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Eastern promise for ailing West

Germany

TES correspondents review world trends in education this year and look forward to the issues making headlines for 2001

It has been an uneasy year for education in Germany. A shortage of teachers as thousands opt for early retirement has led to many classes being cancelled.

Ten years after reunification, eastern teachers are still not given the same pay and benefits as their western counterparts, although the gap has narrowed. But now, badly affected by a plummeting birth-rate in the east, they are being lured westwards to bridge the teacher shortfall.

Racism, for years a major scourge of German society yet all but ignored by its media, exploded into headlines, with rocketing incidences of anti-foreigner violence prompting the government to insist on an "uprising of the decent".

Teachers could no onger turn a blind eye to xenophobia and extreme right-wing activity in the classroom, and for the first time a Berlin teacher has been suspended for holding extreme-right views and denying the Holocaust.

As the year ends, Germany's 16 states are recognising that the country faces a severe shortage of teachers in all subjects. The near-total freeze on hiring newly-qualified teachers has been broken by the state of Hesse, which is offering higher salaries; and to those from the former east whose qualifications were not recognised as equivalent, Hesse is offering equal pay and civil servant status.

Younger teachers are more likely to be able to handle racism in the classroom. According to educationists, many older teachers cannot face the new emphasis on political education aimed at tackling growing extremism.

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