If the German education system were graded, it would probably get a “poor”. In schools, the plaster is crumbling from the walls, toilets are neglected and gymnasiums are almost permanently closed for repair work. Lessons are canceled regularly. And with the much-needed digitization, things are progressing in tiny steps at best. More and more students are in danger of falling behind. The Corona crisis finally revealed the failure in the classrooms. And of all places in comparatively wealthy Germany.
The schools as representatives for the German infrastructure crisis
The educational misery is not only the result of mismanagement and bad planning, but also a key indicator of the infrastructure crisis in the Federal Republic of Germany. At the same time, the demands on school policy have increased, since they are supposed to help master social tasks – such as integration and democratic social education.
The schools suffer the most from a massive shortage of teachers. “We are currently assuming that there are 30,000 to 40,000 vacancies. According to the Conference of Ministers of Education, 12,000 jobs are missing. There is a big difference in the assessment,” says the head of the Robert Bosch Foundation’s education department, Dagmar Wolf, of the Germans Wave.
The German Teachers’ Association explains the difference by saying that the figures from the Conference of Ministers of Education have been embellished. In many federal states, the hours at the beginning of the school year are canceled depending on the teacher shortage, so that the demand is only covered on paper, the association is quoted as saying in a report by the editorial network Germany (RND). Sometimes parents or other non-educators are also used as so-called school helpers and counted as teachers in the statistics. According to the figures published by the Conference of Ministers of Education this January, a total of almost 833,000 teachers were employed in Germany in 2021.
“Biggest teacher shortage in Germany for 50 years”
“The alarm bells have been ringing for a long time. We have had a teacher shortage for ten years. However, I cannot remember such drama and sharpness as we are experiencing now. And I have been in the business for a long time,” says the President of the German Teachers’ Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, in a DW interview. In his estimation, it is “the biggest shortage of teachers in 50 years”.
And so two thirds (67 percent) of the school administrations see the greatest challenge in the lack of pedagogical staff. This was the result of the German School Barometer published a few days ago by the Robert Bosch Foundation. In socially disadvantaged locations, as many as 80 percent said so.
The other problems seem almost irrelevant in comparison. The study mentioned, among other things, the sluggish pace of digitization (22 percent), too much bureaucracy (21 percent) and a high personal workload (20 percent). For the representative school barometer, the opinion research institute Forsa surveyed 1,055 school administrators online between the end of October and mid-November last year.
Teachers’ Association boss Heinz-Peter Meidinger sees three main causes for the pedagogical misery. First, politicians reacted too late to the rise in births that has been going on for twelve years. Secondly, it has been admitted that in the last 20 to 30 years there has been a massive reduction in teaching positions. “And thirdly, there were refugee movements. Like now from the Ukraine with 200,000 additional children within a year. The schools were not prepared for that.”
The Institute of German Economics calculated how many teachers are needed for these students alone: If 3.5 percent of the approximately 7.5 million Ukrainian children and young people come to Germany, which corresponds to 261,000 minors, 13,500 additional teachers will be needed. With an escape rate of five percent – ie for 373,000 underage refugees – 19,400 more educators are needed than before.
Up to 80,000 vacant teaching positions by 2030
The greatest shortage of teachers is yet to come. “We are entering a time when the baby boomer generation is about to retire. That will exacerbate the situation dramatically,” says Dagmar Wolf. According to researchers, “by 2030 we will have more than 80,000 vacancies in the teaching profession”. In addition, there was a lack of school social workers, school psychologists and school counselors to promote inclusion. The goal of inclusion is that everyone is accepted and can participate in society on an equal footing and in a self-determined manner – regardless of gender, age, origin or state of health.
Wolf diagnosed “acute need for action”. This also applies to the cooperation between the 16 federal states, which are responsible for education in federal Germany. Education policy is coordinated jointly in the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education. At the same time, the federal states are pursuing selfish goals when it comes to recruiting the best teachers. “If you look at Bavaria, Prime Minister Markus Söder’s strategy is to try to poach as many teachers as possible from other federal states next year,” says Wolf. The federal states were therefore more likely to compete with one another.
But how can the teaching profession be made more attractive? For example, by reducing the sprawling, deterrent bureaucracy: “If you ask teachers what they want most, then it’s not more salary, but more time for their core tasks,” says educator Heinz-Peter Meidinger. Colleagues would be burdened with more and more additional tasks. Statistics would have to be kept, book money collected, school trips organized and additional projects taken on. “Of course, digitization also requires a great deal of training and support, which is often lacking.”
A 15-point plan for more teachers in Germany
The Standing Scientific Commission of the Conference of Ministers of Education (SWK) proposes, among other things, to keep retirees employed. They also recommend limiting part-time work. “49 percent of teachers work part-time, this is where the greatest potential for developing resources lies,” says a press release from the commission.
The trade union for education and science, GEW, turned to politics with a “15-point plan against the shortage of teachers”. With the recruitment of administrative staff and IT specialists, “teachers should be relieved of non-specialist tasks”. A few other suggestions: higher salaries, qualifications for career changers, better school equipment, more study places and the abolition of study restrictions.
Corona as a driver of digitization in schools: During the pandemic, a teacher teaches via the Internet
The GEW also welcomes “tutoring” from abroad: Qualifications from other countries should be recognized more easily. According to the latest figures from the Conference of Ministers of Education, most teachers with foreign nationality have come from Europe, as expected. At the top is France (939) ahead of Poland (810) and Italy (738).
Foreign teachers face bureaucratic hurdles
“The problem is not that too few people apply, but that foreign teachers hardly have a chance in Germany due to the very difficult recognition process,” says Dagmar Wolf from the Robert Bosch Foundation. Teaching is a formalized one professional recognition of the respective foreign qualification.
“In federalism, we have the problem that there is no uniform regulation, but that the federal states regulate it very individually.” Accordingly, there is great interest from people who have obtained a degree abroad, “but in the end very, very few end up in the system due to the bureaucratic hurdles”.
In view of the shortage of teachers, Wolf gives the export and knowledge nation Germany, whose most important raw material is the education of its citizens, a miserable report: Germany is not only at risk of being transferred, “it has already failed,” she judges. “However, many a sitter later made a career.”