We want every child – with his or her talents and weaknesses – to be given a chance. Our ongoing goal is to guarantee equal opportunity, and that requires good all-day schools. We already have many of them in Germany; one only has to take a look at them. Good all-day schools are a necessary prerequisite for children and young people to receive intensive, individual attention from an early stage.
This is precisely the Achilles heel of our school system. We don’t give children enough individual attention and support early on. Therefore, this is precisely where we will begin our work. We need to start with elementary schools. That is why the all-day school program is not only for the final years of high school [Sekundarstufe II]. We have to start with kindergarten to ensure better cooperation between kindergartens and elementary schools. Because the deficits that emerge early on are usually very difficult to correct at a later stage. Here, we must be guided by the motto of the Finnish education system: “Every child can succeed, provided that we succeed in giving him or her appropriate support.”
I would like to state one thing very clearly: all-day schools are not soup kitchens, as some people – foolishly, as I see it – continue to claim. Also, the point isn’t to offer students a little help with homework; rather, we aim to establish all-day schools where the main pedagogical focus and primary responsibility really will be this: to give children individual attention from an early stage. Obviously, there is no such thing as a single educational strategy for all schools. Every school must develop its own strategy, its own profile, which will be geared toward local conditions. This is why we firmly support greater autonomy for schools. An all-day school in a poor urban neighborhood will be different from an all-day school in a rural area. Anyone who doesn’t understand this hasn’t done his homework.
The main thing is for the federal government to recognize the different strengths and talents of our children early on and to offer them optimal individual attention through a diverse educational strategy – and diverse is the key word here. We can do this. The best schools in Germany prove this, as do the numerous examples in other countries. We can achieve this, for example, by linking instruction with extracurricular offerings, by dividing the morning and afternoon into periods of recreational (or self-directed) activity and periods of more rigorous instruction. This can be accomplished by abandoning the rigid schedule of 45-minute periods (which would create more room for free instruction and project-oriented lessons); by incorporating programs offered by the Jugendhilfe,* music schools, and athletic clubs; by organizing partnerships between local schools and social and cultural institutions and companies; by encouraging ongoing, intensive engagement on the part of parents, students, and external partners in school development; and by – and we should not fail to mention this – giving far better training to our teachers, both future teachers and those already employed, since they need to see themselves more as team members and not solely as mere subject-matter experts.
By giving the green light to all-day schooling in Germany, we are initiating a vigorous education reform. Reactions on the ground show that this initiative is a step in the right direction. We have already received numerous requests from local authorities. I am expressly stating this to silence false rumors that our school administrators and teachers are not making active and creative use of this opportunity. They are doing this, and we have to give them the chance to do so.
Let me issue a brief remark to the opposition: in view of the great task ahead of us, we need a new culture of cooperation – a culture of cooperation like the one we had in the Education Forum. I hope the opposition has not forgotten what we decided on jointly – together with three CDU state ministers, Annette Schavan, Hans Joachim Meyer, and Hans Zehetmair – in the Education Forum almost a year ago: that all-day schools are a major and important prerequisite for giving our children better and more individualized attention. In my mind, education also involves recognizing and considering the work and insights of others.
* An organization that offers support services for young people – trans.
Source: Minister for Education and Research Edelgard Bulmahn Describes the “Future, Education, and Care Program” for All-Day Schooling to Members of the German Bundestag, Bulletin (Press and Information Office of the Federal Government), no. 14, February 13, 2003.
Translation: Allison Brown