Education concerns in Germany

If you search “student movement Germany,“ you won’t find any coloured pictures of students protesting for more money, a more developed educational sector or cheaper tuition rates. What you will find are black-and-white pictures from the sixties, when thousands of German students formed the so-called “extra-parliamentary opposition”. The ruling party CDU (Christian Democratic Union) had fallen out with the FDP (Free Democratic Party) and formed a new coalition with the second biggest party SPD (Social Democratic Party). This meant that only 49 out of 496 seats of the government were held by the opposition. While this coalition was formed with the intention to overcome economic recession, big parts of the young academics felt increasingly uneasy with the political and social system. In the following years more and more students went on the streets. The movement reached its peak in 1966 when the parliament aimed to pass an emergency law which would guarantee the legal capacity of the state in a situation of crisis. The driving forces for the student movement were not only the weakness of the parliamentary opposition or the emergency law, but also the Vietnam War and the call for reforms of the universities. When the “extra-parliamentary opposition” failed to prevent the emergency law, the movement dissolved into many smaller and often more radical groups.

New protests came around seven years ago. After multiple reforms in the German education system, in 2009 the students wanted a change to make education more fair and accessible. In June and November “education walkouts” emerged around the country. 270 political groups came together to organize multiple events in a common protest involving both high school and university students.

University students demanded the removal of tuition fees and the numerus clausus. They also wanted more teachers and a say in all decisions the universities made. High school students, on the other hand, were protesting against the G8-reform that shortened the time students spent at grammar school from nine to eight years, causing a higher course load and less free time for students. They also wanted a reform to abolish the three-part secondary school system. Students in Germany are separated after 4th grade, according to their grades, and sent to 3 different types of schools. Only a diploma from the “highest” form of secondary school, the Gymnasium, allows students to go to university.

To reach their goals, more than 250.000 students all over Germany organized walkouts, flash mobs, panel discussions, occupations of multiple university buildings, and rallies. This gained a lot of media attention and some political parties criticized the protesters, but it still worked to some extent. In 2014 tuition fees were abolished completely and many German states are returning to the 9 year grammar school as well as establishing a new school called “Gesamtschule”, where children are not separated into groups according to their performance as early as they used to be.

by Schirin H. and Annemarie W.