in December.

The German Teachers' Association described the study as "proof of an unchecked dramatic educational crash". Association President Heinz-Peter Meidinger warned against blaming the drop in performance primarily on Corona. The culprit is the "failed school policy for years", which got bogged down in secondary war zones, "instead of placing the focus of teaching at primary school on the comprehensive acquisition of the basic skills of reading, arithmetic and writing".

"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.

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