UN says selection is breach of rights

10th March 2006 at 00:00
Streaming at 10 is 'forcing bad results on disadvantaged and immigrant pupils'. Clare Chapman reports.


A report by the United Nations Refugee Agency claims Germany needs to make drastic changes if it is to guarantee the right to education for all .

The report by Vernor Mu$oz Villalobos, the UNHCR's special ambassador and adviser on human rights education, has dealt another blow to Germany's troubled education system by suggesting it fails to reach the standards set in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights His findings, based on visits to nursery, primary and high schools across the country, have highlighted how the education system discriminates against less advantaged groups and immigrant pupils in particular.

Mr Mu$oz criticised Germany's anachronistic system that divided students into three different types of school at the age of just 10, when immigrant children may still be catching up on learning German, hindering the development of children's full potential. He said: "Assigning children to a certain school at such an early age ignores the actual potential of the pupils."

He noted that a recent international reading study had found that 44 per cent of 10-year-olds ended up in schools that did not reflect their potential abilities. "Germany's school system forces bad results upon pupils," Mr Munoz said.

Worldwide only Germany and Austria still have the three-tier structure that separates 10-year-olds into Hauptschule, a vocationally focused school that students leave at 15 or 16; Realschule, which prepares students for low-level white-collar jobs; or the academic Gymnasium, a grammar school where students take examinations that lead to university.

International studies have shown that the connection between social background and academic results is particularly high in Germany.

"Children from migrant backgrounds or low-income families are heavily under-represented in the Gymnasium schools, and clearly over-represented in the Hauptschule - everyone can see that. It's now important to come up with strategies to integrate these disadvantaged groups."

Sabine Gruehn, education professor at Berlin's Humboldt University, agreed with Mr Munoz. "By sidelining many pupils early on, Germany's school system may be underestimating and wasting many brains," she said.

Mr Munoz also criticised the lack of mobility between schools, caused not only by the three-tier system but by the federal system of governing schools. Germany has 16 different systems governed by each state.

Differences between states are vast and annual expenditure per pupil ranges from e3,800 (pound;2,600) euros to e6,300 (pound;4,300), with some states not having enough money to provide free books.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to reform the federalist system - but said the government would hand states even more power over education.

Further bad marks were given to Germany for its lack of free nursery schools, another principle laid out in the Human Rights Declaration.

Mr Munoz said being able to attend kindergarten was especially important for the integration of foreign children and in particular for their German language development.

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