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.

Too many school-leavers – especially those with a migrant background – leave school without the qualifications necessary for vocational training. The problems continue after leaving school: poor scholars find it hard to obtain a training place and must first take courses designed to help them catch up. Despite such support, many are later dependent on welfare benefits. The state could save this money by giving young people more coaching earlier, while they are still at school. The current school system, which offers lessons only in the mornings, cannot achieve this and needs to be replaced by universal all-day schooling. Schools should have to orientate themselves both in their teaching methods and their curriculum on minimum standards, which themselves need to be regularly reassessed. However, this approach will only be able to develop its full effect when schools are given more independence and responsibility for the educational success of their pupils.

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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.

Yet there is no reason for us to rest on our laurels, as this transition is seldom seamless. The average age of those starting an apprenticeship is 19 years, with many school-leavers first having to complete a preparatory course. Companies are encountering increasing difficulties in finding suitable applicants.

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.

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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.

Germany produces too few academics, particularly in subjects which are important for the economy – maths, computer science, the natural sciences and technology. Education is largely the preserve of the 16 states, or Länder, which constitute the Federal Republic. However, state governments tend to invest too little in their universities because the returns on education spending are too low. Many graduates move to other states and pay their taxes there. For the states, it is therefore more profitable to keep their education budgets low and recruit well-educated workers from their neighbours.

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.

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Economic Education

Economic Education

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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.

The aim of JUNIOR is to improve economic education. To this end, schoolchildren are encouraged to found their own small-scale businesses and learn to think and act like entrepreneurs. Since 1994 more than 80,000 schoolchildren in a JUNIOR company have developed their business ideas into marketable products. These have included an image promotion film for the town of Böblingen near Stuttgart, a board game to teach children about road safety, and a guide to the city of Essen for senior citizens.

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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.

On the one hand, young graduates are in short supply, as demographic change thins out each new cohort and new generations of students opt for other subjects. On the other, there is a growing demand for highly trained staff as companies concentrate on ‘knowledge work’ to survive fierce international competition. Inhibiting production and development, this shortage of skilled workers costs billions of euros every year.

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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Bildungsmonitor

Bildungsmonitor

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Welches Bundesland hat das beste Bildungssystem? Wer hat sich verschlechtert? Wo liegen die Reformpotentiale? Der Bildungsmonitor untersucht die Bildungspolitik der Bundesländer.

Deutschland altert. Damit die Sozialsysteme die Folgen des demografischen Wandels verkraften können, muss die arbeitende Bevölkerung produktiver werden. Das wiederum setzt eine möglichst gute Ausbildung voraus. Inwieweit es den einzelnen Bundesländern gelingt, mithilfe des Bildungssystems zur Fachkräftesicherung beizutragen und Bildungsarmut abzubauen, untersucht der IW-Bildungsmonitor im Auftrag der Initiative Neue Soziale Marktwirtschaft (INSM). Anhand von 93 Indikatoren werden Schulqualität, Integration, Berufsausbildung oder der Einsatz von Ressourcen ausgewertet und mit den Werten der Vorjahre verglichen. So zeigt der Bildungsmonitor auf, welche Bundesländer sich verbessert haben – und welche aufholen müssen.

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Pre-school Education

Pre-school Education

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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.

Despite this, day care places, especially for children under three, are still rare in western Germany. A qualitative improvement in day care infrastructure would particularly benefit girls and boys from less educated and migrant backgrounds. Since in Germany educational success is highly dependent on origin, their chances are lower than those of other children. Above all, they need special coaching for their language skills.

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.

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