Controversial issues at schools in Germany
The pros and cons of handwriting, marks and homework – issues that pupils, teachers and parents get het up about.
For: Our everyday lives are becoming increasingly digital and we rarely have to write anything by hand. Finland has already abolished handwriting at schools. Pupils who use a keyboard to write texts can concentrate better on the content and do not waste time practising their handwriting, claim supporters. The autocorrect function helps with spelling. Furthermore, teachers benefit when all the texts look the same, and pupils with bad handwriting will not be disadvantaged when it comes to marking.
Against: Handwriting is a cultural asset that should not be abolished lightly, argue opponents. Handwriting is an expression of our personality. Forming the letters is good training for fine motor skills. Furthermore, the actions involved in writing by hand help pupils understand the sense of and better remember the content.
For: Marks give pupils a sense of orientation, as they allow them to compare their performance with that of others. Good marks should motivate pupils to continue learning, while bad marks should encourage them to make more effort. Children must also learn how to cope with failure. Parents can use the marks to tell whether their child is making good progress at school or needs some private tuition.
Against: Opponents believe marks to be unfair and not particularly objective because they depend on the teacher in question, on how the teacher is feeling on a particular day, and on whether or not he or she likes the child being marked. This system of reward and punishment exerts unnecessary pressure on pupils. It is better to ensure that teachers and pupils have regular discussions of learning development and progress that has been achieved.
For: Homework serves to revise and consolidate at home the content that has been learnt at school. Vocabulary can only be learnt through repetition, for example. Pupils learn to be conscientious, to work independently and to manage their time. This can be reinforced through weekly plans, with the teacher setting homework on Mondays that pupils are to complete during the course of the week.
Against: After a long day at school, pupils need free time to engage in sport and meet with their friends, while homework merely generates additional stress. Pupils from non-academic families have a disadvantage as compared with those whose parents support them or can afford private tuition. Exercises should be included in lesson time so that teachers can help their pupils.
For: Pupils in Germany used to spend nine years at grammar school (G9), but now the G8 reform has shortened this to eight years. Curricula were streamlined so as not to overburden pupils with unnecessary knowledge. Pupils take their final exams (Abitur) a year earlier and can therefore embark on a professional career sooner. This makes them internationally competitive and gives them greater opportunities on the job market. The year they gain also makes it possible for them to take a gap year for their personal development.
Against: G8 is an achievement-oriented model. Many pupils complain about their heavy workload. Pressure is high and little time remains to practise the lesson content or explore it in greater depth. School days are longer, so there is no longer enough time to pursue hobbies or personal interests. Most school-leavers in the G9 model are already 18, while many are still minors when they begin work or university in the G8 system.