Welcome

Speech by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper at the Meeting of School Heads which took place in the Federal Foreign Office, Berlin, from 4 to 6 January 2012

05.01.2012 - Speech

-- Translation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Federal Foreign Office once again, for this year’s Meeting of School Heads. In my opinion, the Foreign Office is the perfect venue for your event. Holding it here underscores the fact that the German schools abroad are a cornerstone of our cultural relations and education policy.

The past year was an important one, and indeed a positive one, for our schools abroad. Much was achieved, and the course set for success in the future. But we also had to join forces to cope with difficult situations. The disaster in Japan and the changes sweeping the Arab world are the main examples that come to mind. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you most sincerely for your work and dedication in the most difficult of circumstances. My thanks also go to the staff of the Federal Office of Administration – Central Agency for Schools Abroad. It is due in no small part to your ingenuity and hard work that pupils from Japan were able to sit their Abitur school-leaving exams in Cologne. That deserves special commendation!

With your permission, I would like to review once again what I consider to be the most important developments of this past year with respect to our schools abroad.

The event which will have the greatest and most enduring impact was no doubt the adoption of the joint reform strategy agreed on by the Federation and the Länder. The reform strategy is a necessary response to the changes in the financial and legal conditions that have been wrought over the past years, and to staffing issues.

For example, the Federation has had to assume responsibility for a 50% quota of the pension reserve for seconded teachers, without being consulted on the issue by the Länder. In addition, fewer qualified teachers are applying for the jobs, and the kind of school-leaving qualifications demanded by pupils is changing.

Whilst visiting China and Viet Nam this past year, I saw again first hand that our international business clientele is no longer interested in purely German qualifications for their children, but that international qualifications with a substantial German element are becoming increasingly attractive.

Interest in the German language, German culture and German curricula remains strong. But it is complemented by an equally strong interest in English, French and Spanish.

Our first response was to introduce the DIAP, the German International Abitur (Deutsche Internationale Abiturprüfung), which gives more weight to foreign languages.

But at our new schools, we have also responded to this new demand by introducing the GIB, the multilingual International Baccalaureate (Gemischtsprachiges Internationales Baccalaureat), with a strong focus on German. In Asia and Latin America in particular, this enables our schools to respond to the fierce competition presented by other international schools by offering attractive qualifications. The GIB reflects the importance we attach to promoting the German language while also granting pupils admittance to German institutions of higher education. I hope that the KMK (the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany), too, will soon come to recognize the advantages of the GIB – acquainting significantly more young people with German culture and potentially also encouraging more people to study in Germany.

This addition to our palette is in no way designed to detract from the paramount importance we attach to the Abitur. The Abitur schools remain our “educational beacons” abroad. We do not want to convert any Abitur schools into anything else. But the GIB enables us to establish a presence in new places where there is insufficient demand for an Abitur school, or where Abitur schools cannot be set up for other reasons. The two paths – GIB and Abitur – are not mutually exclusive, but complement each other and are responses to different demands in different areas.

We also have to take notice of the fact that there are parts of the world where the standard parents’ association is not the best form of organization for establishing new German schools abroad. Private organizations can fill this gap. This applies above all where the private organization is already active in vocational training and can combine vocational and school education as part of an organic whole.

The reform strategy is intended to enable schools abroad to manage the funds we provide more flexibly and independently, and to make the schools more competitive and fit for the future.

We drew up and adopted this reform strategy in coordination with the Länder. All other stakeholders in the educational sector were also involved in its genesis. We very much want responsibility for German schools abroad to remain a concurrent responsibility of the Federation and the Länder, and would like the Länder to continue to live up to this joint responsibility. Of course, it is also conceivable, in my eyes, if the Länder so desire, for the Federation to assume more or less sole responsibility for German schools abroad. However, the cooperation of the Länder will always be required – both with regard to the recognition of diplomas and in recruiting and granting the necessary leave to suitable teachers.

The 2012 budget clearly demonstrates that the reform strategy is not about cuts, but is designed to introduce greater flexibility. The 2012 budget – i.e. the first budget following the adoption of the reform strategy – includes an increase of 39 million euro compared with 2011. That’s an increase of almost 20%! I don’t think there is any plainer way of showing that the reform strategy is not about saving money.

Distinguished heads, honoured guests, as you see, the Federal Government has been as good as its word. We promised not to cut spending on education. And we haven’t.

A sound financial framework for our schools abroad is a necessary but not of itself a sufficient basis for their successful development. In addition to financial support, we also need to provide ideas – we must play an active role in the strategic development of our network of schools abroad.

When drawing up the reform strategy, I thus personally attached great importance to positioning our schools well in the fields of mathematics, IT, natural sciences and technology.

Under the Innovative Learning excellence initiative which I established in 2011, selected German schools abroad are running pilot projects for multimedia innovative learning. These schools are to become centres of excellence for innovative learning. They are to develop and use future-oriented teaching methods and technology. We have helped the five winning schools of the 2011 ideas competition implement their pilot projects and thereby put their ideas into practice. I am very much looking forward to hearing about the project outcomes at the Second International Education Day. And I am already looking forward to hearing about the new projects to be selected in this year’s competition.

I am thus also delighted to see that the programme for this year’s Meeting of School Heads includes a talk entitled “Learning 2.0 – The computer’s impact on pupils and staff”.

The Innovative Learning excellence initiative not only helps strengthen the position of our schools abroad in the face of global competition; it also strengthens links between these schools and Germany, increasing the prospect of those graduating from these schools coming to study or work in a German-speaking context.

Due to demographic trends and the inevitable changes our universities and the skilled labour market will undergo in the years to come, the schools abroad are becoming ever more important. The relevance of our network of schools abroad for domestic policy has grown, and with it the responsibility that domestic policy bears for them. The schools will in future play an even greater role in the development of Germany as a location for business, science and university education than they have done in the past.

I have already taken a first step in response to the increased domestic-policy relevance of our schools abroad. In September 2011, I welcomed numerous participants to the first International Education Day in Berlin. Many of you here today also attended that event. It brought home the value of the German schools abroad to stakeholders here in Germany, and established closer links between business, politics and future experts from abroad.

If we stop to think that in 15 years time, Germany will face a shortage of up to five million workers – that’s the population of Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt combined – then there’s no overlooking the growing significance of our schools abroad. We have to do more to tap the potential of the 12,000 graduates of German schools abroad and the 13,000 pupils leaving school with the German Language Certificate (DSD) each year and encourage them to come here before the shortage of experts in Germany has a negative impact on innovation and growth. That is why we must increase both the quality and quantity of schools abroad within the present well-functioning system.

I am confident that we have laid the right financial and strategic cornerstones. We now have to put the legal framework into place so that the schools, their pupils and parents have a reliable basis on which to plan their futures. In my opinion, our system of schools abroad must at long last be freed from the uncertainties inherent in the present funding system based on the law on financial grants. That’s why I am calling for a “German Schools Abroad Act”. At a minimum, recognized schools should have a right to funding as set out in the reform strategy. This includes a right to their own budget, dependent on pupil numbers and the school-leaving qualifications they are working towards.

Schools’ basic autonomy must be set in stone. It is also important to settle the issue of pension rights for seconded teachers. Such a law could also contain special provisions on visas for pupils and teachers at German schools abroad, and could govern numerous other important issues. I believe it is vital for any such law to have broad parliamentary support and the approval of the schools concerned. I would therefore envisage entering into an open dialogue with all parties to discuss its substance.

I am looking forward to a successful year in our schools abroad in 2012. Let me thank you, the headmasters and headmistresses of our schools abroad, in advance for your dedication, your ingenuity and your professionalism.

Thank you very much for your attention!

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