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May 22, 2015
The monthly journal for independent thought, ethical standards and moral responsibility The international journal for independent thought, ethical standards, moral responsibility,
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Current Concerns  >  2012  >  No 12, 19 March 2012  >  “The schools in Saxony are the best” [printversion]

“The schools in Saxony are the best”

The Weisswasser Vocational Training Centre – an example

by Dieter Sprock

“The schools in Saxony are the best, and we are Saxons,” says Eveline Hubatsch, the former director of the Lausitz Glassworks Weisswasser, in a conversation with the head and teachers of the Weisswasser Vocational Training Centre, not without justifiable pride. The schools and teachers of the former GDR often did not have an easy time after the regime change, their experiences being hardly noticed by the West despite the fact that its industry was happy to take the highly skilled engineers from the east. The chance was missed to take the best of both school systems and bring them together.

Looking ahead despite uncertainty

The Weisswasser Vocational Training Centre has also experienced several changes, including at least one large one, the transition from the GDR school system to the school system of Baden Wuerttemberg and Bavaria, on whose curricula and structure it had to be based after the regime change. At Weisswasser, for example, there was vocational training with “Abitur” (A-levels) in GDR days. This had been established since the 70s as a successful system. It offered apprentices the opportunity to attain the “Abitur” this way. With the radical change after the regime change this system was to expire. “But the students were still there, we could not simply send them away; in the transition phase there were three Abitur classes in Weisswasser. Although we teachers were very confused, we had to look ahead and bring the classes to an end”, says deputy headmaster Friedhelm Patock.

In all of Eastern Germany the number of students fell sharply after the regime change. In the districts Görlitz, Zittau and Hoyerswerda the declines were particularly dramatic. The population of Weisswasser fell from almost 40,000 in the period after the regime change to about 19,000 today. “Particularly younger people went away, and they took their children – even the unborn – with them, and they are now missing. With campaigns like Sachse komm zurück (Saxon come back) and others, they are now trying to bring back the people who are urgently needed here”, explains Friedhelm Patock. Many went away because the wages were higher in the West. Another reason was the structural changes:

The entire textile industry collapsed, and so hundreds of jobs were lost. In the Lausitzer Glas Combinat, there was a total of about 14 000 employees, now there are only 500 still working in the glass industry. In the heydays more than 4000 people were working in the Boxberg power plant, one of the main employers in the region, today 800 to 900 are left.

This development has of course also changed the education landscape: sites were merged and schools closed. This first led to a significant surplus of teachers, which was to be reduced by a hiring freeze.
But now there is an acute shortage of teachers in Saxony, at all levels schools are looking for teachers again, but the existing teaching body is getting old. This is especially a problem for vocational schools because there every teacher has his special field and cannot just take over another subject.

“The results are very encouraging”

The introduction of the learning field concept has demanded a lot from the teachers. Hardly anyone still teaches their originally trained subject in the classical way. The teachers not only had to adjust to new subjects, but also the pedagogical and methodological requirements changed. For example, in many vocational fields the classical subject mathematics was embedded in a professional context in order to make it more realistic, since it is a smooth transition.

“The pupil must be able to calculate, he must be able to understand a text, maybe he must even translate it from English or Russian, maybe he will have to develop a strategy and be able to present the results. It was up to the teachers to develop their subject this way. This development took place over a longer period and required a lot of cooperation. For mechatronics engineers the whole curriculum had to be developed from scratch and first of all gain practical relevance. We installed the mechatronics course in our site in Boxberg in 2000, and I must say, these are always classes with a very high potential.

I’ve been a marker for several years at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry examinations. There I can see that what we did in our school is correct, goal-oriented and practical. The results are very encouraging”, adds Friedhelm Patock.

“What we have here is a wide-ranging programme”

The Weisswasser Vocational Training Centre is a broad-based school. It offers training for a variety of professional fields. The classic trade school with the dual system of vocational education – at school and on the job – is only one column. “We work mainly with the block system. In the block system, students come to school for 14 days, then they are at work for four weeks. Only sales occupations, i.e. the shop assistants and retailers come to school for two days every week for at least 13 hours”, explains headmaster Gotthard Bläsche. “We have carpenters, wood engineers, industrial engineers, manufacturing engineers, electronic engineers, automation engineers, operating engineers, mechanical engineers, part finishers, various construction trades as well as shop assistants and retailers, all work in a training organisation.

There are also pre-employment programmes for young people who have no school certificate.

Then we have the Technical College. Good students can gain the advanced technical college entrance qualification in two years after the tenth grade or in one year after completing an apprenticeship.

Another school is called the Vocational College. This is professional training by the state, at Weisswasser in computer science and the social sector.
And finally we offer a college course for workers who have completed their apprenticeship, leading to state-certified engineers and business managers.

The students come Friday evening and Saturday morning, the training is part-time and takes four years.

This shows that our range of training courses is diverse, and that is very challenging. In terms of the students, the spectrum ranges from very weak to very good students. For teachers, this is certainly not easy, they have to teach the weak ones and two hours later they have to change over and deliver a completely different teaching level.”

With its 1,000 students, 53 classes and 56 teachers the Weisswasser Vocational Training Centre is not one of the largest establishments; large centres have 2,000 students and more, yet the “smallness” has its benefits, especially the benefit of the rural area: There is less violence than in the big towns.

“A fantastic job is being done everywhere”

“In Saxony,” Gotthard Bläsche continues, “the middle schools (see box) are making a lot of effort, they offer a really good education. For a long time, the problem of middle schools was that after the regime change many students chose grammar school after the fourth grade, thus the top performers were missing in the middle schools. That has now slightly changed again. Today more students choose to go through middle school again and decide afterwards whether they want to continue. The requirements for the schools are quite high.

Perhaps there was some loss of performance during the transition period, everybody was uncertain and had to get used to the new situation. Here, in the elementary schools, too, students always learnt properly how to read, write and do arithmetic. I think a fantastic job is being done everywhere.

“To be able to judge the performance level of our students one must be very differentiated: The really good student attends vocational grammar school. The next, with an average grade of maybe 2.0 gets an apprenticeship at Vattenfall, where he earns a lot of money and can expect to be taken on afterwards. The third maybe also gets an apprenticeship somewhere, and also receive decent money. And then the fourth with perhaps 3.5 or 3 ... We are naturally interested in recruiting students to our technical secondary school, even though not only the best are available. If the teachers then complain about the achievement level of the pupils, this is not necessarily the fault of the previous schools, but rather the simple fact that we do not get the best. I mean, it’s hard to judge other types of schools from our position.”

And in addition, it is always easy to complain about things that do not please.

Of course there would be moments when one wishes that the students could do this or that better, but one has to live with what one has, adds Andreas Diener. He teaches the care assistants relationship management and music, and German as a second language for young people with immigrant backgrounds. Petra Weidner, who teaches economics in the technical college, advocates brain-friendly learning and play: It is the amount that matters.

In any case, everyone is convinced that teaching has primarily to do with the teacher and is not controlled by the headmaster. “It comes down to how the teacher enters the classroom and conveys his goals and his subject.” The teaching profession is indeed a very important profession, it requires teachers with heart and soul who convey values again. There is really nothing to add.     •

Secondary school in Saxony – the “Mittelschule”

In Saxony, Hauptschule (lower secondary school) and Realschule (junior high school for ages 10 to 16) are combined to one type of school. It includes the years 5 to 10. This “Mittelschule” provides both theoretical and a practical education and lays the foundation for professional or higher education.

The classes 5 and 6 form a unity, in which the children are in a phase of orientation. The curricula are balanced, so that switching to a Gymnasium (grammar school) remains possible. Pupils are taught as a class, but they already get in contact with the specialist system of teaching in order to manage the transfer into the higher classes more easily. In order to enable every student to learn according to his abilities, remedial service is offered. On the one hand this service is for students who show deficits in their performances, but in part also for those who evince particularly good performance at an early stage.

Starting from year seven, lessons are taught in relation to the final exam. As a parent you will have to decide on the degree your child will aspire to achieve at Mittelschule. However, this decision is not final, because – according to performance – pupils can change school types even after the years seven, eight and nine.

There are three qualifications that can be reached at Mittelschule. After year nine students of Hauptschule obtain the Hauptschulabschluss (secondary modern school certificate). When in addition they have successfully taken an examination, then they will obtain the Qualifizierter Hauptschulabschluss (qualifying secondary modern school degree). In Realschule, pupils who successfully complete year ten, obtain the Realschul­abschluss (an equivalent to GCSEs) after having passed a final exam. These qualifications offer the students the opportunity to continue further educational programs in professional and general education at high school level.

(Translation Current Concerns