The right to education encompasses non-discriminatory access to education and the availability of education for all children and adolescents. Education targets, content and methods shall, in accordance with the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, be established in such a way that they comply with human rights and are based on children’s rights at all institutions working with children and adolescents. In its report, the German federal government focuses on early-childhood education (for the quantitative development of day-care centres, see chapter 7 (f) of this report). But no information is provided with regard to the education targets, instead the government is simply referring to its second state report to the Committee. Furthermore, apart from citing the federal programme ‘Demokratie leben!’ (“Live democracy!”), only a few examples are mentioned, referring to human rights education and children’s rights education, but neither do these examples offer a comprehensive strategy, nor an overall concept.
Depending on the basis of calculation, the data on the share of education expenditure in gross domestic product in 2015 and 2016 differ: According to the figures of the Federal Statistical Office, they range between 4.2 percent (2015) and are thus even below the OECD average, and 6.4 percent (2016). The number of pupils at comprehensive schools declined by 11 percent between 2007 and 2017. A total of 47,435 adolescents nationwide (equating to 5.9 percent) left school without obtaining the lowest school-leaving certificate (Hauptschulabschluss) in 2015. The percentage of adolescents who have not obtained any school-leaving certificate varies between states and districts, with the highest drop-out rates occurring in Berlin (9.3 percent) and Saxony-Anhalt (9.9 percent). The rates are significantly higher among boys.
Equal opportunity and educational equality at schools
The right to education on the basis of equal opportunity is not implemented adequately or, more importantly, in a non-discriminatory manner at early-childhood educational institutions and schools. Equal access and equal treatment of all children is not upheld by the German education system. A number of studies have found that children are experiencing structural disadvantages in terms of their right to education based on certain characteristics, social factors or other attributes. These particularly include children with disabilities, children with a so-called migration background, and children from poor families.
For these children, the structural disadvantages impact the entire course of their education. The limiting of educational opportunities for children begins before they even start school; it continues during primary school and subsequent schooling; and it is especially apparent when moving from one institution to another. Children from socially weaker families or children whose first language is not German have much fewer opportunities to graduate from school with a good grade. While the percentage of children attending separate special-needs schools has dropped slightly (2008: 4.9 percent of all children, 2017: 4.3 percent), there continues to be major differences between the states (e.g. 1.2 percent in Bremen and 6 percent in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern).
Taking into account that around 2.7 million children in Germany are affected by material poverty , a considerable number of pupils are at risk of having only limited chances to maximise their potential throughout the course of their education. Furthermore, they have disproportionately fewer educational opportunities than their peers who do not grow up in socially and educationally disadvantaged families. The transition from primary to secondary school is particularly socially selective. Children from households with a higher level of education are more likely to attend comprehensive schools (76 percent) which qualify students for access to university than children from households with a lower level of education (54 percent). 16 to 29-year-olds from families with so-called migration backgrounds are also less likely to attend university (15 percent) than peers without so-called migration backgrounds (18 percent). Generally, young people of the same age from families with so-called migration backgrounds less frequently have university degrees, and are more likely to not have any vocational qualification.
The introduction of full-day schools is progressing nationwide. Full days have been increased to nearly 50 percent at primary schools, though often on a voluntary basis, and sometimes even at a cost, which poses a major barrier for socioeconomically disadvantaged families.
The staffing, as well as technical and financial resources at schools continue to be insufficient. Everyday school life is, in many cases, characterised by a shortage of teachers and cancellation of classes. According to estimates, there will be a nationwide shortage of up to 35,000 teachers at primary schools alone over the next few years. There is a particular acute lack of equipment, qualified teaching staff and funding in the field of digital transformation.
Non-formal educational institutions
Non-formal and extracurricular activities in education and interaction, such as youth work or cultural education, are just as important as formal education when it comes to cultivating and developing responsible, socially competent personalities. Children and adolescents must thus also be given the chance to autonomously participate in non-formal youth activities. But this area receives a lot less funding and is often short-term, resulting in job insecurity and precarisation of educators, social and youth workers. There is an urgent need to invest in extracurricular and non-formal education, as well as in a sustainable social and cultural infrastructure for adolescents in their social spheres.
Right to education for refugee children
The right to education for refugee children and adolescents varies from state to state, and overall has been inadequately implemented during the reporting period. Theoretically, access to early education is possible if the child’s ‘habitual residence’ is in Germany. In practice, however, a ‘habitual residence’ is often only recognised if a certain amount of time has elapsed since their arrival in the country, or those seeking refuge have left the initial reception centre for refugees. Restrictive legal regulations lead to the fact that these children rarely have any access to day-care centres.
Refugee children’s access to schools depends on the state in which they live: If refugee children enter the country with their parents, and are then obliged to live in refugee processing centres for 6 months, 2 years or until their repatriation (Section 47 of the German Asylum Act, AsylG), the respective state law determines whether the children are also obliged to attend school during this time. In states where immediate compulsory schooling is in place, access to regular schools is often considerably limited for refugee children at processing centres, due to a shortage of capacities and resources. The situation is particularly precarious for adolescents transitioning into adulthood, as to date, only Bavaria has compulsory schooling requirements extending up to 21 years of age, and in exceptional cases even up to 25 years of age. It is expected that the creation of processing centres known as ‘Anker-Einrichtungen’ will further impede access to regular schools for refugee children.
- The National Coalition Germany recommends that the UN Committee call on the German federal government to
- 112. Incorporate children’s-rights-based quality development and assurance mechanisms, including effective control mechanisms, at all educational institutions (such as day-care centres, schools and youth recreational facilities) and into a nationwide system monitoring children’s rights;
- 113. Boost support for educational specialists and day-care workers in relation to children’s-rights-based teaching, consultations with parents, conflict-resolution skills, complaints management, prejudice-conscious cooperation with families, the education of parents and families, and provide the resources necessary for this;
- 114. Invest in a sustainable social and cultural infrastructure in the social sphere, and develop and safeguard extracurricular and non-formal education services;
- 115. Eliminate disadvantages for children with so-called migration backgrounds, children who are at risk of poverty, or who are confronted with structural barriers. Refugee children in particular must be able to freely exercise their right to education. It is important to ensure they receive the earliest possible access to benefits established in Volume VIII of the German Social Code – either through mandatory information on primary place of residence as per Section 6 Paragraph 4 of Volume VIII of the German Social Code, or through an explanatory legal amendment.