Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Fun Facts to Know and Tell

Some interesting information about the German educational system, taken from a “Spiegel” special issue from 2002… Some information may be slightly outdated, but most things haven’t changed much.

-15-year-old U.S. students beat out their German counterparts in all three subjects tested in the PISA study! (The famous study compared 15-year-olds in 31 more-or-less industrialized, more-or-less democratic countries in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Subjects tested were reading, mathematics, and the natural sciences. The results of a follow-up study were published recently. Germany’s rankings didn’t improve much, and in one case they had actually slipped!)

-In reading, German students ranked 21st. The U.S. did somewhat better, coming in 15th. The five top-scoring countries were, in order: 1. Finland, 2. Canada, 3. New Zealand, 4. Australia, and 5. Ireland. The five worst were (from the bottom): 31. Brazil, 30. Mexico, 29. Luxembourg, 28. Latvia, and 27. Russia.

-In mathematics, Germany came in 20th. We barely outranked them, taking place 19. The top-scorers were: 1. Japan, 2. South Korea, 3. New Zealand, 4. Finland, and 5. Australia. The bottom of the barrel: 31. Brazil, 30. Mexico, 29. Luxembourg, 28. Greece, and 27. Portugal.

-Germany was also in 20th place in the natural sciences. The U.S. did decidedly better, coming in 14th. The top-scorers: 1. South Korea, 2. Japan, 3. Finland, 4. the U.K., and 5. Canada. The worst: 31. Brazil, 30. Luxembourg, 29. Portugal, 28. Latvia, and 27. Russia. (Side note: If Luxembourg is such a rich country, how come it has such crappy schools??? Can someone explain this to me???)

-The percentage of elementary school students in Germany who are of non-German origin: 11.8%. (This approximately represents the percentage of non-German kids in all German schools. All kids in Germany attend elementary school; after that they get tracked into various kinds of secondary schools-- supposedly based solely on their abilities, but I'm very skeptical.)

-Percentage of Hauptschule students of non-German origin: 17.3%. (“Hauptschule” is the lowest track of the secondary school system. Students take remedial-level courses and leave school after the ninth grade.)

-Percentage of pupils at schools for the handicapped who are of non-German origin: 14.9%.

-Percentage of Realschule students of non-German origin: 6.4%. (“Realschule” is the comprehensive secondary school track, where most German students end up. Realschüler leave school after grade 10.)

-Percentage of students at Gymnasien (college-preparatory schools) of non-German origin: only 3.9%!!!

-Germany and Austria are the only European countries that don’t require preschool teachers to have a college diploma.

-Average age at which German children start school: 7.

-German children attend elementary school for only four years: shorter than in any other EU country.

-According to the PISA study, almost a quarter of all German 15-year-olds have been held back in school at least once. Every year, 280,000 students must repeat a grade—more than in any other industrialized country.

-Average of textbooks used in German schools: 10 years.

-The majority of German students attend school only in the morning—in contrast to policy in almost all othe industrialized countries. Schools with instruction in the afternoon (“Ganztagschulen”) are still something of a rarity. The Federal State with the highest proportion of Ganztagschulen is Berlin (32% of all schools). The Federal State with the fewest Ganztagschulen is Saxony (where I live). As of 2002, all schools in Saxony sent their pupils home before lunch. Only 6% of all German pupils attend schools with instruction in the afternoon.

-Percentage of Germans who earn the Abitur (highest school leaving certificate, earned after 12 or 13 years of school; the prerequisite for admission to university): about 37%. (The other 63% leave school after grade 9 or 10.)

While the American school system certainly has its own problems (meaningless high school diplomas; utter neglect of foreign languages and world history; great disparities in the quality of public schools), I think that the German school system is even more screwed up. At least we provide special help to students that need it, and we don't let anyone leave school after the ninth grade! We may not be Finland or South Korea, but we're also not Germany. Or Luxembourg.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

To answer your questions: If Luxembourg is such a rich country, how come it has such crappy schools??? Can someone explain this to me???

Sure I can.

In Luxembourg, people typically grow up speaking either French, German, Lëtzebuergesch, or a combination thereof. Upon starting school everything is taught in German. In high school everything is taught in French.

Most of their students who continue on to Universities do so in France, not Germany.

So even if you understand the basics or reading, writing and arithmetic, if you can't read the French directions, you would do poorly on the test.

As a sidenote:
All formal correspondence, including newspapers and everything legal in Luxembourg is done is French.

The PISA test probably did not test these children in German or Lëtzebuergesch (the folks-language of Luxembourg)

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does the U.S. ignore the need for foreign languages, yet a lot of Europe places put great importance on this? Is it simply because they have so many other langauges coming from surrouding countries? Or are they dumbing down U.S. children?

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a high school student in Alabama and am nearly fluent in German. We do, however, need to begin teaching languages at a younger age.

4:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we (Americans) should be learning more foreign languages. I myself have learned 5 already, and im going for my 6th my senior year

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Americans are taught the languages. I am doing pretty well. I'm using the advanced book already.

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i think that they shud lean there own language personally but there u go we learn diff languges so can they then but u have 2 understand right?!

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