Germany: Education stakeholders demand swift implementation of enhanced safety measures in schools

published 8 October 2020 updated 14 October 2020

“Many questions remained unanswered” in terms of guaranteeing safe and healthy teaching and learning environments in Germany. That’s according to the two largest German education unions – the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW) and the Verband Bildung und Erziehung (VBE) - and the Federal Parents' Council (BER) in a statement on 2 October.

The organisations welcomed the fact that the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK, German acronym) had taken advice from scientists regarding ventilation in school rooms.

Questions about ventilation

However, they noted that during an experts’ meeting on 30 September, attended by the chairpersons of the three organisations, “there was a scientific dispute about how effective the ventilation is and whether the installation of air purification devices to be used in classrooms where the windows cannot be opened sufficiently would change the virus load in the air”.

The chairpersons of Education International’s affiliates – GEW’s Marlis Tepe and VBE (federal branch) Udo Beckmann - and BER chairperson Stephan Wassmuth insisted that “schools urgently need direction and support, as the cold season begins. Ventilation regulation becomes a huge educational challenge in rainy and low temperature weather. This was not sufficiently considered.”

While acknowledging the additional effort involved for authorities, they highlighted that schools must have the right to demand a risk assessment.

Timetable for implementation

The GEW, VBE, and BER said the KMK must promptly present a clear timetable for the implementation of measures to confront COVID-19. “Costs for necessary modifications or equipment should not be a knockout criterion,” they insisted. “The only thing that should be taken into consideration is whether or not we have the best possible protection against infection for teachers, pupils, and their parents.”

The chairpersons again strongly condemned the fact the health and safety conditions in many schools are still inadequate and that too many schools have major structural defects.