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Families of under-10s work with schools

GERMANY

Two states, Hesse and Bavaria, are pioneering an education plan for children under 10 which will involve parents and kindergartens co-operating with local authorities.

With the help of a state institute for early-learning methods based in Munich, both states will draw up plans by November and launch pilot projects. The scheme proper will start in 2006.

"The idea is to foster children's basic skills from a very early age," says Professor Wassilios Fthenakis of the early learning institute in Munich, which is devising the plan on behalf of Hesse and Bavaria.

"With the help of parents, you can stimulate a child's language development from the age of three months. That way they communicate better and start to grasp basic concepts around the age of two."

The education plan will be based on Bavaria's existing education programme for children up to age six, which is currently being tested in 106 state kindergartens.

At this stage, says the professor, parents are crucial to children's development, hence the importance of involving mothers in computer projects or fathers in camping weekends to strengthen social awareness.

Kindergartens can then expand on this by emphasising the differences in language and background and focusing on these as opportunities to explain, for example, about different religions, he says.

"From there you can prepare children for school by introducing fundamental mathematical and technical concepts," Professor Fthenakis says.

He has found that children are enthusiastic about conducting experiments or learning about the origins of money when playing shop.

The education plan, which will become law in Bavaria and be based on a framework of agreements in Hesse, will lay down uniform recommendations aimed at encouraging schools, kindergartens, families and day carers to co-operate closely.

In the wake of Germany's recent poor performance in international literacy tests several states have already tightened up their kindergarten concepts and enrolled migrant children in language classes so that they attain proficiency in German before starting school.

However, this is the first time that states have launched an education offensive on a 10-year scale. The move has been prompted by a recent survey which revealed that 20 per cent of German children are also behind in their linguistic and behavioural development.

"This concept will break new ground in Germany and pave the way for other states to do the same," said Professor Fthenakis.

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