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More move into the fast lane;Briefing;International


The traditional school system is speeding up, reports Yojana Sharma

More children are to jump 12 months of secondary school and take the leaving exam after 12 years of learning instead of the traditional 13.

Several German states are reviewing the time children spend at school in response to the country's poor standing in international comparisons, particularly the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

In Berlin and the states of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rheinland Palatinate, Thuringia and Saxony, there will be more "express Abitur" classes, which enable bright children to jump a year, usually when they are 12 or 13, and complete the Abitur, the exam which qualifies students for university entrance, a year early.

A recent study commissioned by the Berlin Senate showed that "express" pupils performed even better than children of similar ability under the traditional system. "In maths and English these pupils were definitely not worse off, and in many aspects were even better although they lacked a year," said Wolfgang Zidatiss of the Free University of Berlin, who conducted the study.

In Baden-Wurttemberg and Rheinland Palatinate more than 20 per cent of grammar-school pupils are judged to be capable of completing the Abitur after 12 years of school. Berlin recently recognised the need to challenge more able pupils by doubling the number of "express" classes from this September.

However, the "express" classes will exist alongside the normal Abitur classes to avoid a major overhaul of the secondary curriculum.

Under Germany's federal system major reforms have to be approved by all state education ministers. This slows down or precludes major changes as some states fear others will speed ahead, or that the standard of their own school-leaving exam will be judged as "inferior" by other states.

The 12-year Abitur is the norm in the former East German states. Bavaria in the west already refuses to recognise Abitur grades from some states as equivalent to its own "more rigorous" exam.

However, it is considering restructuring grammar schools to teach a 12-year curriculum, after the TIMSS found German students acquired maths and science skills six months to a year later than students in other countries. In the meantime all schools will be allowed to offer "express" classes.

For years representatives of industry and universities have complained that German students are much older than their counterparts in other countries - particularly the men, who do an average of 15 months' military service before entering university. The average age of an Abitur candidate is 19.5 except in several east German states, where it is 18.5 and a 12-year secondary curriculum is the norm.

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