Education in the New Lšnder

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The Soviet-supported SED centralized and politicized education far more than had been the case during the Hitler era. About 70 percent of teachers and all school counselors, superintendents, members of the teachers' union, and school administrators were SED members, often performing both professional and party functions. In theory, parents were part of the educational process, but in practice they were expected to support party educational policy. Teacher-student ratios were low--1:5 compared with 1:18 in West Germany.

Under the new system, public education was expanded by establishing preschools and kindergartens. Because most women returned to work after six months of maternity leave, these new schools were widely attended. Lowered standards of admission and scholarships expanded access to higher education for working-class children and diminished its elitist bias. The state emphasized education in "socialist values" and Marxism-Leninism at all levels of the system, following the Soviet model. Students were required to spend one day per week working in a factory, in an office, or on a farm in order to reinforce the importance of labor.

In terms of organization, all types of schools were replaced by a uniform ten-grade polytechnical school, which emphasized technical education. Upon graduation from this school, about 85 percent of students entered a two-year vocational education school. The remaining students attended special classes to prepare for university studies, some going to an extension of secondary school for two years, others attending vocational school for three years. The GDR had six universities, nine technical universities, and several dozen specialized institutions of higher education. In the 1950s and 1960s, the children of workers were favored for university study. In later decades, the children of the intelligentsia (state officials, professionals, and academicians) again formed a greater part of the student population. However, in addition to passing the qualifying examination, students had to demonstrate political loyalty and commitment to Marxist-Leninist ideology. Throughout their schooling, children were constantly exposed to party ideology and values.

The system had a strong vocational element that focused on providing a bridge to adult work. The system was particularly successful in some respects; literacy was practically universal by 1989, and the proportion of unskilled workers and trainees in the workforce fell from 70 percent in 1955 to 13 percent in 1989. The system was best suited to the teaching of mathematics, the natural sciences, and other technical and nonideological subjects. It was less effective in teaching the social sciences, current affairs, and information technology. Language teaching emphasized Russian, which was compulsory. Few learned other European languages such as English or French.

The revolutionary events of November 1989 led to an abrupt transformation of the institutional, political, and philosophical foundations of education in the GDR. In heated debates, grassroots groups of parents, teachers, and citizens discussed the future of education and vocational training in the new Lšnder . By May 1990, the GDR educational leadership had been dismissed, and steps had been taken to reduce the bloated educational bureaucracy. Evaluation commissions reassessed the quality of research and academic institutions and their staff, and many social science departments suspended activity until they were evaluated. Departments of Marxism-Leninism were closed outright, and most institutions modeled on the Soviet system were dismantled.

In May 1990, the ministers of education of the Lšnder agreed that the new Lšnder should develop their own educational strategies. The unification treaty of August 31, 1990, specified that this should be done by June 30, 1991, when the new Lšnder were expected to have passed new laws on education. A major change effected by those laws is the replacement of the general polytechnic school with the range of educational models prevailing in West Germany. The five new Lšnder , with the exception of Brandenburg, introduced the four-year Grundschule . Brandenburg established a six-year Grundschule , like that found in Berlin. Secondary schooling also resembles that of the old Lšnder in that the Gymnasium is common to all; however, other schools at the junior secondary level differ somewhat in their names and organization. Education at the senior secondary level resembles closely that of the old Lšnder .

Higher education has also seen changes. To improve geographic access to higher education, regions previously without institutions of higher learning have received a number of such institutions. In other regions, institutions of higher learning have been abolished, some of which have been replaced by Fachhochschulen , nonexistent in the former GDR. University staffs have also been cut, sometimes by as much as 50 percent. Within two or three years of unification, about 25 percent of university faculty were arrivals from the old Lšnder . By late 1994, institutions of higher learning in the new Lšnder had benefited from annual payments from western Germany of about DM3 billion.

Although the old structure has been replaced, observers agree that the values and preferences internalized by parents, students, and teachers who came to maturity in the GDR can be expected to survive for many years. Because it lasted decades longer than nazism, the Marxist-Leninist influence on education in the new Lšnder will probably take far longer to overcome.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress