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More German and mathematics in primary schools: what should go away?

More German and mathematics in primary schools: what should go away?

More German and mathematics in primary schools in Bavaria, but not more hours overall per week: that's how Education Minister Anna Stolz (Free Voter) wants to respond to Germany's sometimes worrying performance in the latest Pisa study from next academic year. “Reading, writing, and arithmetic are the most important things our students should be able to do,” Stolz emphasizes.

Since its announcement, there have been lively debates in the Free State: What will be cut in primary schools and where will the cuts be? While Stolz also believes that cuts in religious education are at least conceivable, Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) is putting an end to such considerations. “There are no debt reductions,” Soder says. “Behind religion is also the education of values.” However, there is criticism of Söder's announcement. According to the ministry spokesman, Stolz, in return, rules out cutting sports lessons, for example.

Is it possible to dispense with the English language in primary schools?

The Bavarian Association of Linguists (bpv) in turn reported that a survey of 300 secondary school English teachers in July 2023 showed “that the level of English of primary school students after they move to secondary school is not sufficient to build on meaningfully.” According to this, 82% of those surveyed actually support replacing English in primary schools with basic subjects such as mathematics and German.

For the Association of Linguists, it is clear: “The advantages of early English lessons do not greatly outweigh the disadvantages of secondary schools that arise from lower language skills in German.” Therefore, Bavaria “must not be afraid to open new horizons when comparing federal states.” Due to the increasing number of children with a migration background, general conditions have changed since the general introduction of English into primary schools in Bavaria 20 years ago.

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Ultimately, this may amount to eliminating two hours of English in third and fourth grades. Söder also sees potential for cuts here: “First, you have to know German well before you can think in English.” Last summer, then-Education Minister Michael Piazzolo (Liberal Voters) looked very different: he saw no need to cancel English classes, Piazzolo said at the time. In any case, it is clear that simply leaving the English language will not be enough.

Choral societies warn against reducing music lessons

In addition to German and mathematics, the timetable at primary school in Bavaria includes the subjects of local history, school subjects, art, music, sports, religion/ethics, English as well as crafts and design. Another way to incorporate more German and mathematics into the timetable is, for example, to reduce the number of music lessons.

But here too there is already resistance. The four Bavarian choral societies, which according to their own data represent about 90,000 active singers in Bavaria, warned against canceling music lessons. “Music lessons and music activity in particular contribute greatly to linguistic, social and emotional learning,” the choral societies wrote in an email to Minister Stolz. Making music together also enhances community and social skills.

What topics are “not allowed to be touched”?

The Bavarian “Pisa Offensive” provides an extra hour of German language lessons per week for all primary school classes. There will also be another math lesson weekly for grades 1 and 4. The plan is for Bavaria's Ministry of Culture to give schools freedom in precisely how to change the timetable in favor of more German and mathematics. However, there should be a list of “do not cover” topics.

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The Bavarian Teachers' Association (BLLV) believes more German and mathematics is in order, but does not want to see cuts elsewhere in primary schools. “Children in primary schools need more! More education, more support, more differentiation. And by no means less,” says Simon Fleischmann, president of BLLV. Inclusion, integration, digitalisation, one-to-one support and all-day schools need “more lessons, more staff and more support”.

Kitas: The number of weekly hours in the introductory German language course has recently been reduced

However, language development does not begin at primary school age, but rather in kindergarten. According to the SPD parliamentary group, there is a need for improvement here in Bavaria. Accordingly, the Social Democrats' current request to the state government shows that the number of language courses for kindergarten children has decreased for more than three years. “In the academic year 2020/2021, 9,191 hours per week were spent on an introductory German language course for kindergarteners in Bavaria, in the following year 2021/2022 there were 8,737 hours per week and in 2022/2023 only 7,771 hours.”

The Bavarian Business Association (VBW) is also calling for more language support for children in Bavaria. “We need consistent language support and mandatory language proficiency assessments in daycare centres,” says Bertram Brossardt, managing director of vbw. But there is also praise: the state government has taken important steps with a plan to increase the number of German language and mathematics lessons in primary schools.