East Germans Tackle Education Reform with Textbooks and Training from the West, Teachers and Students Try a Newapproach to Learning. BACK TO SCHOOL

By Francine S. Kiefer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 5, 1990 | Go to article overview

East Germans Tackle Education Reform with Textbooks and Training from the West, Teachers and Students Try a Newapproach to Learning. BACK TO SCHOOL


Francine S. Kiefer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


AS East German schools begin the academic year this week, they are enteringa new era.

No longer is the classroom to be an incubator that hatches obedientsocialists. Rather, it will have to introduce a new world to students andencourage them to think for themselves.

Educators here say it could take up to five years before East German schoolscan accomplish this.

Although new textbooks are on the way (courtesy of West Germany), it has notbeen possible to replace all textbooks. Although many school principals havebeen removed, the teachers have not. Those who spouted Karl Marx will still beheading classes this fall.

"It's going to be another year of transition," says Gisela Kraft, theplucky principal of the Arthur Hoffmann School (Grades 1 through 10) here.

It is Ms. Kraft's job to introduce a new curriculum broadly outlined by theEducation Ministry in East Berlin. Like other schools, Arthur Hoffmann willoffer a new course on social studies, emphasize English, expand Germanliterature to include prominent West German authors, and remove socialist dogmaand fable from history and geography (see related story).

Shortly after East Germany's about-face last fall, many school districtshere began working toward reform. By the end of the school year, the obligatoryclasses on "citizen studies" and "civil defense" were dropped from allschools. These courses covered Marxist-Leninist doctrine, party history, andmilitary doctrine, and involved students in military exercises and drills.

In East Germany, only one state-owned publisher printed textbooks - flimsypaperbacks of newspaper quality. All students used the same books, whichpresented world events in terms of the socialist-imperialist conflict.

Through a 30 million deutsche mark ($19.4 million) program from Bonn, EastGerman schools have been able to select new history, geography, and literaturebooks from a variety of West German publishers. Five publishers are privatelyproviding free English textbooks for fifth graders. (Previously, English wasfirst offered in the seventh grade.) A week before classes were to start,however, the Arthur Hoffmann School had still not received its delivery ofWestern books.

But a far greater challenge than replacing textbooks, say educators here, isteachers and the student-teacher relationship.

"There were not a few (Communist Party) members who were teachers," saysHans-Joachim Erdmann, director of education for the district of Leipzig andhimself a former party member. "It will be quite difficult for some of them tocope with the new thinking."

For months, seminars and teaching material have been flowing from West toEast. Teachers have had the opportunity to take classes in history, religion,and teaching methods, among many topics.

But reeducation of teachers is not a matter of a few seminars.

"How are you going to teach the German classics if you don't know theBible?" Kraft asks.

Jurgen Handelmann, one of the history teachers at Arthur Hoffmann, says thatbefore he could focus his attention on new material, "I had a long personalfight with myself over what I had done ... that I had taught studentsincorrectly. I felt guilty about this. …

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