Are German children getting dumber?
Yes. But why?
German school children are getting stupider. That is a sad but incontrovertible fact.
A national assessment of primary school children, released last week, found an “unacceptable” slip in standards in reading, comprehension and mathematics since 2011.
German education is managed at the state level, meaning that the country has 16 different education authorities. But it doesn’t matter where you look, standards have fallen in every state and in every discipline.
Between the first report by the IQB (Institute for Quality Development in Education) in 2011 and the second in 2016 there was a clear slip in standards.
But between 2016 and now, standards have fallen off a cliff.
In writing, the national average slipped from a 2011 benchmark of 500 to 471 today. In listening the drop was from 500 to 456, in maths from 500 to 462.
In one example, a fifth of fourth-grade children couldn’t tell the difference in time between 10:50 a.m and 11:30 a.m.
States like Thuringia and Saxony Anhalt, which once had top class education systems, saw a massive slump in standards.
As in previous reports, Saxony and Bavaria were far ahead of the pack. But even their children have slipped below the national average of a decade ago.
Once again, the city states of Berlin and Bremen lagged far behind the rest of the country. A third of fourth graders in these two states didn’t even fulfill the minimum standards in reading and maths.
The decision to shut down schools during the pandemic exacerbated the drop in standards, the report found. It also noted that poorer and immigrant children suffered most, likely because they struggled to get any work done at home.
What has the reaction been?
Take a look at which states are doing a good job and a clear pattern emerges, writes Alan Posener in Die Welt. While Saxony and Bavaria lie in the hands of the conservative CDU/CSU, "the SPD is responsible for the debacle in four of the worst five states.” That’s a “devastating finding” for a party that prides itself on supporting social advancement through access to quality education.
The decision to close schools in the pandemic "threw the education system back into the 19th century,'' writes Paul Munzinger in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. But that's only part of the story. “In 2011, a quarter of fourth grade children had an immigrant background. Ten years later, that figure is 38 percent."
Other parts of the country should look to Hamburg for inspiration, Munzinger advises. The port city used to be as bad as Berlin, but it developed a new strategy focused on language classes which has pulled it up the rankings.
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The report confirms what many people long suspected. The singular gaze on hospitalisations during the years 2020 and 2021 had an egregious impact on aspects of life that are critical to Germany’s future.
The penny has finally dropped on this point. Even if Covid cases surge again this winter, school children won’t be sent back into distance learning.
But the pandemic can’t take all the blame - nor can the rise in children who speak another language at home.
Primary school teacher unions have responded to the results by deamnding that the politicians recruit more teachers. They say that they need help to deal with the “growing heterogeneity” in their classrooms.
Secondary school teachers on the other hand see the roots of the problem elsewhere. They blame their primary school peers for being too nice to pupils.
Cornelia Schwartz, chairwoman of the gymnasium teachers’ union in Rhineland-Palatinate, blasted the primary school system for propagating “teaching principles of neglect."
Teachers no longer rigorously correct mistakes and avoid making children learn their times tables, she said, something that is dragging the education system “into the abyss.”