International Project of the Public Union “For Human Rights”

The Decline of Europe

PreviousNext The Decline of Europe — Part VI. Observance of human rights in the system of education of Germany

Part VI. Observance of human rights in the system of education of Germany

Main page Choice of Germany as the initial monitoring country Background “On the Crisis of Liberal Values and Multiculturalism in Europe” Objectives, character and methodology of monitoring Part I. Crisis of multiculturalism Part II. Corruption Part III. Violation of freedom of expression Part IV. Challenges in penitentiary, law enforcement and judicial systems of Germany, drawbacks in the legislative practice Part V. Unwarranted use of force when dispersing actions of protest Part VI. Observance of human rights in the system of education of Germany Conclusion The Public Union “For Human Rights”

When exploring the situation around human rights protection in Germany, the research team succeeded to establish that immigrants - the main discriminated segment of German society consider that state bodies are unwilling to integrate immigrants into the German society. There are a few courses for studying the German language; the state does not promote special programs to draw immigrants into the history and culture of Germany which may be regarded as violation of the right to education. Deputy Foreign Minister and Ombudsman of Germany Markus Lehning considers that the state is doing its best to integrate immigrants into the German community; unfortunately, he insists, representatives of alien culture are not eager to get integrated into the new society: “They cannot separate themselves from their sources, decline from studying the language and culture, lead isolated mode of life and think of the new country as a source of raising their material welfare”.

However, Guntram Schneider, Minister of Labor, Integration and Social Issues of the land Westphalia, disagreed with the Ombudsman’s assessment as saying that immigrants, particularly, representatives of the Turkish community, are highly motivated to get integrated and educated in Germany. However, the state displays no interest in the integration of immigrants into the new community, he maintains.

Of the same view is Arif Unal, deputy of the Bundestag of the land Dusseldorf. To his thinking, the state has no right to violate the will of citizens by urging them to forced assimilation as in medieval times, and this is contrary to the universal view on protection of human rights, fundamental right to the preservation and development of national and ethnic originality of peoples. In his view, the process of integration into society and study of language, accommodation to culture and folklore and national values are not duties of immigrants, it is rather the objective of the German education system and the political line of the German government. The deputy opines that the problem of Germany lies in the fact that the country cannot finalize with the concept of its future development.

As viewed by Cornelie Wittsack Junge, head of the municipality and representative of the Greens Party of Cologne, the greatest problems of integration are typical for representatives of Russian, Turkish communities, as well as for “older generation” – pensioners who face difficulties when starting their life from the very outset.

But is Germany’s system of education ready to ensure migrants’ integration into German society? And how efficient is this system in terms of respect for human rights?

In February 2006 Pfor. Dr. Vernor Muñoz visited the Federative Republic of Germany as a Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council. The purpose of his visit was to examine how Germany endeavors to implement the human right to education. His main conclusion was that this right is insufficiently guaranteed in Germany. Access of children from low-income families, mainly families with a migrant background, to education system is significantly hindered. They have lesser access to the system of school education; therefore they rarely receive any vocational training.

The public education in Germany is, in principle, provided free of charge, which is an advantage. However, about 10 percents of pupils go to private schools, mainly church schools.

This trend continues in private schools, which is confirmed by increased social polarization between the reach and the poor. Reach parents believe (often mistakenly, by the way) that a private school is better equipped, and pupil will receive better education than in public schools. Analysis of efficiency of education demonstrates that this expectation if far from reality.

In recent years, the education system experienced some changes; new private educational institutions were established. These mainly are colleges which provide education in business sphere.

German system of education is not uniform and may differ at the Land level. For instance, in Bremen and North-Rhine-Westphalia more than a half of secondary school graduates do not receive higher education, while in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern this figure equals to 38 percents. A poor State, such as Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which is as big as Ireland, needs universities to improve its infrastructure, but it can offer less to professors in terms of salary as compared to richer States.

Educational expenditure

In 2009 Germany spent about 100 billion Euros to maintain kindergartens, schools, colleges and to vocational training. Federal Government allocated 70 billion Euros for education. It makes 5.3 percents of GDP, which is lesser than the average indicator of other countries (6.2 percents).


Let’s start with preschool education. During long period of time were perceived only as places where “children are taken care of”. However, in recent decades all States worked out curricula for kindergartens. People became more aware of importance of development of social and cognitive skills along with language skills. Kindergarten teachers receive education in vocational schools where they can be accepted with a secondary school graduation diploma. Education level there is lower than academic education, and low-income students cannot afford it. In March 2011, 14 percents of 3-year old children visited daycare centers, while the number of non-migrant children reached one third. 85 percents of migrants’ children are between 3 and 5 years old.    


Compulsory education usually starts at age six. There are elementary schools in majority of States; they cover 4 years of education (6 years in Berlin and Brandenburg). Many States experiment with bringing children from different schools to study in one class for several years. There are some elements of re-thinking of education science: if one student made it so far, it is supposed that other students can do it as well within the same period of time. Teachers pay greater attention to the specifics of work with each child, and study how they can attain particular skills. Children will not only learn from their teacher, but they also will learn from each other.    

A choice of a school for everyone?

According to a recently published international index of performance, level of performance of German children of primary school age is above average. It is all the more surprising that 15-year old students demonstrate bad results during multiple-choice examinations. “It seems that something is wrong with human rights between primary and secondary school in German system of education”, said Vernor Muñoz.

After the fourth grade, when children reach the age of 10, selection of school depends on its type. Such an early separation of school types happens only in Germany. Traditionally, there are preliminary, secondary and high schools. In 1970s many secondary schools have been reformed so that children of different skills could study together at least till tenth grade. Selection of whether to continue studying in the secondary school for 13 school years or to become a college student can be made only at the tenth grade. Such type of school in Germany, in contrast to other countries, can no longer go through. In the Eastern Germany polytechnic secondary schools have been established yet in 1950s.

After the unification of Germany, the Eastern lands have accepted the Western Germany’s three-pillar system of school education; however, the two-pillar system remained in the secondary school until the tenth grade, which include courses of primary and secondary school. This model of two-fold course has been gradually introduced in the western lands. Approximately one-fifth of students remains at school for the second year, at least once, i.e. have to repeat the course. Each year about 50,000 students are being excluded from the early grades of secondary school. However, there is less children who can move from lower to higher lever of education. The question of whether they will be organized in separate classes or not has various educational concepts – does this have sense, or are classes with the same talents and level of education even possible? Or it is better if children with different skills would learn from each other, and everyone would be finance according to his individual skills? Do children need the pressure to leave the higher school and switch to its lower form? Or it is not the best option when lower-achieving student may rest upon good pupils? An opinion is being imposed the world that inclusive education not only provides for better results, but also entitles everyone to better education more effectively, and this remains in Germany mostly thanks to ideology of elite and its pressure.

Special schools

Finally, about 5 percent of children attend special schools. These institutions are being envisaged for children “with special needs” – physical or mental disabilities – and for children with “emotional and social needs”. According to the UN Conventions of rights of persons with disabilities and children rights, everyone is entitled to school education, without segregation, but with the support through public schools in order to have better chances to integrate into society. It would be taken into account that all children are different and the level of their “normality” usually is being assessed arbitrarily. This concerns not only children with restricted capabilities, but also, for example, children whose mother tongue is not German, who must also have the opportunity to study in the secondary schools with appropriate financial support.


Before 1960-70s majority of pupils went to primary school. At the secondary school, school curriculum prepares children to vocational education. Today, very few attend primary school. Not much more than 20 percent of graduates continue their education. About 6 percent of young people leave schools without any reason. According to the research conducted by the EU, each fifth German citizen being functionally illiterate cannot read and write at the level sufficient for daily life.

Final rule reached by the educational environment after the tenth degree is the so-called secondary school with the right to participate in qualified vocational programs, as so-called commercial college. The diploma of such college opens a way for commercial work or profession of nurse or teacher.

There was 5 percent of students by 1960s, today – a little more than 40 percent. If to add all students who have the right to study, that is have graduation certificate of secondary school or diploma only for entering certain courses of technical college, one will have a half of all applicants to universities. From the perspective of historical development this can be a large figure, but in comparison with other industrial countries, such as Korea where 70-80 percent of young people have certificate of high school, it is little.

Education drawbacks

According to PISA results, the international comparison of 15-year-old students’ skills is illustrative of growing criticism at the formerly reputable German system of education. There is a great number of children and juveniles who remain outside qualitative education, and a share of those incapable of reading or writing is sufficient for the developed industrial countries; however, the level of education shortage is too high. On the other hand, there are still students with rather high educational level.

“It is obvious that early appraisal matters both for less successful children and juveniles and students from poor families, immigrants or disabled. An incontestable fact is that a great number of poor pupils and immigrant children primarily attend primary schools while a few study at secondary schools,” a UN special reporter for human rights Verner Munjos notes. Immigrant children have 2 times more chance to get education at primary schools than non-immigrants, especially children of the Turkish origin.

For some time past, too many immigrant children in Germany are deprived of opportunity to get education. This is attributable to ethnic rather than social reasons. Most frequently, the children from poor families and those with uneducated parents suffered most. Note that migrants in the second and third generations are sometimes socially successful and eager to provide their children with greater chances for survival in this society. In 2007, the number of students from families of this sort reached 70 percent.

Dual vocational system of education in Germany has highly been appreciated at the international level. Lessons are given at job places; once a week students attend a vocational school to get professional and other knowledge. Trainings arranged by the company on the basis of specific programs are usually agreed with associations of employers, trade unions and ministries.

Upon completion of the training, approx. 500,000 young people are selected, and 300,000 of them in the so-called transition period. At this stage the government finances courses for young people who are trained here to start future jobs. The problem is that some young people are repeatedly trained there but get no practical skills at the age of 22-23. There are also school courses to train teachers, hospital nurses, as well as auxiliary professions. Note that the number of students in the schools of this sort is 20 percent. Immigrant children find themselves in  disadvantaged positions  in these schools; it is no mere coincidence that the progress in studies of German studies is up 2 times from that of immigrant students, and the opportunity to teach foreign youth without controlling commercial activity is up 5 times.

Vocational education undoubtedly has higher standarts, the problem here is that there is too low apprenticeship. However there is a paradox: last year companies were complaining about increasing deficit of highly qualified employees  whereas themselves do not want to have apprenticeship, so that indicate demand for them more precisely.


The financing of higher education is a matter of state importance. German universities are distributed unevenly. Thus, there is a great number of universities in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg and just a few in the land Mecklenburg-Pomerania in the north. Universities could be of benefit in the depressed regions to speed up their economic and social development.

It should be noted that higher educational institutions of Germany are divided into two main types: universities and polytechnic institutions. Classical universities provide graduates with diplomas of master’s degree or doctor of sciences. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, etc. have opportunity to improve their skills here. Vocational colleges are structured differently. Architects, engineers, teachers and businessmen attend colleges and universities. As a rule, college tuition fees are lower than university ones, as is obvious from initial wages of graduates.

The Bologna process and introduction of short- and long-term programs of bachelor and master training changed relations between universities and polytechnic institutions. At present, the university education is designed to provide, first of all, vocational-technical training. To get a bachelor’s degree, it is essential to go through, at least, six semesters; to get a master’s degree, it is sufficient to receive both college and university education. In this respect, a difference between the university and college training has been removed, so applied sciences are also taught in universities.

As a whole, nearly all courses are presently transformed into 2-day test versions. Another difficulty is the drafting of curricula, including state examinations which are to be passed by teachers, doctors, and lawyers. One of the objectives of the reform was to reduce dropout of students – about 30 percent on the average. At present, the curriculum is strongly restricted; owing to the great number of students, the situation remains unimproved.

Nowadays, there are 2.5 million students, the highest ever figure. Higher education expenditures have also appreciably risen. As a result, just an insignificant part of students of the most educational institutions is in position to continue their tuition. It should be noted that the control over the quality of training is very low. That’s why depending upon universities or higher institutions, the number of students dropped out is very high.


In spite of the fact that the level of school education in Germany is not bad and remains to be free for all categories of young population, the present situation is characterized by the polarization between the well-educated and those still engaged to get education. One fifth of Germany’s population is children and juveniles who are likely to face further difficulties in getting education and subsequent employment. In the long-term prospective, this may has fatal consequences for economic and social development of the country. Vernor Muñoz, UN Human Rights Commission’s reporter, is right in claiming that the free access to education for all strata of the population is an economic necessity, not merely one of human rights. Therefore, Germany has to do much to remedy the current situation, according to UN experts.

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