Berlin - The corona crisis has us all laid us bare like a flayed rabbit. And while we’re shivering and skinless, there is more pressure on everything – most especially our education systems. Our sore spots are showing. And I am going to jump around on these sore spots. Brace yourselves.

But let’s not pretend we’re all in this together. Germany is home to some startling statistics. This is apparently holding us back in innovation and international competitiveness: we have a famously low proportion of women in management positions, generally low socio-economic mobility and studies also show that kids from migrant backgrounds do poorly in German state schools (but not private schools) irrespective of the educational backgrounds of their parents. But we don’t seem to know what to do. Are we all just sexist, racist, classist gits? What is with this class system, where is it? How does it happen?

Kids who were doing badly before do worse in lockdown.

Carrie Hampel

Apart from being a massively self-righteous, entitled loud-mouth, I am also a non-European immigrant and single parent with a low income sending my two kids to Berlin state schools. And I will testify that the German class system and diversity blockers are built into death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts (bureaucracy) and the main problem: It’s the homework, stooopid.

In the corona crisis we are seeing that kids who were doing badly before do worse in lockdown. Why? Because, even more than before, reliance on parents is supposed to make up for the holes in an under-funded school system that is famously in need of an overhaul. (Anyone want to be a teacher? No?)

But I hear some of you cry: the German education system is fair. Anyone can get an education from any background. Sorry, but the big bullshit alarm is now clanging and banging while this crazy single, non-native German mum rants around like Godzilla firing poisonous ray beams at city buildings.

If a parent can’t easily understand, speak and write German teaching language i.e. Amtsprache and/or is a single parent, or if both parents work full-time with low incomes and can’t put in the time, these parents simply cannot give the support expected from schools to help their kids with homework. This disadvantage fully unfolds in corona times. If the kids are unfamiliar with German Amtsprache (i.e. if they're working class or multilingual) they'll understand less of what is said in class and require even more homework and help with it (again, this disadvantage increases in corona times).

After primary school – for which kids have a lot of homework (which by the way, is not the case in many countries), kids are shunted off to our German educational apartheid of schools based on their grades, which almost entirely reflects only the socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds of the parents. Teachers are put on the front line to compensate for educational holes that they have no resources or time to tackle (teaching job anyone? No? Still not attractive?)

Germany’s diversity problem starts with the homework.

Now I can hear you come up with all the little myths that also form a thousand paper cuts. What about Hort, what about Berlin Pass? What about Gesamtschulen? What about going back to study? I don’t have the time in this article to go into the thousand systemic details of how supposed support doesn’t exist or still inhibits educational mobility through a thousand insidious mechanisms (hence the term, death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts). Suffice to say, if kids didn’t need help with school we wouldn’t have a huge Nachhilfe (tutoring) industry that is still, by the way, unaffordable for parents with low incomes. I strongly suggest in a Godzilla-with-eye-beams kind of way that Germany’s diversity problem starts with the homework.

Yes, this is our lovely West German Hausfrau tradition, turned into the my-career-doesn’t-matter-because-you-earn-more-and-someone-has-to-help-the-kids tradition. In East Germany, 98 per cent of mothers worked full time. When the Wall came down a whole generation of East German women had their careers torpedoed because looking after their kids’ educational needs suddenly became a part-time job.

So why am I being the bitch face who wants to point out this stuff right now when teachers are having nervous breakdowns and guaranteed all parents are currently at the end of their tether? Because this is also the point where you might understand how it is for all those people who can’t help their kids with their homework. There is so very, very much more that needs to be said on this. But the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that it even exists.

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