Thursday, July 07, 2011

German School System Strikes Again

In Germany, students of the highest form of secondary school, called Gymnasium over here (and yes, I know it means something different in English), have to learn two foreign language. The first foreign language is English, the second can be either French, Latin or Russian. The latter, though, is only taught in the eastern counties of Germany (former GDR).

Now, I’ve been through the process of choosing my second language myself, when I was in school. I chose French (and maybe, in hindsight, Latin wouldn’t have been all that more difficult a choice, French is a complicated language). Latin wasn’t exactly popular and so we had two and a half classes of students learning French and half a class learning Latin in school. My school coped with that problem.

Schools in some areas of eastern Germany, though, don’t seem to see it like that. There are schools in those areas where they force some students (chosen merely by a lottery) to take the language they don’t want to take (usually Russian). The simple argument? There’s not enough students willing to learn the language to fill a whole class. Instead of saying ‘one half learns Russian, the other half French’, as my school did, they put all the names of the students of that year in a hat, basically, and draw as many names out of it as they need students to fill a class (Germany has a class-based system, students are separated into a number of classes and all students of a class have all courses together).

This is highly unjust in more than one way. First of all, students have the right to decide about what they learn. If a child (more likely a child and its parents) decides to take French, you can’t just say ‘you have to take Russian instead’. Even if there’s no law explicitly giving students this right, the basic rights of all people in Germany definitely encompass that, in my book. If that child has to move west during the course of its school career (something rather likely to happen, parents having to switch jobs a lot more often than in the past), that child will have to leave the school type, simply because Russian is not a second foreign language taught in other areas of Germany. This means that the child will have to find other means of obtaining the necessary certificate to be allowed to attend university. In addition, Russian might prove even more difficult than French or Latin – they have their own script as well, after all, putting them up with languages like Chinese or Japanese (or Ancient Greek, maybe) instead.

There is a discussion going on as well to turn our three-type school system into a two-type school system in the future, fusing the two ‘lower’ branches (Hauptschule and Realschule) into one and leaving the highest branch (the Gymnasium I already mentioned … still aware it means something else in English) as it is. While this might change the fact that the certificates from the ‘lowest’ branch of school are worth little to nothing, it won’t really make things better in the long run, probably. Even today, almost all parents want their children to go to the highest branch of secondary school. Maybe a complete and far more extreme makeover of the Germany School System is necessary: what about only one type of secondary school and an additional thing like the college between school and university? What about giving kids a choice in the matter of some subjects at school, letting some do more practical stuff, others more arts, others more maths or science? It would make three school types unnecessary and prepare kids better for the future in the ‘real world’.

I’m probably not going to see the school system in Germany really modified and modernized. But it would be nice, if politicians would one day work it out.

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