The role of the school system is to equip young people with the skills necessary for their personal and career development. Yet in Germany schools only partially succeed in providing their pupils with an adequate basic education.
Every year Germany’s dual system of vocational training offers around two thirds of all school-leavers the prospect of learning one of some 350 trades. Currently, just under 1.6 m trainees in nearly 500,000 businesses are taking advantage of this offer. Combining practical training at work with continued education at a vocational school, the dual system enables young people in Germany to be integrated into the workforce relatively successfully, as the low level of youth unemployment relative to other countries shows.
Additionally, there is a need for improvement at the interfaces between vocational training, further training and tertiary education. Too often skills which have already been acquired are not recognised. Moreover, the traditional German belief in apprenticeships does not extend to further training. Companies are setting a good example in this respect, investing an average of over a thousand euros a year on the further training of their employees. However, the challenges of demographic change and technological progress mean that such measures will have to be expanded and vocational training systematically developed if the economy is not to run out of skilled workers.
German universities and technical colleges are bursting at the seams. The lecture halls are overcrowded and there are too few lecturers. This is one reason why many young people either do not attend a university at all, take much longer to study than planned, or drop out altogether.
This strategy could be effectively thwarted by introducing a voucher scheme financed by the states according to their need for academics. School leavers would receive an education voucher to be redeemed at the university of their choice. The scheme would strengthen the hand of students as consumers, reward attractive universities and the bill would be footed by the states which benefited most.
Any general education should include knowledge of the basic principles of the market economy and of working life, but this is still too small a part of the standard curriculum in German schools.
German business is desperate for skilled staff with academic and technical backgrounds, particularly the mathematicians, IT specialists, natural scientists and technicians referred to collectively in Germany by the acronym MINT.
Companies attempt to lure scarce applicants with high pay. Increasingly, too, they are training existing staff to the required level. Yet business cannot end the shortage on its own. Universities must produce more technical graduates. According a higher importance to technical subjects in schools would generate more interest, especially among girls. Last but not least, the German states must invest more in their tertiary institutions. Currently, too many MINT students are dropping out due to the poor conditions they have to study under. All these measures are expensive but they would pay off in the long term - even for the state, since technical graduates are usually good tax payers.
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Early learning provides a solid foundation for success later in life, at school and in one’s career. Developments which are missed out on in childhood are expensive, if not impossible, to make good later.
In the long term, pre-school education leads to a better-trained population. The number of those on the labour market without occupational training sinks and the number of graduates rises. As a result, more people find jobs and less money must be spent on unemployment benefit and making good missing vocational skills.