View from here - Schools of strikers hit the streets over newly-introduced measures

24th July 2009 at 01:00
Frances Mechan-Schmidt explores the causes of the recent school strikes in Germany

We think of Germany as relatively strike-free. Yet some 240,000 pupils and students last month staged mass protests in around 70 cities against deteriorating conditions at Germany's schools and universities. They were supported by more than 200 school and student organisations as well as major unions.

In an unusual show of emotion for a generally well-behaved society, young people gave vent to their frustration at a series of measures introduced at schools and universities in recent years, the downsides of which have been massive workloads for pupils and students.

Grammar-school courses have been shortened from nine to eight years (in all but one of Germany's 16 states) to speed up entry to higher education. This has led to heavy workloads for pupils whose day starts at 8am and often lasts until early evening, after which parents help them with hours of homework.

Hence some astonishing strike scenes with thousands of grammar-school pupils blocking streets in Berlin, Cologne and Stuttgart, marching through city centres and bringing traffic to a standstill.

Yet if things are tough for the nation's schoolchildren, they don't look much better once they get to university. While classrooms are overcrowded, some lecture halls are bursting at the seams. We hoped our children might have it easier in the future since the country changed from the German diploma to the European bachelor and masters degree system 10 years ago through the Bologna process. But it was a poorly-funded, messy transition.

German students must also now cope with huge workloads, as the Bologna reforms squeezed many eight to 12-term German diploma courses into six- term bachelor degrees.

So thousands of students from Hamburg to Munich were staging sit-ins, boycotting lectures and carrying banners proclaiming that you can "get poor through studying", a reference to the introduction of university tuition fees in most German states.

The universities complain they had "too little time and money to implement the reforms properly", while many employers, still unfamiliar with bachelors and masters degrees, are reluctant to employ those with the new qualifications.

Troubles throughout the education sector are far from over.

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