Is the education system in Germany out of date?

Pisa study: The German education system must now change radically

After Germany's poor performance in the Pisa study, some believe that the refugees have been to blame for this since 2015. But the problem lies elsewhere, believes our columnist Lamya Kaddor.

Every fifth 15-year-old in Germany is unable to understand simple texts. This emerges from the current Pisa study. The blame for this are the many refugees who came from 2015, without them Germany would be in a much better position, the "Bild" newspaper recently fantasized. So does migration have to serve as the "mother of all problems" again?

This is not only wrong, but irresponsible. It is not a question of completely dismissing the fact that the influx of refugees has complicated the situation in schools. However, focusing on this factor is improper. Such attempts only relieve the real responsible. But more on that later.

Failure of schools in their core mission

The central findings of Pisa and other educational studies have been known for decades: it is not possible to create equal opportunities. Educational success is still too dependent on the socio-economic status of the parents and children with a migration background are generally more disadvantaged in the school system. These problems are identified in a continuous loop, but too little is done about them. Germany's schools continue to fail in their core mission: to lead all children to an optimal level of education.

The failure is less due to incompetent teachers, less to too many students with a migration background, and less to the question of the right or wrong school types and educational concepts. The central factor is currently the number of employees. The blatant shortage of teachers is at the center of the education debates. The best strategies are worthless if no one can implement them.

Concepts and ideas from the 80s

So just wait until there are enough teachers again? Unfortunately it's not that easy. The framework conditions have changed structurally. Germany must establish educational concepts for its immigration society. For years, the increasing heterogeneity in the classes has been pointed out, whereby it is more about milieus and less about classes or ethnicities. But at the grassroots level, this is too seldom achieved.

I recently trained the rectors of high schools. For me it was frightening to see that some of them seem to still act according to concepts and ideas from the 80s. They showed that they were unwilling or unable to even perceive the needs of children and young people who did not meet their expectations of “normal” German schoolchildren.

The core problem: There are too few teachers

During their training, teachers must be intensively prepared with new pedagogical concepts to deal with children of the most varied of cultural, religious, socio-economic, biographical and physical conditions. An expansion of differentiation courses and a stabilization of these offers would also be necessary. It is not enough to give students with deficits additional support for one year and then to let the support run out. Nor can it be that there is only one teacher in front of such diverse school classes. The challenges can only be mastered with so-called team teaching - with at least two teachers per class. But how often does team teaching take place?

Exactly. Far too seldom. This brings us back to the core problem: there are too few teachers. But that is precisely the point that can hardly be heard in the Pisa debate. Instead, diversionary maneuvers are started: In many families of foreign origin, no German is spoken, it is said, for example. No German was spoken at home either. Studies have long shown that speaking broken German at home instead of your mother tongue is not exactly helpful. But: Who is interested in true facts when their own clientele can be better ensnared with "alternative facts"?

School failure is policy failure

The teacher shortage cannot be remedied immediately. The aspirants are simply missing. However, one should not be fobbed off with this hint. As early as 2003, the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs gave the first indications in a needs analysis that there would soon be a shortage of teachers; long before "the many refugees" came. In the years that followed, the drama of the problem was repeatedly emphasized. But politicians either did not react at all or only half-heartedly, and there was always something more important to do. Instead of having enough teachers, there were only additional tasks such as inclusion in the schools. School failure is policy failure.

Education is always neglected by political parties and governments, despite all the solemn words. At best, it gets really loud when it comes to the political power of the federal states, such as the resistance in the Federal Council against the "School Digital Pact" a year ago or at present when the National Education Council failed.

Investment in education must increase

When it comes to education, politics must not be sluggish. In Germany, education is not just the responsibility of schoolchildren or their parents to collect them. Education is also an obligation of the state. After all, we have compulsory schooling and our education system is based on mainstream schools, not private or alternative schools. We are also particularly proud of the cultural sovereignty of the federal states. Politicians must therefore deliver.

Education expenditure in this country was 4.8 percent of the gross domestic product in 2016 and thus significantly below the expenditure in the successful Scandinavian countries (around seven to eight percent of the gross domestic product), but education costs a lot, especially where diversity is as pronounced as here more money. Investment in education must increase. The teaching profession needs to be made more attractive through better pay and better working conditions.

Holes are only poorly filled

The massive shortage of teachers these days is a good example of thinking only from legislative period to legislative period. Long-term plans, for which there are supposedly too few votes in the next ballot, are avoided by the parties. They prefer to rely on symbolic politics such as German flags in front of schools or headscarf bans, and when public attention for a topic is just booming, they try to plug a few holes in a makeshift way in order to set an example.

Sustainability is different, and that also applies to other areas. Whether in terms of climate protection or the turnaround in traffic: we are lagging behind everywhere. Furthermore, there is a shortage of skilled workers and care shortages and because action was not taken in good time, people from abroad should judge their integration and then turn up their noses at their integration.


We, the citizens, shouldn't let politics get away with that. Education is the share capital of our society. Education is central to the solutions to most problems in this country. With education we have a "dea ex machina", a machine goddess, but politics refuses to give her the leading role. That is the real tragedy.

Lamya Kaddor is an Islamic scholar, religious educator, publicist and founder of the Liberal Islamic Association (LIB). She is currently leading a research project at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Her current book is called "The thing with the bratwurst. My somewhat different German life" and was published by Piper. You can also follow our columnist on Facebook or Twitter.

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  • Subjects:
  • News,
  • Lamya Kaddor,
  • Refugees,
  • Education System,
  • School,
  • Migration,
  • School-system,
  • Inclusion,
  • Germany,
  • Pisa study,
  • Compulsory schooling,
  • Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK)