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Federal President Roman Herzog Calls for a Reform of the German Education System (November 5, 1997)

Alarmed by the German educational system’s loss of international prestige, Federal President Roman Herzog calls for a fundamental reform of education at all levels and a move toward more choice, greater competition, and better performance.

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A Fresh Start in Education Policy

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As federal president, I am venturing into a minefield today. But we cannot carry out this discussion in the federal states alone. And it is not the exclusive preserve of specialists and lobbyists. Parents, teachers, school students, and university students all need to participate. In a word – everyone. Because this is ultimately one of the decisive questions for the future of our country. We need a broad national debate on the future of our education system!

Everyone is talking about it: knowledge today is the most important resource in our natural- resource poor country. But we can only acquire knowledge through education. Whoever strives for the highest standard of living, the best social welfare system, and the most sophisticated environmental protections also needs the best education system.

Furthermore, education is an indispensable means for social equalization. Education is the key to the labor market, and it remains the best protection against unemployment. It keeps the mechanism of social mobility up and running and thus keeps our open society moving. At the same time, it is also the lifeblood of democracy in a world that is becoming increasingly complex, a world in which cultural identities are becoming blurred and crossing cultural boundaries is becoming a matter of course.

[ . . . ]

We already know one thing: ahead of us lies an open world that promises greater complexity and new freedom but also entails greater responsibility on the part of each individual. It is important that our children and grandchildren are able to find their bearings in this complex world, and that they don’t get lost in an avalanche of unorganized facts and events.

It isn’t enough to make cosmetic changes. This isn’t about making minor touch-ups to university requirements. And it’s also more than a spelling reform. We need to address the very substance of our education system! I encourage everyone to participate in a public discourse on the substantive issues that will set the course for the twenty-first century.

For this to happen, we need – at least in core form – a new basic consensus on our educational goals, so that all of our educational institutions have a point of orientation. Here, I am certainly not saying that we need a new prescribed uniformity, but rather new guidelines that offer room for creativity and diversity. I know how hard that is. Nevertheless, I would like to outline what I – from a subjective point of view – see as the key points of such an education model.

I believe in the future of an education system that possesses six qualities: first, a system that is value-oriented; second, grounded in practice; third, international; fourth, diverse; fifth, a system that promotes competition; and sixth, one that makes reasonable use of the resource that is time.

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