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.