Germany: Red flags raised on school roof

Secondary education crisis politicises a new generation

This year, many cities in Germany saw masses of school students taking to the streets during school students’ strikes for a better education system, for more teachers and for the withdrawal of the so-called ‘G8’ plans, which mean a cut in the Abitur period of study (from 3 to 2 years), and much more stress for school students and teachers.

The argument for the one year cut is that German students are “too old” compared to the age of students in other countries. However, the real reason for those cuts is to save money from education; students that study for longer are more expensive for the state and the big business resents not being able to exploit younger, lower paid and less educated youth.

Berlin, in particular, saw huge cuts in education over the last few years. Parents have to pay at least 100 euro, a year, for the school books of each child. Berlin school students say: “They cannot seriously argue we have to pay for our education! That we have an education system that divides people into “winners”, with better chances, and “losers”, with few chances of getting a decent or any job!”

School strikes took place in Berlin over the last two years; however the quality of this year’s protests are different, as the mood to hold protests and creative actions at schools, and at the city hall, developed over the last months.

In many schools, students founded ‘political workshops’ and strike committees, some of which critique capitalism. One gymnasium (grammar school) in Berlin saw a spectacular school action in summer 2007: Around five school students climbed the roof of the school and held aloft a red flag, while students in the school yard below shouted encouragement. They also founded a ‘partisans-choir’, which sang ‘the Internationale’ and ‘Bella Ciao’ – famous songs of the revolutionary workers’ movement – during the school’s Christmas party. The students however were banned from attending the 2007 Christmas party for being “too political”!

Education ministry mistake triggers mass protest

Such is the mood of boiling anger in the schools, the smallest mistake by the education minister leads to mass protests: around 30,000 Berlin school students were forced to repeat their maths exams after it became public that because of a sloppy mistake by the school authority, several school students knew the tests before they took the exams. A spontaneous demonstration of 3,000 school students, parents and teachers took place as the education minister announced a repeat of the exams.

This year, the federal state of Hessen witnessed a parents’ protest against cuts in school study years, and, in Lower Saxony, 11,000 teachers took to the streets for demonstrations.

On the 22 May, 8,000 school students went onto the streets in Berlin, during on a one day school strike. They demanded, amongst other things, 3,000 more teachers. Three weeks later, a national school students’ strike took place and over 15,000 school students marched in different cities throughout Germany.

On the same day, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, stated during a speech celebrating the establishment of the so-called ‘social market economy’ after WW2, that she wanted to make education a “key issue”.

Arising from this, a government education summit will take place on 22 October. But school students know that this is only an attempt to ‘calm down the movement. Instead of waiting for the pro-market politicians to meet and make more hollow statements on education, as they have done for years at various summits, the Berlin ‘Tear down the Education Blockade’ committee, called for a national school students’ conference, on 4 -5 October, and for a national schools students’ strike, on 12 November.

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July 2008