View from here - Strike chaos hotting up

18th December 2009 at 00:00
German students and staff are out in protest. Frances Mechan-Schmidt reports

Things haven't cooled down since Germany's "hot summer" when almost 250,000 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 when a second wave of strikes began. As in the summer, students gave vent to their frustration about what they perceived 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 and Magister titles respectively - 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.

Not to be outdone, 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.

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 had been changed and the havoc this was 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.

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