View from here - Heat is on as strike chaos hits

11th December 2009 at 00:00
Students and teachers are out in protest over the new degree system and the accelerated curriculum in schools. Frances Mechan-Schmidt reports

Things haven't cooled down at all since Germany's "hot summer" when almost a quarter of a million school pupils and university students hit the streets in June in nationwide mass protests against chaotic conditions at the country's schools and universities.

In fact, temperatures rose again last month as a second wave of strikes got underway. As in the summer, students gave vent to their frustration about what they perceive as the continued lack of progress in reversing the chaos caused by the botched switch to the BA and MA degree system to replace the old German Diploma (BA) and Magister (MA) titles - a move to align German academic qualifications with international standards.

Other ongoing complaints included the wildly unpopular introduction of tuition fees in many states as well as the lack of MA places for BA graduates and the absence of student representation on university decision-making committees.

Not to be outdone, school pupils were out protesting about overcrowded classrooms, the accelerated curriculum in grammar schools, and a lack of government investment in education.

This time round, protests drew crowds of over 80,000 pupils and students in around 40 cities throughout Germany. Once again, students staged mass sit-ins in some of the country's most illustrious lecture halls, from Berlin to the famed "Audimax" at the University of Munich.

"We won't be fobbed off again with vague promises to change things for the better," said a defiant Maxi Rossmoeller, a student at the renowned Free University of Berlin. Students were now prepared to go as far as contacting affiliated student organisations in Europe and the US, he added, informing them about protest aims and contingent strikes planned for early December.

One - literally - striking aspect of the latest wave of protests was the participation of teachers and lecturers who came out in sympathy. University lecturers voiced their discontent at the disorganised way the degree system has been changed and the havoc this is wreaking on courses for students and lecturers alike.

Conversely, teachers wanted to draw attention to stressed-out grammar-school pupils labouring to get university-entrance qualifications in eight instead of nine years, in fast-track courses introduced some years ago to encourage more young people to study.

Yet many teachers now face disciplinary action for going on strike since those with permanent job status in Germany (attainable after three years in employment) are ranked as civil servants who cannot be dismissed and are, therefore, not allowed to strike. Dorothea Henzler, the Hessian education minister, remarked that such teachers' actions would "naturally affect applications for positions of responsibility in the future" as well as earning them black marks on their records.

Still, all is not lost and teachers and students alike do have some supporters. One such is federal education minister Annette Schavan, who is already promising an imminent increase of student and pupil grants.

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