Germany: Education unions critical of KMK’s backward steps and patchwork approach

published 16 October 2020 updated 22 October 2020

Education is taking a step backwards in Germany, according to Education International’s affiliates, the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW) and the Verband Bildung und Erziehung (VBE). The unions were reacting to resolutions agreed by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK, German acronym).

GEW: Black day for education

The GEW described the KMK resolutions as “a black day for education”. According to Marlis Tepe, GEW president and member of Education International’s Executive Board, the KMK is taking a major step backwards, “with the agreement between Länder (regions)”.

Referring to KMK president Stefanie Hubig’s use of the word ‘historical’ to describe the paper, Tepe said the paper was only ‘historical’ in the sense that it was like 1950s educational policy. “Exams are centralised and standardised, quality should be guaranteed by more tests and educational standards, and obsolete pedagogy can now be operated digitally,” Tepe said. “The KMK is largely saying goodbye to inclusion, the common learning of all children and young people.”

Glaring omissions in the KMK paper

She also noted that the KMK “buried” the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by the federal government in 2009. Tepe also emphasised that the dramatic shortage of teachers - especially in primary schools, which significantly worsens the educational opportunities of children - is hardly mentioned. “A common strategy by the federal states is necessary in order to attract more young people to the teaching profession and to train them well,” she said.

Tepe also criticised the fact that steps to bring about equal living conditions in Germany, to offer schoolchildren a better quality of learning with well-trained teachers and modern digital equipment in refurbished buildings, are apparently no longer on the KMK agenda.

Paper misses the point on social gap and reform of teacher training

She said, “The Achilles heel of the education system in Germany - the strong dependence of educational success on the social origin of the children and their risk situation - is not taken into account, A lot more has to be done here: the social gap in Germany must not widen further and further.”

In addition, the paper does not address the demands that immigration places on the education system, Tepe said. And, “instead of strengthening the profession and offering the teaching of currently important competencies, teachers would be degraded to ‘default implementers’,” she argued. She went on to say that, “there was no mention of the necessary reform of teacher training and its expansion”

New commission

Further damaging the prospects of ae National Education Council, she stressed that the Länder seem to have accepted the approach of Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek. “Obviously, it was very important to the KMK that no ‘council’ be formed to give its advice: that is why it has now formed a ‘commission’ that it can steer. Something like that is called resistance to advice,” Tepe said.

She concluded by stressing that, for the KMK to not “lose the last bit of its credibility, we expect the trade union representatives of the teachers and the democratically elected representatives of the parents and the pupils to play an important role in this commission as education experts.”

VBE: Disappointed by KMK’s response to public health issues

VBE national president, Udo Beckmann said that “those who expected more uniformity and commitment in the procedure from the KMK meeting in view of current sanitary developments were disappointed”.

However, he said, consultations have highlighted how the diverse Länder have reacted differently to the increasing number of COVID-19 infections. The previous patchwork of measures remains in place.


Admitting that the KMK’s manual on ventilation is a good aid for teachers on how to achieve the best possible exchange of air in rooms, Beckmann said it will be difficult to convince students that windows have to be opened in stormy, wet, and cold weather.

Beckmann added that the discussion about correct ventilation ignores the fact that, according to experts, ventilation only lowers the risk of indirect transmission.

“Especially in view of the increasing number of infections, the protection of the health of schoolchildren and teachers must have the highest priority,” he highlighted.

The VBE also expressly welcomed the fact that the KMK has not followed up on the proposal by some politicians to extend the winter holidays.