East Germans Tackle Education Reform
With textbooks and training from the West, teachers and students try a new approach to learning. BACK TO SCHOOL
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Over the summer, however, he has been in touch with teachers in the West, taken several seminars and workshops, and collected masses of new material. This year, he will teach contemporary history and plans to teach the East German revolution from his own chronology of events and newspaper clippings. During his history class last year, he says, students openly debated the political upheaval.Skip to next paragraph
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Some educators here, like Mr. Handelmann, predict learning and discipline difficulties because teachers who once taught communist ideology have changed their stripes and are teaching the virtues of democracy.
Sigrun Str"aubig, a colleague of Handelmann's, also a history teacher, says the teacher-student relationship depends on how open the teacher was in the past.
``Some teachers stuck very close to the plan and were dogmatic,'' she says. Others, and she includes herself in this category, sought out new material and tried to provide more context.
Ms. Str"aubig sees her biggest challenge as ``getting students to think critically.'' In the old days, both teachers agree, most students recited textbook passages verbatim in order to get good grades. They switched off their minds after learning early on that personal opinions did not belong in school.
Str"aubig, a Christian who never belonged to the Communist Party, is also concerned about unemployment among students' parents and believes teachers should play a role in helping students through this difficult period.
Kraft, the school principal, agrees. ``My greatest concern is that teachers and students become good partners as we go through this social change.''
Although Kraft used to be a Communist Party member, she was reelected to her job as principal for a period of two years. Her reelection is an example of attempts to democratize the school system.
Like all other school directors this year, Kraft had to step down, but was free to apply for the job again if she chose. A newly formed committee of 12 teachers, six parents, and six students approved her application, with only one person voting against it.
Unlike Kraft, however, many school principals were not reelected. Str"aubig describes Kraft's election as fair and says the principal had proven herself to be reform minded. Kraft defended her teachers before higher-up Communists in the education system, Str"aubig says.
Until the traditional states (L"ander) are recreated in East Germany in October, schools will continue to be administered from East Berlin. But after this, the system will reflect that of West Germany, where education is a matter of state jurisdiction.
Even though the East Germans will be adopting this administrative model, educators in Leipzig, at least, are not sure they want to swallow the West German educational system hook, line, and sinker.
Mr. Erdmann, the education director for the Leipzig district, says he does not want to establish three different types of high schools, as the West Germans have. He also wants to stick to all-day schools instead of switching to half-day schools, which is the West German norm. These and other issues related to education structure are already being hotly debated here.