The BeLchick and her family have recently enjoyed 5 weeks holidays in Germany. It has been more than 16 years since I left Germany and 12 years since my last visit. Many things have happened in my life over these years that have formed my opinion esp. in regards to education. Yet Germany appears remarkably unchanged. All of this could do with thorough research, but this was not the point of our visit, so I am just sharing with you my expat wonderings.
New Zealand has its faults. The NZ education system is by no means perfect. One example for me is “Tomorrow’s Schools”, well intended (I hope), giving communities a greater say in how their children are being taught. The current NZC gives greater flexibility to schools to individualise the curriculum they are delivering to their students.
Both these points can also be negative, for example I am not convinced that all our communities are equipped and / or prepared to manage the multi-million dollar enterprise our schools are. Equally a school could choose to teach a very narrow, specific type of curriculum to their students to the detriment of a broad curriculum under the guise of “localising” it. Nowadays many parents are choosing to send their child to a higher decile school which not necessarily is the better school. While all of my classroom teaching has been at low decile schools (4 , 2 and 1), I completely understand their reasoning that it is more likely to have time taken up with socialwork type issues rather than learning at low decile schools rather than at higher decile schools (well, the issues these students and therefore their teachers are facing are simply different). I am extremely happy with the rural decile 2 school my 2 younger sons attend, and my oldest attends a decile 8 school for the particular nature of the school, not the decile, though I have to admit that he would be likely to struggle at a school where student behaviour was of greater concern (due to socio-economic or other issues).
Yet, I believe that the general assumption of all Kiwi kids attending one type of school regardless of academic skill and parent income makes for a more harmonious society.
The German education system differs by federal state, so I will only talk about Bavaria, the state I grew up in and trained to be a teacher.
Children start school in September, generally at the age of 6 (there have been some minor changes since my times, I started at age 7). Children generally attend their local primary school for 4 years. at some stage during this formal grades are introduced (my nephew is in y3 and gets graded from 1 for very good to 6 for fail. I am obviously no longer fully up to date, but I understand there are only three ways to get assessed, unannounced verbal test, and unannounced and announced written tests. In higher years there are also essays and presentations students get graded on. School is from 8am to 1pm, less on some days for primary students, with daily homework which can take several hours in the higher classes.
By the beginning of y4 the pressure is truly on as the grades for maths, German and HSK (a mixture of science and social studies) in the midyear report will determine which of three secondary schools the child can enter: Gymnasium, the most academic type of school, will lead to Abitur (bursary) in historically 9, now 8 years (from a study I have read, approx. 50% of students enter Gymnasium after completing primary school). Realschule traditionally leads towards a white collar career in 6 years with the possibility of an additional two years to gain a restricted entrance qualification to tertiary study, and Hauptschule, leading toward apprenticeships in only 5 years (school leaving age in Germany is after having completed 9 years of schooling in total). It’s similar to streaming, but based on your y4 grades and with geographically isolating the strands from each other into completely different schools. The vast majority of German parents wants their child at Gymnasium, so after-school tuition from as young as 9y old is a booming business.
Just a word on special needs, students with SEN have long been separated from the general population. I understand that a Down Syndrome girl attended primary school with one of my nephews, accompanied by a trained social worker as her teacher aide, but regular schools don’t seem to easily accommodate students with SEN, starting with access as many are housed in multi-storey buildings etc. I have never in my childhood had any close contact with anyone with a special need, I always felt extremely uneasy about special needs – and yet I have worked intensively in this area here in New Zealand 🙂
I went to Gymnasium and was reasonably successful – I couldn’t have entered teacher training otherwise. Most my childhood friends went to the same type of secondary school. We wouldn’t have been interested with socialising with children who went to the other schools, partly because we didn’t meet them, but also partly due to our arrogance. My husband went to Realschule and through him I made friends with others, even from Hauptschule. I feel the early separation of children by their academic skills creates quite a strong class divide from a young age, and now as as expat visiting it has become very obvious that this is continuing through most layers of society. Does this create a harmonious society that pulls together and supports one another?
As it was reporting writing time, teachers were busy. Just on the side, reports seem to still be handed out as piece of paper on the last day of school – none of the popular 3-way-conferences we enjoy in New Zealand! I am no longer close with any of my local friends who became teachers so I did not get the opportunity to visit a classroom which is a real shame. However, I have spoken with a lot of parents, also a retired principal as well as some current teachers. It is very interesting how most but not all parents did not seem concerned by the fact that teaching and learning still seems to be quite similar to when I went to school. A major change has been the reduction of 9ys schooling at Gymnasium down to 8 – but without significant reduction in content! Many secondary students, including my nephew, still learn Latin as a foreign language, which can be a pre-requisite for some university study. One parent dismissed the idea of these comparatively ‘young’ students starting university or internships due to their lack of knowledge and maturity – we are talking about 18/19y olds, when in the past many graduates would have been 19/20y, and the men often at least another year older due to the no longer existing Army Duty (the oldest chick in BeLchick’s family will be 17 1/2y by the time he finishes his y13).
When I talked with teachers about my work in e-learning, they proudly told me how they have just moved from chalk boards to white boards (seriously!!!). However, I have read about an iPad trial class in Augsburger Allgemeine from 23 July which apparently was very successful in one y10 class. However, as the other classes have not had the same technology available and could not possibly catch up (…), this will not be available to them in y11. At that school are now planning to have all Y10 students on parent funded iPads starting the next school year. A major concern according to the article was the lack of suitable resources.
I know I am jumping to conclusions, but I would think that by employing a 21C pedagogy where the students has moved from the consumer and regurgitator of knowledge and media and becomes the creator and critic of media, there is less need for content driven apps but more for creative and collaborative ones. But then I wouldn’t know if the quoted teachers have been given the opportunity, knowledge and the freedom to employ 21C pedagogy?
The gap I see is trying to be filled by private schools, something that was almost unheard of when I still lived in Germany. Friends are sending their son to a particular successful private school which offers all day tuition and offers individualised programmes for students who have struggled in the state system as their son has.
So what does this all mean for us?
In my humble opinion, the NZ education system is miles ahead of Germany:
– Our students have 6, some even 8 years together in a primary school. This allows many students a solid foundation in their relationship building with their peers and teachers.
– Most of them continue together within the same school grounds, regardless of academic ability. They get to experience working with people from varied backgrounds.
– Many of our primary school students and some of our secondary school students get to experience some form of 21C learning.
– Digital Technologies are high priority within the education profession and are actively supported by the Ministry of Education and the government.
– Our teachers can come from all walks of life.
There are a number of dangers:
– Are all our communities equipped and prepared to run our schools?
– Is it fair to expect that a teacher can cater for any child with any need within their class at any time?
– Is our flexible approach to curriculum monitored well enough? National Standards in Reading, Writing and Mathematics only cover a very narrow slice of the curriculum.
– I can see a tendency within NZ society to be very selective about schools for our children, too often referring to decile ratings for guidance. I am very selective about this with my own children also, but my choice of school is determined by my knowledge of pedagogy, curriculum and most importantly the school climate more so than what decile it is. What do parents have to go by when they don’t know what I know? Though sometimes it would be easier not to know too much…
– Is NZ society going ‘academic’? Are we – like Germany – starting to expect that only higher education is acceptable? Who will fix our houses and cars, grow and transport our produce? We all can see the demand for trades people created through the earth quakes in Christchurch…
Enough wonderings for today…