Schools in Berlin an election issue

Teacher shortage, dilapidated school buildings, digitalization backlog: The fact that the Corona virus has highlighted the weaknesses of the school system, not only in Berlin, "as if under a burning glass" has almost become a cliché. Now, moreover, the issue is becoming part of the election campaign for the upcoming elections to the Berlin House of Representatives: With the campaign "Schule muss anders" ("School Must be Different") and the single-issue party "Bildet Berlin!" ("Educate Berlin!"), educators, parents and even students are getting involved. They want to ensure that remedying the known grievances becomes the central topic of political debate this year.

And beyond that: "We want our demands to appear in the next coalition agreement - no matter who governs," said Philipp Dehne this week at the launch of "School Must be Different". In the coming months, the campaign wants to attract attention with panel discussions, demonstrations and individual actions at schools.The initiators demand the hiring of 3,000 new teachers per year - 1,000 more than the estimates of the Senate Education Department. In addition, hundreds of social workers and educators should be hired and the training capacities at Berlin's universities should be expanded accordingly.

"School Must be Different" wants shorter teaching hours for teachers in order to "create more space for relationship work with students and parents and to anchor fixed times for teamwork". This should take pressure and stress out of everyday school life and prevent children and young people from being left behind - in Berlin, at least 2,000 of them drop out of school every year. To change that, Dehne says, there will be a shortage of 25,000 teachers over the next eight years.

Dehne is not new to the Berlin education scene. His initiative "School in Need," which is setting up the new campaign together with the Berlin Alliance for School Inclusion, the Montessori Foundation Berlin and the Union for Education and Science (GEW), has also been fighting since 2019 for the districts to take over school cleaning again themselves. He used to work as a teacher himself and believes that basically all the players in Berlin's school landscape agree on the problems.That is also his reason for not campaigning for these goals within the Left Party - Dehne is a member. In the campaign's discussions with the education spokespersons in the House of Representatives, the feedback from all parties was: "Your demands are right, but too expensive to implement," he says. "That shows, after all, that it's a question of political pressure. And we can build up this pressure much better if we join forces across party lines."

"Educate Berlin!",the new micro party, has a lot in common with "School Must be Different". Among other things, it calls for a reduced workload at schools and daycare centers, smaller groups and multiprofessional teams so that children and young people can be better cared for. And above all, more staff: "At Berlin schools, ten percent of lessons are not taught on a regular basis. That's why we're calling for a teaching staffing level of 110 percent at every school, so that lesson cancellations can be avoided," the policy statement reads.

Listening to Florian Bublys, his party seems like the next stage of the education campaign: "We've been trying to build up pressure from outside as an initiative for ten years, and it hasn't helped," he explains on the phone. Bublys himself teaches at a high school in Lichterfelde and founded "Educate Berlin!" ten years ago as an interest group for young teachers.As a teacher activist, he protested early on against the deprofessionalization of the teaching profession due to too many lateral entrants and drummed for the reintroduction of tenure in order to stem the exodus of teachers.The 50 or so members of "Educate Berlin!", says Bublys, had themselves previously been active in political parties, committees and trade unions - Bublys himself had long been a member of the SPD. "But our experience there was that our expertise gained from practical experience as parents, teachers or even school principals was not accepted and implemented as we had imagined." In 2015, Bublys and his comrades-in-arms launched a petition for a referendum against teaching shortfalls, which only managed to collect 18,000 votes instead of the required 20,000.

These experiences, says Bublys, are what prompted "Educate Berlin!" to stand as a party with five candidates in the upcoming elections to the House of Representatives - so that they can not only demand, but also act themselves. They still need 550 signatures for this - only a quarter of the 2200 signatures normally required for small parties that want to stand for election to the House of Representatives. Because of the more difficult circumstances for the collection of signatures in the Corona pandemic, the Chamber of Deputies had lowered the requirements again in February and April.

After that, however, it becomes more difficult: to overcome the five-percent hurdle, "Educate Berlin!" would have to win more than 80,000 second votes with a voter turnout of around 66 percent (as in 2016). The fact that this is not very likely does not bother Bublys: "We are quite serious!" he explains good-humoredly.Bublys, Dehne and their fellow campaigners want to use their efforts to prevent one thing above all else: that money for education and schools will again be in short supply in the coming legislative period because of the Corona additional spending. After all, Berlin's schools have suffered to this day from the last attempt to "save until it squeaks.


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