One third of German youngsters cannot swim

Fewer and fewer children are learning to swim according to a recent report by the die Deutsche Lebens-Rettungs-Gesellschaft (DLRG). They are sounding the alarm by raising awareness of this surprising fact. It is becoming apparent that many working parents cannot find the time to teach their children how to swim, or indeed to book them into lessons. It is therefore not surprising that many children in Germany are falling behind in learning this life-saving skill. Some simply cannot swim and others are unsure swimmers, such as the 13-year-old boy who tragically drowned last summer in one of Munich's public swimming baths, Michaelibad.

According to a spokesman for the DLRG Bavaria, Michael Forster, on average only 40 percent of children aged 6 - 10 are in possession of a youth swimming badge, and thefore are considered to be safe swimmers. The results of a nationwide survey in Germany showed that one third of children and adolescents cannot actually swim at all. The statictics were hit particularly hard by the recent fall in those taking swimming tests. In Bavaria, it has taken only 6 years for these figures to fall by 34 percent. The Deutsche Swimmverband (German Swimming Association) has noted with some concern, that the proportion of children under 14 years of age that cannot swim, has been falling steadily for years.

The statistics according the the Bavarian Swimming Association (Bayerischen Schwimmverbands), are at least a little better, if not still somewhat shocking. After a survey in this area of Germany, the results were that about 20 percent of children in the Drittklasslern (third grade) are 'non-swimmers'. They state that this social development is unacceptable.

However before Bavaria and Germany can begin to find ways in which to encourage the learning of this life skill, they must first look at the possible reasons for its decline in popularity.

Apart from an increase in recent years in working parents not being able to or indeed lacking the energy with which to encourage their children to swim, money can also play a role, as well as a simple lack of interest. When a family is lucky, swimming may play a role in the school curriculum. If not, then children from disadvantaged backgrounds may find public swimming baths and facilities financially unfeasible.

Sometimes, there can also be a lack of interest on the child's part. Our youngsters are becoming lazy according to Mr. Forster. In his opinion children spend a lot of their time at home, in front of television or computer screens. Unfortunately, he may be right.

It does also not help that swimming is not often a part of the school curriculum. Out of Munich's 132 Grundschule, only 32 have their own swimming facilities. Many other schools must commute to a public swimming baths or else do not offer it at all.

In other parts of Bavaria, the closure of many swimming baths may have affected figures, discouraging potential swimmers by causing longer commutes to the nearest facility, not just for families but also for schools. According to Die Abendzeitung, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Culture (Kultusministerium) stated that this has often resulted in a child receiving swimming lessons in short burst with no continuation, or worse still in them not having received lessons for a full academic year. 

She also stresses however, that the state cannot be given full responsibility for the lack in swimming youngsters. Parents also share the responsibility in ensuring that their offspring develope decent swimming skills. Afterall, safety in water is not to be underestimated, it can save lives.


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