Call to improve teacher training to stem teacher shortfall

Germany is set to struggle with a dearth of teaching staff in schools continuing well into the future due to falling numbers of teacher training graduates. The teachers’ and scientists’ union has called for improvements in teacher training to cope with the crisis.

“I believe we will have shortages for at least another 10 years,” says Social Democrat and Berlin education senator Astrid-Sabine Busse, who is also this year’s president of the Kultusministerkonferenz (KMK) or Standing Conference of State Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs.

Busse sees teacher shortages as a demographic issue caused by a combination of declining birth rates, for example, from around the beginning of the new millennium and cohorts of teachers from periods with high birth rates going into retirement. “This results in major gaps,” Busse maintains. However, she believes that the shortages have already bottomed out and things are now improving.

Busse concedes that the demand for teachers is increasing again, with birth rates on the rise for the last 10 years and larger numbers of pupils owing to immigration. The KMK’s Standing Scientific Commission, an advisory body comprising 16 education researchers, is currently working on recommendations to improve the teacher recruitment situation, which are to be presented later on this year.

The Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW), representing school teachers and teaching and research employees in higher education, takes a rather more critical view of the situation, claiming that the state governments have kept teacher training places at an artificially low level to save money and that improvements in the quality of teacher training are needed.

It points to a declining number of graduates from teacher training programmes at universities, both because of smaller first-year student numbers and through more dropouts. This, the GEW stresses, clashes with sharp rises in schoolchildren, with 2022 seeing the largest number of first-year pupils for 17 years. More than 200,000 children and youths had come from Ukraine since February last year.

Most new teachers not fully trained

Referring to Busse’s own city of Berlin, the GEW notes that around 60% of newly recruited teachers are not fully trained. “Berlin needs 3,000 graduates from teacher training programmes a year,” insists Berlin GEW Chair Martina Regulin. “To achieve this, Berlin’s universities need better facilities for teacher training, which the forthcoming negotiations with the Berlin city government have to create a framework for.”

Measures the GEW suggests for Berlin include special mentoring and counselling for students who have failed modules to reduce the high dropout rate in bachelor degree studies. Grants for the last two semesters of studies could help students concentrate more on the final stages of their masters studies.

More generally, the GEW notes that universities have to focus more on teacher training to avoid students in these programmes “getting lost” in the individual subject areas.

“Universities have to pay more attention to teacher training programmes,” the GEW states. “Already at the level of subject basics, teacher training students need a special focus on how they are going to teach the contents they themselves are learning.”

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