View from here - Grammar raffle is just not fair

25th September 2009 at 01:00
Random selection scheme to boost social justice in Berlin will not help anyone, writes Frances Mechan-Schmidt

Whatever will they think of next for Germany's hard-pressed grammar schools? First, curriculum changes were introduced so that they would have to harass youngsters to complete nine years' secondary work in eight.

Now Berlin's education authorities are planning to "raffle" 30 per cent of grammar-school places, starting next summer, to ensure more "social justice" when admitting pupils. All places are currently allotted on academic merit or residential proximity.

Inevitably, the plans have unleashed a storm of protest. "A random selection procedure of this nature makes no pedagogical sense at all," said Heinz-Elmar Tenorth, an education expert at Berlin's Humboldt University.

Pupils at Berlin's Beethoven Gymnasium, a renowned grammar school that will be affected by the scheme, agreed. "A pupil who doesn't have good marks may still feel they have the right to try their luck at a school like ours," explained 15-year-old Hanna Zabel. "But will that make it the right school for them?"

Co-pupil Robin Huper agreed. "Gifted children will be left hanging around while teachers struggle to help pupils who can't cope with the work," he said.

Still, Jurgen Zollner, the Social Democratic Education Minister for the city state of Berlin, believes the idea has its merits. "This is the best way to ensure equal opportunity for socially disadvantaged children who would otherwise have no hope of making it to a grammar school," he said.

The headmaster at the Beethoven Gymnasium, Wolfgang Harnischfeger, doubts whether children could cope with all this. "I feel it would be disconcerting for them to be put in such a position," he said. "They may fit in socially but if they don't succeed academically, they have to leave. It's cynical, really."

Many pupils potentially eligible for the scheme could come from schools such as Berlin's Erika-Mann, which has a high proportion from migrant backgrounds and with serious learning difficulties.

Karin Babbe, the school's head, has doubts about whether her pupils may get a chance they could not otherwise have had. "It has nothing to do with fairness," she said. Equal opportunity, she thinks, can only come from good education.

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