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German Students Perform Poorly on the OECD’s PISA Test (2002)

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Intensified language preparation at the preschool level and in elementary schools, as well as targeted support for “at-risk groups” of weaker secondary-school students, especially educationally disadvantaged children of immigrants.

Reinforcing the autonomy and self-reliance of schools in educational, financial, and personnel matters. If we want to improve the quality of our schools, then we have to give them greater freedom. Responsibility for learning and education processes must remain in the schools. Schools need a high level of educational freedom and flexibility, that is, fewer centralized regulations. An educational administration that attempts to regulate everything down to the last detail is no longer appropriate for this day and age. “Instead, schools need more leeway and more decision-making power in order to respond more quickly to social change and to react appropriately to changing demands in their environment.” “Innovation instead of administration” is the motto of independent schools whose principals see it as their main responsibility to work in close cooperation with teachers to constantly improve the quality of instruction and to accept full responsibility for the outcome. One forward-looking model might be the “Independent School” project in North Rhine-Westphalia, in which about 300 students will participate (starting in August 2002).

The introduction of clearly defined nationwide standards and procedures for quality assurance in the form of comparable assignments and sample test-question pools. This, however, should not become tantamount to centrally organized test inflation, which brings neither more effective class instruction nor improved student performance. It is important that teachers be given opportunities to acquire qualifications that help them expand their methodological repertoires.

Encourage and challenge students individually. Education reform must aim to promote achievement and ensure equal opportunity. PISA has shown that insufficient reading skills and poorly developed math and science skills are attributable in part to schools’ inadequate support for students. The school and education systems in other countries – for example, Finland, Sweden, and Canada – are better at promoting these competencies early on, at recognizing the weaknesses of [certain] students, and at compensating for these weaknesses irrespective of the students’ background. These schools also manage to encourage top performance from more students. Therefore, individual support for all children and adolescents – and that includes the educationally disadvantaged, mainstream students, and the particularly gifted – must be both the point of departure and the objective of an education system that lives up to its responsibility: to raise and educate children and adolescents so that they can live as productive citizens in a democratic society and shape their personal, vocational, and social lives in a responsible way.

Supporting gifted students: in addition to educating the mainstream and supporting the educationally disadvantaged, cultivating special talent is an important goal of education policy. Highly gifted children also need favorable conditions to develop their potential fully. They need to be especially encouraged and challenged. [ . . . ]

Source: Dieter Smolka, “Die PISA-Studie: Konsequenzen und Empfehlungen für Bildungspolitik und Schulpraxis” [“The PISA Study: Consequences and Recommendations for Education Policy and School Practice”], Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, B 41/2002.

Translation: Allison Brown

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