The German Citizens' Assembly on Education and Learning has spent a year intensively addressing the issue of equal opportunities and asking: What do the framework conditions have to look like in order to create real equal opportunities in education? At what point do bridges have to be built and measures organised so that everyone can also make use of the opportunities on their educational path? On 10 June 2023, the recommendations were handed over to the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the States in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK).
A total of 15 proposals were adopted which, from the citizens' point of view, can contribute to more educational equity. The proposals are divided into the areas of early childhood education, general education and vocational education.
Principles of equal opportunities
The Citizens' Assembly participants agreed on principles for equal opportunities. According to these principles, all children and young people in Germany should have the opportunity to receive a good education. To achieve this, changes can and must be made in many areas. Certain conditions must be met for these changes to take place.
Among other things, it is important to the Citizens' Assembly that all educational institutions nationwide have access to uniform and adequate basic equipment. The training objectives for teacher trainees and educational specialists should be uniform throughout the country. Everyone should have barrier-free access to education - regardless of family, material or financial situation. The necessary financial support should be guaranteed.
Inclusion should be promoted and all types of schools and educational pathways should be equally valued. According to the wish of the assembly members, individual support should make it possible to discover and develop one's own talents and inclinations. Because adequate German language skills are a prerequisite for successful participation in education, they should be promoted in all educational pathways.
The Citizens' Assembly also considers it important to have a sufficient number of qualified reference persons such as school psychologists, special needs teachers and liaison teachers. School should also be part of the social home by offering a sufficient number of study groups, leisure activities and excursions.
Uniform quality management
The state shall ensure uniform quality management: Educational staff shall receive professional and pedagogical training and development, including team building and continuous coaching. Constant feedback is to be demanded. Constant collegial exchange should also become the norm across schools.
The right to "equal opportunities" is anchored in the Basic Law. But what concrete measures have to be taken to actually meet this claim? Since April 2022, the Citizens' Assembly on Education and Learning has been dealing with this question in depth. Over a period of twelve months, there were numerous online and face-to-face meetings with 10 to 300 people. In the working groups, they developed ideas, contributed their own experiences, jointly formulated recommendations and intensively discussed the individual approaches.
Citizens' Assembly meetings in Berlin and Montabaur
At large Citizens' Assembly meetings in Berlin (September 2022) and in Montabaur (March 2023), the plenary with around 90 participants each voted on the various proposals. Some achieved a broad majority, others only a narrow one. In other words, members of the citizens' assembly were not really in agreement here. And there were also proposals that fell through. Here are the recommendations in detail:
Early childhood education
- An offensive for early childhood education: more day-care places, more specialists, smaller groups
- Free and high-quality early childhood education from zero to school enrolment
- Mandatory promotion of language skills in day care centres
- Family centres: developing trust-building spaces for parents and children
- Compulsory day care in the last two years before school
General education schools
- Expanding the number of specialist staff at schools and thus continuous support by multi-professional, multi-faceted teams
- Self-efficacy experience and social competence to be a binding universal teaching principle and mandate for all teachers
- Compulsory all-day schooling three days a week for grades 1 - 10
- More money earmarked for the well-being of children
- Longer joint learning in cross-age subject-specific and achievement- and interest-oriented groups until the age of 16 - with individual support.
- Closer links between schools and companies in all occupational fields.
- Individual support for vocational orientation from the middle school at the latest
- More "career orientation" with compulsory work placements
- A voluntary orientation year for all
- Transparent financial support for training and study for all professions
Longer joint learning
There was much discussion in the Citizens' Assembly about the fact that children should learn together for longer at school. Currently, the rule is that they attend a secondary school after grade 4 (in Berlin, this change takes place after grade 6). A clear majority of 62 per cent of the assembly participants were in favour of children and young people being able to learn together in future, as a rule, up to grade 10, as in other countries - with individual support for both the better-performing and weaker pupils.
"Equality of opportunity means that every individual can reach his or her maximum learning potential, and for this the individualisation of learning is of great importance," says assembly member Dieter Schulz, 69 from Bad Zwischenahn in Lower Saxony. "Every person has individual likes and dislikes, as well as strengths and weaknesses." It is essential to take these aspects fully into account in education, says the former human resources developer in IT. "It is time to move from a pure teaching approach to a learner-centred approach.
Equal opportunities for all children
Equal opportunities in education should ensure that all children and young people have the chance to get a good school-leaving certificate and thus later aspire to their desired profession, regardless of where they went to school in Germany and whether their parents can also afford this vocational training for their child.
Moaz Krenba, who came to Germany with his family in 2016, reported on his very personal experiences during his school years: "For me, a good school leaving certificate was associated with a constant struggle. Nobody in the school system believed in me and my potential. I was highly motivated from the inside out, I crammed German with Youtube videos and that was the only way I could catch up in the other subjects."
300 Citizens' Assembly participants
Parents and pupils, police officers or biodiversity advisors sit on the Citizens' Assembly: almost 300 randomly selected people from the middle of society have worked out the proposals for improving equal opportunities in the education system. Their recommendations are now available.
The Berlin Senator for Education, Katharina Günther-Wünsch, who has already had several exchanges with Citizen Ambassadors and Youth Ambassadors of the Citizens' Assembly for Education and Learning, promised to continue the discussion on the new programme in the circle of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs. "The citizens' perspectives on the topic of equal opportunities offer good points of contact for the priority topic of all-day education within the framework of my KMK presidency."
Citizens' Assembly runs since 2020
The Citizens' Assembly on Education and Learning began its work in 2020. In December 2021, the Citizens' Assembly had already presented its proposal for an emergency programme on education policy in Germany.