Credit: GEW/Shutterstock.
Credit: GEW/Shutterstock.

Germany: Early childhood education staffing under enormous stress

published 14 December 2020 updated 16 December 2020

Education unions in Germany have asked public authorities to better recognise the role played by early childhood educators during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have asked for increased resources for staffing and funding in the KiTa – early childhood education (ECE) schools.

GEW: Research into COVID-19 transmission and incidence in ECE sector

According to the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft(GEW), the situation in ECE has worsened significantly since October: there are fewer staff, more COVID-19 infections, and more suspected cases.

The incidence of COVID-19 in the ECE sector is monitored nationwide and constantly updated, unlike the situation in schools, according to the union. The Corona-Kita-Studie.de website contains detailed monthly and quarterly reports. This website, set up by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) – a German federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention – and the Deutsches Jugendinstitut(German Institute for Youth; DJI), one of the largest social science research institutes in Europe, shows how many ECE centres are affected by COVID-19 infections and suspected cases, and details their staffing situation.

Increasing infections

The number of COVID-19 cases reported by ECE institutions is steadily and significantly increasing, GEW president and Education International’s vice-president, Marlis Tepe, noted. Tepe quoted Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey who announced in mid-October that “only every one hundredth person was infected”. In the first week of November, this figure was 9.2 per cent, almost one in 10. While it is not reported whether children or educators are infected, the proportion of staff who “dropped out due to COVID-19, for example, taking sick leave”, rose from 2.7 to 4.5 per cent within one month, according to the union.

Organisational issues

The GEW pointed out that this raises health issues, but also organisational ones. For instance, each week, the ECE institutions indicate on a 1-6 scale how difficult it is for them to provide needs-based care. At the beginning of October, the average difficulty rating supplied by ECE school leaders and ECE staff was 2.3; one month later, it was 2.7.

“The ECE centres are slowly reaching their limits,” explained Professor Bernhard Kalicki, one of the Corona-KiTa study leaders at the DJI. “Which staff will be deployed where has to be planned more precisely than before the pandemic.”

The steadily deteriorating situation does not come as a surprise to Professor Walter Haas, one of the study directors at the RKI. In October, he stated that increasing numbers of infections would have an impact on childcare.


However, the role of children in the infection process has not yet been fully researched. However, the COALA initiative ¬– a component of the Corona-KiTa-Study – i.e., the collection nationwide, in 15 to 20 day-care centres where infections occurred, of smears and blood samples from employees and families, should provide information on the extent to which, and, under what conditions, the ECE institutions contributed to the transmission of COVID-19. In addition, a study called CATS (Corona-KiTa-Surveillance) aims to analyse large-scale data from the health authorities. The results of these two studies are not expected until 2021.

VBE: OECD study confirms shortage of skilled workers in ECE institutions and need for urgent action

The Verband Bildung und Erziehung(VBE) has echoed the need to support ECE schools and to increase the number of ECE educators.

Commenting on the second report of the results of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Teaching and Learning International Survey, Starting Strong, VBE federal president Udo Beckmann said: “The results confirm what we have repeatedly found through our study of ECE school leaders during the annual representative German Congress of ECE institutions leadership: there is a red alert in early childhood education and an urgent need for action.

“In Germany, we can count ourselves lucky that educators in this country have excellent professional qualifications and do their job with conviction and motivation,” he said. However, “if the people who have already achieved enormous things before the coronavirus pandemic and are doing even more in the current situation - and this includes daycare specialists, without a doubt - are let down by politics, it is terrible, not only for them, but also for the children and the future of our society as a whole.

Investment in staffing and salaries

Beckmann said, “We are heading for an accident when the imbalance between responsibility and recognition in early childhood makes people increasingly dissatisfied and/or sick and scares off potential young colleagues.”

For him, “massive, sustainable and comprehensive investments in substantially higher staffing levels” at national level are needed, implying, in particular, “appropriate, significantly better pay”, including during the training period.

He went on to say that training capacities must be developed urgently without lowering qualification levels, and that adequate in-service training opportunities must be offered.

In addition, Beckmann stressed the need for development prospects for trained specialists and for alleviating the work of staff in ECE schools, for example staff with administrative tasks, through adequate digital equipment.