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An East German School Official Reports on her Experiences during the Wende (October 1, 2003)

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When I started working at the GDR Ministry of Education shortly after the Volkskammer elections in March 1990, there were hardly any new staff members. It was mostly just the top leadership that had been replaced – the minister and his undersecretaries. The new leadership had very little experience in education policy but could rely on the expertise of the staff. I was asked to work in the policy division [Grundsatzabteilung] and in the department for general education schools. The working conditions were disastrous by West German standards. One coworker spent hours, if not an entire day, getting a telephone connection to the capital of the Federal Republic. There were no fax machines. There were strict limits on the number of copies one could make, and they had to be registered in advance, since there were only two copy machines in the entire ministry. Therefore, I gladly accepted the offer to move to another office in the nearby West Berlin Reichstag building (today the German Bundestag), which had outstanding technical equipment. Little by little, the staff of the education ministry also started mustering the courage to avail themselves of the opportunities there.

At first, my main responsibility within the scope of the ministry’s policy division was to prepare a strategy for political education in the new federal states and, in the department for general education schools, to collaborate on an overall plan for social studies, the subject that replaced the former, ideologically burdened subject of civics. However, a good deal of my time was spent explaining the organization, structure, and curriculum of the West German school system to individual staff members. The knowledge deficit was immense.

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2. The Transformation of the School System after Unification on October 3, 1990

The Unification Treaty of August 31, 1990, upheld the sovereignty of the federal states [Länder] in the area of culture and education; at the same time, however, Articles 37 and 38 established the basic parameters for the reorganization of the system of education, and science and research. The few regulations pertaining to school law dealt mostly with transitional provisions, for example, the recognition of degrees. Accordingly, state-recognized school, professional, and academic degrees awarded in the GDR retained their validity. The agreements that allowed for this were made by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Federal States [Kultusministerkonferenz or KMK]. The KMK was tasked with drawing up transitional regulations for recognizing teacher certification examinations. In order to ensure the smoothest possible adaptation of GRD teacher training to FRG teacher training, the last GDR government asked the Science and Humanities Council [Wissenschaftsrat] of the Federal Republic to draw up proposals for the reorganization of teacher training. Based on this, in September 1990, the GDR Volkskammer passed a teacher training act that reflected the West German dual model – academic studies followed by a period of student teaching.

According to the Unification Treaty, the five new federal states had until June 30, 1991, to pass their own school laws and start reorganizing their education systems. In this effort, the new federal states received increasing support, in the form of both personnel and funds, from the [old] Western “partner states.” The federal state of Saxony, for example, received support from Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania from Schleswig-Holstein, Brandenburg from North Rhine-Westphalia. In the period immediately following unification, they received additional support from the successor institution to the dissolved GDR Ministry of Education, the “Joint Institution of the New Federal States for Educational and Scientific Affairs” [Gemeinsame Einrichtung der neuen Bundesländer für Aufgaben in Bildung und Wissenschaft or GEL]. Together with personnel from the West German ministry, a small team of former GDR ministry employees was responsible for advising the new federal states on education issues. The growing presence of the West German “partner states” in East Germany, however, made this institution superfluous after only a year.

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