Education International
Education International

Germany: Long journeys to school undermine education

published 3 September 2012 updated 6 September 2012

Long journeys to school caused by the closing of local schools have a negative impact on students’ health and on their education achievement levels. That’s one of the conclusions of the latest study on absenteeism undertaken by the scientific Institute of the German health care insurance company AOK, highlighted by one of EI’s national affiliates, the Verband Bildung and Erziehung (VBE).

“Up until now, neither education authorities nor national governments have considered the impact of long travel hours, to and from schools, on students’ health and learning abilities,” said VBE federal and national – North Rhine-Westphalia – President Udo Beckmann, in a statement published on 27 August.

He demanded that the responsible authorities establish how much time it actually takes children to get to school and how the length of this time affects their learning.

“Sitting in a car or a bus for up to three hours per day in a rural area is not rare, and tires a child’s body more than an adult’s one,” said Beckmann.

Children more affected than adults

Other consequential factors also challenge young people physically and psychologically. “The schoolbag must be carried longer, long distances also mean getting up earlier, doing homework later – as well as reducing the free time indispensable for a balanced life,” said Beckmann.

Students can suffer from exhaustion and headaches. “Adults, who have been part of the working environment for a long time, have experience of dealing with such symptoms, and are mentally stronger,” indicated Beckmann. “Children, on the contrary, clearly have psyches that can be more easily injured and are more subject to stress and exhaustion – that’s why risk factors such as long distances to school must be minimised.“

Beckmann demands that “schools of any type must be accessible close to home – this is particularly valid for elementary schools. For health consideration, the slogan, ‘Short legs – short distance’ must not be valid only for elementary schools. It must lead to all schools being kept close to students’ homes.” Only this way will it be guaranteed that children are not exposed to the stress and dangers of long journeys to school.

Governmental survey needed

The VBE has urged the North Rhine-Westphalia Government to conduct a survey aiming at finding out how long home-school journey times actually are for students, and what effects they have on students’ learning behaviour.

“Educators worldwide care about their students’ heath and learning conditions,” EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said. “EI therefore welcomes our German colleagues’ initiative. This evidence from Germany must dissuade other governments from using the economic crisis as a justification for closing schools and forcing children to travel longer distances, thus undermining children’s health and educational achievement levels.”