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A Journalist Comments on the Need for Greater Attention to Early Childhood Education (June 30, 2006)

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Didactic concepts such as “number land” are in great demand in day care centers. “In contrast to many teachers, day care workers are willing to invest time – even their free time – in further training,” said GEW official Norbert Hocke. At the same time, many day care workers wondered how they were supposed to satisfy the new requirements. That is the principal contradiction of the day care initiative. The facilities are given many additional tasks but no additional personnel. Most federal states also do not make any extra funding available for training programs.

Even guaranteed day care, which was enacted in 1996, had its price. Quality standards were lowered, classes became larger, less qualified staff was hired. This kind of policy is repeating itself now. “Everything is supposed to be different and better, but it isn’t supposed to cost anything,” criticized Ilse Wehrmann, long-time director of the Federal Association of Protestant Day Care Facilities [Bundesvereinigung Evangelischer Kindergärten]. In Bremen, for instance, the child to caretaker ratio is 20:1. Many of these children come from immigrant families. “Under such conditions it is impossible to give each child individual attention,” said Wehrmann.

The new requirements have long since shattered the tight schedules of day care centers. While teachers are given hours to prepare their lessons, day care staff members only have minutes to prepare. A scientific experiment or a consultation with parents cannot be planned on the side. The children face the same dilemma. If ambitious educational objectives are to be achieved in the four morning hours, then the day care center quickly turns into school: Monday arithmetic, Tuesday biology. But young children learn playfully and in passing, not in hourly intervals.

Germany the wonderful new day care land has only existed on paper in many places up to now. This is especially true of the prestigious “early learning.” German education minister Annette Schavan (CDU) boasts about Baden-Württemberg’s educational facilities, where “three- to ten-year-olds learn together.” But right now, they are only doing it on the piece of paper that is the coalition agreement of the new CDU-FDP coalition government in that federal state.

[ . . . ]

A counterexample is Rhineland-Palatinate, where education minister Doris Ahnen is tackling early learning with substance instead of hullabaloo. The federal state (similar to Saarland) is foregoing parent contributions in the last year of preschool and gradually expanding the childcare entitlement to two-year-olds as well. At the same time, it is making two million Euro available annually for training programs to familiarize day care providers with the state’s education plan, which is supposed to guide the children’s days like an invisible, behind-the- scenes curriculum

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