Up to 29 primary schools are expected to close in Berlin within the next two to three years because of the falling birth-rate, writes Yojana Sharma.
The closures will mean the loss of 1,400 teaching posts. Five primary schools are expected to close by the end of this school year. Six secondaries are also expected to close over the next few years.
The decision comes despite an expected increase in the population of Berlin following the transfer of the seat of government from Bonn at the turn of the century. This should bring in 6,000 to 8,000 government officials and diplomats and their families.
Teachers and union officials have criticised the planned closures as "shortsighted". But the city authorities say Berlin's population has changed dramatically since reunification. A stream of families has moved from the inner city to the suburbs since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Ingrid Stahmer, Berlin senator for schools, said 12 new schools are expected to open in areas where federal government officials will live as well as in the outer suburbs.
Meanwhile, a number of schools have already shut or merged with other primaries because of the massive rebuilding projects in the centre of Berlin to house government offices. Many streets have been widened and main arteries created near some existing primaries. "It is better for such schools to shift to safer areas," a city authority spokesman said. According to official figures, the number of children of primary-school age in Berlin will drop by 32,000 in the next three years from about 209,000 now. In the east the birth-rate fell dramatically after reunification partly due to economic depression and job uncertainty. But births began to rise last year with 5 per cent more in the east in 1997 compared with 1996.