Problems in German schools: Too many children, too few teachers

2023-12-07 08:33:05, Kosova & Bota CNA

Problems in German schools: Too many children, too few teachers

Rebecca is a teacher and has been for over thirty years. She teaches English and history at a high school near Hamburg. More and more often he only teaches English, because there are no other specialist teachers. English takes precedence over history.

"We are constantly understaffed. There are no more temporary substitute teachers in the job market," says Rebecca, whose real name has been changed because she wishes to remain anonymous. "School management cannot find staff for open positions, and colleagues are often on sick leave for weeks or months, due to heavy workloads".

Problems in German schools: Too many children, too few teachers

Result: some subjects are temporarily eliminated. Some schools now have a four-day week for students. Tens of thousands of teachers are absent across the country. But no one knows exactly how many there are. In federal Germany, education is the responsibility of 16 states. There are also some differences between them, including the commitment of teachers, which makes capacity calculations difficult.

An example: in a secondary school in Lower Saxony, 23.5 teaching hours per week correspond to a full-time position, while in Schleswig-Holstein it is 25 hours. In primary schools, significantly more lessons must be taught than in secondary schools or other schools, because the preparation and follow-up of lessons are more complex there.

Different rules

The Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, the body in which education ministers coordinate relevant national issues, currently estimates that there are approximately 14,000 unfilled full-time teacher positions. From 2025 onwards, it is assumed that there will be an additional need for 21,000 teachers. It is thought that these capacities will be needed until 2035.

Economists, scientists, but also the Education and Science Union (GEW) consider this too optimistic. "The gap between demand and supply of teachers will increase to 56,000 full-time positions by 2035," trade unionist Anja Bensinger-Stolze told DW.

According to the Federal Statistics Office, 830,600 first-graders were enrolled in school in 2023, which is a record number in the last 20 years. In the next ten years, the number of children and young people attending school is expected to increase from eleven to twelve million.

The increase is partly due to the higher birth rate, but mostly due to increased immigration to Germany. At the end of 2022, there were four percent more children aged five to seven nationwide than the year before. The number of German children in this age group is about the same as a year ago. But the number of children with foreign citizenship has increased by more than 20 percent.

Problems in German schools: Too many children, too few teachers

More students and less teachers

The situation is getting worse because primary school children will have the legal right to full day care from 2026. GEW calculates that the total number of unfilled places in German schools could rise to half a million by 2035.

The states are responsible for training teachers and funding study places at their colleges and universities. But the qualifications are recognized nationally. This opened up savings opportunities for politicians, Bensinger-Stolze explains. "Almost all countries have been training fewer teachers for years than expected."

Due to the great needs, schools are now hiring more and more people who have not completed a teacher's degree, but come from other professions. At the same time, the number of students per teacher is declining for demographic reasons, as well as because the profession is increasingly looking less attractive.

Attractiveness and additional work

The situation may worsen due to the shortage of teachers. This can lead to longer working hours for teachers, later retirement and the elimination of part-time work.

Currently, about 40 percent of teachers work part-time. Even teacher Rebecca only works 23.5 hours of teaching per week instead of the usual 25 hours.

Migration requirements

In general, working conditions have deteriorated significantly in recent years. The classes have become bigger, and the lessons more complex. "We have more students of foreign origin who need more support because they can't get as much support from home". Conflicts with young people require more energy. they say that I am not allowed to tell them anything", says Rebeka. "But this kind of behavior also comes from parents! While young colleagues who have just started their career as teachers are often overwhelmed."

According to the union, the number of teachers who doubt their career choice as a teacher is increasing.

Problems in German schools: Too many children, too few teachers

The union has presented a 15-point plan to make the teaching profession more attractive again. The plan sounds like a counter-proposal to the proposals of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs. There are demands for reduced working hours, smaller classes, more compensatory hours, better health protection and support systems for teachers.

This refers to teams in which teachers work together, among others, with social educators, educators and psychologists, but also with translators and native language teachers.

Immigration in the teaching profession

"We have long demanded that the recognition of teacher qualifications acquired abroad be improved and accelerated," says Anja Bensinger-Stolze, who is targeting Ukrainian refugees who have so far had little chance in German schools. "If teachers only have one subject to teach - this is the norm abroad - this should not be any exclusion criteria."

Overall, the union offers little hope that the situation in schools can be changed quickly. Those responsible for this matter have not taken enough care of the situation and of the long-term regulation of the condition of the paths./ DW

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