Speech by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper at the International Education Day organized by the Federal Foreign Office

08.09.2011 - Speech

Speech by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper at the International Education Day organized by the Federal Foreign office in Berlin’s Allianz Forum building

“Excellence and innovation in the school system”


-- Translation of advanced text--

Ladies and gentlemen,

I bid you a warm welcome to our International Education Day here in the Allianz Forum. This is the first such Education Day organized by the Federal Foreign Office. It is a reflection of how important cultural relations and education policy is for us – not only for foreign policy as a whole, but for Germany as a research centre, as a place to study and as a business location. I would like to start by extending special thanks to all those besides the staff of the Federal Foreign Office who have made this event possible: Allianz, our host here in this attractive Forum building, the D21 Initiative, in which major companies promote digital learning, and in particular Intel and the Siemens Foundation. I would also like to thank the Federal Foreign Minister, who in his speech has just outlined the new concept for cultural relations and education policy, and especially the German Schools abroad, their heads and boards, some of whom have made a very long journey to be with us here today. My thanks go also to the pupils who will later be, in a manner of speaking, our guinea-pigs in the digital classroom.

I have invited you here to International Education Day because we want to raise awareness here in Germany of the potential of our German Schools Abroad, and also because we want to establish closer links between business, politics and future specialists from abroad. As you know, the subject of education and schools is one very close to my heart. Today education is the decisive factor in a society’s ability to ensure long-term employment and prosperity. By investing in education and training, we are investing in our future.

Studies have shown that the differences in GDP among the industrial countries are due almost entirely to the quality of human capital. Anyone who wants to survive in the global competition for the highest innovation potential has to offer optimum opportunities for the best brains with the most creative ideas.

In promoting its German Schools Abroad, the PASCH schools, the Goethe-Institut, the German Academic Exchange Service, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the many partnerships in the field of education, the Federal Foreign Office plays a crucial, albeit often overlooked, role in this area.

Over the past few decades, the German Schools Abroad have taken on an ever more important beacon and bridging function for Germany in the host country.

Our German Schools abroad specifically target future partners in the business, political and cultural spheres. Our aim is not only to see young people through school and prepare them for their future. We also want to give them a true picture of modern Germany, of a liberal, values-based Germany facing up to the challenges of global change, a society which stands for tolerance, for freedom and the social market economy, for hard work and innovation. We hope to encourage young people to come to study or work in Germany. If I may use this image: our German Schools abroad are the fertile soil from which clever young people grow.

Over half a million pupils are learning German at the schools we sponsor abroad – 80,000 of them at the 140 German Schools and 440,000 at the 1500 PASCH and FIT schools. My policy goal is to significantly raise this number: I aim to increase the number of schools we promote to 2000 by the year 2014. The fact is that the young people leaving these schools truly are ambassadors for Germany.

The American future researcher John Naisbitt once said that if you don’t know how to operate a computer, you will find yourself feeling like a random visitor to the new information society. And he was quite right.

It is no longer possible to imagine learning or our daily lives without digital media. We consider it completely normal that our children are growing up in a digital world.

In today’s world of work, being able to work independently with digital technology is a qualification employees in nearly all sectors are expected to possess. The new working world can only function with people who think quickly and independently, who are creative, able to solve problems and have their own ideas. This means that being comfortable with using new media is just as indispensable as reading, writing and arithmetic. A modern school has to deliberately prepare for this.

Under the Innovative Learning excellence initiative which I established, we are cooperating with our partners at selected German Schools abroad to run pilot projects for multimedia innovative learning. These schools are to become centres of excellence for innovative learning and are to develop and use future-oriented teaching methods and technology. In my view, the development of the “digital classroom” is a very important step.

This evening we will be congratulating five German Schools abroad, the winners of the Innovative Learning excellence initiative ideas competition. I invite you to join me in the break to take a look at the presentations submitted by the five winning schools here in the rotunda. I am particularly happy that we can welcome in person representatives of all the winning schools, who will shortly be presenting their projects to us. Above and beyond their function in the system of German Schools abroad, these schools can and should have a beacon function for schools in Germany as well. The exchange of experience and ideas between the German Schools abroad and schools in Germany is no longer merely a matter of teachers spending time at the schools abroad and then coming back home; nowadays it is also propagated via numerous different digital contacts and partnerships.

Of course, nothing is possible without the necessary funds. But none other than Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” You will know that I am committed to retaining and expanding the schools fund. The Federal Foreign Office plans to invest about 24 million euro more in the German Schools abroad next year. The reform concept envisaged by the Federal Government and the Länder secures their funding for the near future and at the same time grants them greater independence, something that is urgently needed.

But I would like to go one step farther still: the debate in recent months about the pension reserve, which the Länder have unilaterally refused to pay, as well as the ever-recurring questions regarding the financing of the schools fund in general, show the need for a fundamentally new initiative. In future it cannot be that there are considerable difficulties – of whatever nature – in calculating funding for our schools abroad. The schools, their pupils and their parents need long-term security as a basis for planning. So I am calling for a “German Schools Abroad Funding Act”. It is my belief that the system of German Schools abroad must at long last be relieved of the uncertainties that go with being dependent on the law on financial grants. Discussions on how this might be possible will begin soon.

If they are to fulfil their tasks, quality in the schools is key. The central elements of quality assurance are pedagogical quality management and the joint Federation-Länder inspections which have been running since 2008. I am gratified by the good cooperation between the Federation and Länder, between the Central Agency for Schools Abroad and the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany, particularly in this important field. Organizing the system of German Schools abroad is a major collaborative task for the Federation and Länder – not anchored, unfortunately, in the constitution, but nonetheless an important political task. The challenges in the field of education and the German Schools abroad can only be successfully tackled if we all work together.

Let me give you a clear political message here: I don’t understand why similar good cooperation shouldn’t be possible between the Federation and Länder when it comes to schools in Germany as well. So I appeal to the Länder to clear the way for increased cooperation on education here in Germany too. Agree to lift the ban on cooperation between the Federation and Länder on education here at home. If we are to survive in the global competition for the best brains, we need more cooperation and less fear of losing power. It is important to me to emphasize that this is not a matter of centralism, but of strengthening the education system by providing it with greater means, and of giving schools in Germany more freedom for their decision-making not only in matters of staffing, but also with regard to organization and qualifications. Our German Schools abroad can and should be models, particularly as embodiments of this freedom.

Unlike schools at home, the German Schools abroad find themselves in a tough international competition, one in which they have proven and must constantly prove their worth. It is therefore very important for them to be able to offer high-level, demand-oriented qualifications which allow pupils access to higher education in Germany. Alongside the Abitur, these include the GIB, which combines the highly-regarded International Baccalaureate with very good German language skills, and which is becoming increasingly sought-after.

In the 2010 annual survey by the BBC, Germany was again the country seen as having the most positive influence in the world. With a strong, sustainable, innovative cultural relations and education policy, with excellent German Schools abroad and with numerous partner schools throughout the world, we want to try to hold on to that number one spot!

Thank you for your attention!

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