Tough Training

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today’s visit, our last in Berlin, took us to a gymnasium in Kreuzberg, Leibniz Schule.  840 students attend this all day (which includes after school extra subjects and care for those who want it) school which has a 30% intake of German as a second language.  Students at this school are tracked from year 6 as they choose the more academic stream and work towards the Arbitur giving them access to university education.

Outside the school

Leibniz School has a focus on 5 pillars of languages, maths, music and arts, method curriculum ( teaching about organisation and management of learning) and civil learning.  The students who spoke to us from year 11 were very proud of their languages program and from listening to the fluent english speaking of the students it is obviously successful.  Students have the opportunity to be taught in English or French, giving them even more fluency.

As I saw in the Copenhagen schools, student activism is strong, although it appears to be more like what I have seen in Australia with students painting murals in the school buildings to brighten the environment.  They also attend the year 7 camp, as mentors, which runs for a week at the beginning of gymnasium to get to know each other and learn skills in time management and organisation.

Recently the school had worked with an educational initiative Mehr Als Lernen, translated to ‘More than Learning.’  Throughout this process the students worked with the organisation to implement more student activism.  This included having students workshop with teachers on how they felt the classes should be taught. Martine, the teacher in the room said it was a great initiative and the teachers learnt a lot from the experience although many did not take on board what was learned.

It is evident here that students have a lot more civic learning where each year they learn political science.  As the election has just taken place in Germany many of the students I have spoken to are very aware of politics and the policies of the different parties.  In fact at this school they had organised an internal vote.  Over a few weeks students learned about the different policies each party had and then voted according to their own preference.  As youth in Germany can not vote until the age of 18 (although the Länder or State elections allow people to vote from 16 upwards) it was not counted but they were able to compare how the student population voted compared to their electorate.  Here in Kruezberg the electorate is the only elected Green seat, like the Melbourne City electorate and the school voting also reflected this. After our recent election in Australia I have been thinking about the lack of education when it comes to our political system and believe this system in Germany is something Australian schools should be thinking about more.

We also had an opportunity to talk to some trainee teachers who were in the room.  Many of these teachers were in their late 20s and had already completed their Bachelor of Arts and a 2 year Master degree to become a teacher.  They were currently completing their 2 year teacher training time in schools, which they work at 40% of the standard wage.  As part of this practice the trainee teachers attend weekly seminars with teacher trainers, focussing on their schools and developing further their theoretical understandings.  They seem well supported and create a network in other graduate teachers, with the support of their training supervisor.

Talking to trainee teachers

Graduating students are allocated a school and it is a luck of the draw which location and school type you get. Speaking to one trainee teacher she had been allocated one of the toughest schools in Berlin, which was part of the new pilot school program, Gemeinschaftsschule, where students are not tracked into an integrated school or a gymnasium but all students attend the same school from first grade to 12th grade with the option of getting A levels or taking a more vocational strand. This school was chosen as a pilot school due to its difficult past.  It is well known in Berlin after the staff walked off the job in 2006 due to terrible working conditions and fear for their safety.

It was interesting to hear a trainee teacher talk about the positives to the tracking system as it wasn’t fair for the brighter students nor for the less academic students who didn’t get the extra help they needed.  Once again the idea of tracking students into more vocational and academic streams has positives I had neglected to see, and am not yet convinced of, the repercussions for students later in their learning career or lives. Obviously for Berlin they are making large changes to their education system and I am expecting their will be many changes to come in the next few years as they seem to be aligning more with the British/Australian system of inclusion.


Learning for working

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Angelika greets us this morning from the Oberstufenzentrum – Kommunikations, Informations und Medientechnik. The OSZ is a gymnasium offering more career focused education and vocational subjects. It is clear from a tour of the school that they focus on media, with more media equipment than I would expect to find in a TV studio! The school has both full vocational and dual students and offer the university exam, the Arbitur.

Media equipment

We start with Angelika introducing three students from the school aged 25, 23 and 18.  Most schools like this have a small percentage of mature age students.  The first student talks of how he didn’t identify with his first attempt at a Gymnasium and much prefers the opportunity to have lots of options.  The second student, who has returned to study after being musician (he had recently had a top ten hit in Germany).  He enjoys the project based learning which occurs.

Around the school

Angelika and the students talk a lot about behaviour and how much time is dedicated to managing it.  Sitting in the middle of a deprived district of Berlin it is known for difficult students.  They do a  lot of work on setting rules and expectations, getting to class on time and creating a working climate.  Walking around the school it certainly doesn’t feel like a place that needs working on culture and students seem engaged. When we walk into an editing class, students are working in groups on a project and are assisting each other on their work. The equipment in the room is well planned so they can work in pairs or small groups but still have access to everything they might need.

Striking Berlin

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today we arrive at the Robert Junke Oberschule, an integrated Secondary School (ISS) named after the Austrian writer of nuclear weapons.  This school, which is an integrated version of the Hauptschule, Gesamtschule, and Realschule offers vocational classes such as woodwork, metalwork, textiles and home economics as well as basic education such as German, English and Physics.

Art seen inside Robert Junk Oberschule

The interest for us in today’s visit was not only about the school but the fact that our visit fell on a strike day.  In Berlin there are two types of teachers, the public servant teachers and the contracted teacher.  Historically there had been a deal made with teachers that they could be seen as public servants, have job security, good pensions and better pay if they agreed not to strike.  More recently teachers who have been employed do not have these luxuries or securities and were therefore striking to get more even benefits.  Interestingly those who striked were reimbursed for their day’s wages by the union which they pay €30 a month.  It was also interesting to see a strike so close to an election but as in Australian, schools are controlled by the Länder (Similar to our State Government) and this is who they were striking against.

Unfortunately, due to the strike we didn’t get to see any classrooms and work with the students, but it was interesting to hear about the work they did with bilingual learning at the school. Students have an opportunity to take all of their classes in Polish or German and can choose to take their exams in either language. The school of 950 is well known in Berlin for its Polish program with some students travelling an hour to school each day.

Images of the school

In Berlin there is free choice of schools so it is important for schools to offer something above and beyond..  For the Robert Junke Oberschule their intake each year is made up of 60% of those students with the best marks, 10% of students who have special considerations for attending a particular school (which sounds a little like vouchers but they rarely take any students in this scenario) and 20% are chosen from a hat. There are minimum grades required to come to the school with 1 being the highest score and 6 the lowest.  Robert Junke sit at 2.6 putting it in the higher range.

We heard from Thomas, the principal about class sizes. He made mention of Hattie’s research, which was not the first time it had been mentioned in Berlin or Copenhagen.  Although Thomas took a different view and was disgusted with Hattie’s research suggesting class sizes don’t matter.  He is determined to have smaller class size. For some in our group they were surprised to hear of Hattie’s popularity in Germany but Thomas explains he is so well known in Germany because everyone can take something from his data, policy writers can say the money doesn’t make a difference but teachers can use it to say they are important in education.

Once again there is very little technology seen in the schools.  The teachers do not know how to use the technology so they don’t bother with spending the money. Thomas believes in putting money into student well being instead and shows us the rooms they have created for students to rest and relax.

Student rest and relaxation room

Our afternoon visit today was to the Technology University Berlin where Dr Stefan Wolf spoke to us about the vocational stream in Germany.  The Dual system of Germany is world renowned for its comprehensive education of basic skills as well as in company training.  Students study German, English, Maths, Political Science and then subjects from their learning field.  With the very low youth unemployment rate in Germany it has been seen as a huge success although Stefan was skeptical of the system due to the difficulty in getting companies to take on apprentice students where only 20% of companies offer an apprenticeship. “It is a policy not in real practice.”

Stefan said it was not an expectation that apprentices stay on with their company when they finish their apprenticeship. It fact it is rare for this happen and most apprentices find a full time job for another company.

Welcome to Berlin

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

We were welcomed to Berlin by the Peter Petersen UNESCO school.  This school had always taken the Peter Petersen name but had worked as any other school in Berlin.  It wasn’t until the centenary of the death Peter Petersen in 1984 that the school began to look into its namesake and they realised a change to the way the school ran was required.  Peter Petersen was a former educational reformist who believed in a more holistic approach to education.  He promoted the use of mixed age groups and believed education should evolve around 4 basic principles of conversation, play, celebration and work.

I think schools in Australia actually take on board much of this belief of education, especially in the area of multi age groups. One thing I noticed from this school was the way they could articulate why they choose to group students, rather than Australia where we tend to group students due to numbers in the school.  Here they chose multiage groups of Prep, 1 and 2 and 4,5 & 6 as it helps build self esteem, teaches students to accept and offer help and allows the to take responsibility for their learning and the learning of others. “It is normal to be different” is a mantra at Peter Petersen school.

PicMonkey Collage

As students enter school here it is a large celebration, not only at the school but in the homes of new school goers. On the first day of school children wake to a large bag of presents such as cute stationery.  All of the family arrive to wish the child well.  When they arrive at school they are introduced to all of the students in a special celebration.

In the visit to this UNESCO school I can see a lot of similarities to Australia, especially when compared to Copenhagen.  When we had a chance to sit in a Prep/1/2 classroom for a few minutes they were learning about fire and using toy telephones to pretend to call the emergency number.  Students were in groups, the teacher using a smartboard to record ideas.  At this particular school there are 22 different nationalities with 60% of the school’s population from immigrant backgrounds.

Students arrive at school a little earlier than us starting at 8.20am and is started with a 90 minute teaching session.  At 9.50 students have breakfast and this is followed by a 10 minute silent relaxation/reflection time. Another 90 minute block takes them into their second break before school finishes at 2pm unless you are in grade 4/5/6 who will return for an extra session. The upper primary school differs in the sense that students are a lot more independent, choosing what work they are going to do and Monday morning is spent planning when they are going to do their work.

Of course our first school visit is not representative of schools in Germany and I am looking forward to seeing more, especially after hearing more about how the education system works in Germany at the Department of Education.  Germany are very proud of their education system and the low youth unemployment level they have (around 5%).  School begins at age in first grade at 6, similar to Australia but the key difference is that by the time students get to grade 6 they choose whether they will take a vocational or academic track.  From there they head to secondary school suited to their track.  The gymnasium prepares students for university and students sit the Arbitur, a university entrance exam. The Hauptschule prepares students for a vocational future as does the Realschule but with more of an academic focus. After receiving the Realschule certificate, students have many options such as entering the dual system or vocational training.

I look forward to learning more about this system of education.  While at first I shudder at the idea of choosing a child’s future at age 11 it appears  to be working successfully for Germany.