English and German schools

15th July 2011 at 01:00
5 January 1951 - School transfer age remains a political hot potato in Grundschule reform

On a number of occasions during the past year when English and German teachers have met for formal discussion, the difference between the two school systems has been manifest. Many problems are shared by both countries, but there are differences in approach and emphasis as well as in social and political context.

Educational reform in the direction of one all-embracing system of education - as under the 1944 Act in England - appears in Germany as a highly charged political issue in which party interests and religious convictions are intermingled with educational and psychological considerations. In principle, the idea of a common primary school course (Grundschule) is widely accepted; the political differences come to a head in deciding the length of this course. Those who are left wing in outlook are anxious to reduce social cleavage in the educational field and demand a long primary course, thereby curtailing the work of the academic grammar school.

On the other hand, the right wing and the Catholic politicians favour the short Grundschule so as to preserve the traditional structure of the grammar school. The age of transfer to secondary schools can therefore be regarded as an indication of political complexion of the land at the time of its decision on this issue. It is significant that in North-Rhine-Westphalia - the only land in the British Zone that is predominately Catholic - the transfer is made at 10.

Professional criticism of educational reforms in Germany is much more in terms of subjects than pupils. One hears a great deal about the lowering of standards in this or that subject, or the optimum length of courses; but there is less argument about how to discover the right type of pupil for academic courses and at what ages one can hope to detect special abilities.

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