Photo: Lorianne DiSabato / Flickr
Photo: Lorianne DiSabato / Flickr

Germany: Unions call for government clarity and laud work of education staff in remote education

published 15 January 2021 updated 18 January 2021

While remote education has resumed in 2021, German education unions are calling on public authorities to support educators’ outstanding performance in ensuring access to quality education for all and well-organised and designed exams.

VBE: Commitment from teachers despite “bumpy” resumption of classes

As students in Germany returned to school, the Verband Bildung und Erziehung(VBE) took stock of the first week of the 2021 term. “Even if everything did not go smoothly in schools, teachers and education support personal do a strong and indispensable job with a high level of commitment to enable school learning and to offer support and supervision wherever it is necessary. This despite the most difficult conditions,” said Stefan Behlau, the state chairman of the VBE branch in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Commenting that it was “a bumpy start”, he said that “starting school after vacation always brings with it some imponderables and surprises - even if it happens in person”.

Whilst it was “therefore foreseeable that a digital start would not be completely smooth”, he emphasised that teachers, students, and parents had benefitted from their experiences from the past year, and that educators do their best to organise school learning for children and young people. “Almost empty schools should not be equated with a lack of education,” he said. “That doesn't do justice to the work of the schools and the pupils.”

Don't lose sight of the whole school system

Behlau said it was regrettable that the union continued to receive complaints about inadequate equipment – lack of functioning WiFi or sufficient devices in schools. It was vital to “communicate honestly and transparently that released funds alone do not make lessons”. It was also important to highlight that issues with learning platforms or questions about equipment were not the responsibility of school administrators or teachers, he added. “Gaps for which many governments are responsible cannot be closed via simple solutions,” he said.

“It is necessary to offer a perspective for the coming weeks and months in a timely manner. All those involved in school life deserve this. It has to be about everyone's situation, including the special schools, which are often forgotten, as well as the primary and secondary schools. All children and young people deserve the best possible conditions for their educational pathways.”

GEW: Clear demand for special regulations

For its part, the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft(GEW) has demanded that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “nobody be allowed to sit down this school year”. And, if necessary, it must be possible to take the Abitur– a qualification granted at the end of secondary education – or the intermediate degree without an examination.

“An exceptional situation like the Coronavirus crisis requires special regulations,” said Marlis Tepe, GEW President and Education International’s Vice-President. “An extension of the school time is not an option; this would only be at the expense of the students, and there is no staff for it.”

Design of exams and degrees must be explained

She also stressed that “it is high time that the ministers of education finally present a concept on how performance measurement, exams, and degrees are to be designed under Coronavirus conditions.”

Instead of exams, previous work that has already made up the largest part of the grade can be assessed, Tepe said.

She was adamant that it does not do justice to “focus on alleged material deficits and speak of emergency exams or emergency Abitur”. Tepe also urged authorities to consider that, during the pandemic, children and adolescents have acquired additional new skills that must be reflected in the assessment, and to reduce the amount of material in the curriculum.