Our society is changing permanently and extremely quickly. The world’s knowledge doubles every five minutes. While knowledge and education once lasted a lifetime, today we have to constantly scrutinise what we think we know and be life-long learners. There can be no such thing as “finishing” one’s professional education. Educational institutions in Saxony also have a duty to address this change.
Early years education in Saxony’s more than 2,800 nurseries is the first step, and is based on the Saxony Education Plan published in 2006. This takes a holistic, child-led approach to education, in order to build the best possible foundation for success at school later on. Many of our nurseries, after-school clubs and primary schools make use of the services provided by the “Haus der kleinen Forscher” (house of little explorers) foundation in order to meet the children’s thirst for knowledge in science, technology and maths in particular.
The fact that this initiative is designed across different types of institutions highlights how important the transitions between the various educational “levels” are. That is why we in Saxony have set up a comprehensive package of measures to redesign the school entry phase in connection with preparation for school in nurseries and organisation of the start of teaching. These measures have been set out in the “Sächsischen Leitlinien für die öffentlich verantwortete Bildung von Kindern bis zum 10. Lebensjahr” (Saxon guidelines for public education of children aged up to ten years), published this year.
Early years and primary education is an integral part of education policy in Saxony, based on the principle of “the beginning is the key!”
The role of secondary schools is not only to deliver a comprehensive, all-round education, but also to prepare pupils to enter and take their first steps on the job market. With courses based on specific abilities, a second foreign language and systematic careers and university advice beginning in year five, secondary modern schools in Saxony provide outstanding conditions for pupils wanting to begin an apprenticeship. Those leaving a secondary modern school with particularly good grades can move on to a vocational grammar school, where they can achieve a university entrance qualification after a total of 13 years at school. Our general grammar schools last eight years. Sixth form pupils must study all three sciences, two foreign languages, German and maths, ensuring a very broad-based education. An interdisciplinary course providing “Guidance for entry to the world of work” will be offered from the 2017/18 school year.
Saxony’s two-tier school system has guaranteed continuity, stability and reliability since German reunification, without standing still. Both education and knowledge are developing all the time. Methods move forward, and so does our education system – but without the pressure of being constantly revolutionised and without being stirred up by structural debates. This gives pupils, teachers and families stability, so that they can concentrate fully on learning.
Another principle of education policy in Saxony is “everyone counts!” This applies both to integration and inclusion and to individual support for both struggling and gifted children and young people.
Every individual is unique. We promote this by supporting their various talents and gifts in a targeted way, but without forgetting about those who are not as strong. Learning camps and “productive learning” are intended to help these pupils to achieve the best qualifications they can, on the educational pathway that is right for them.
For gifted and talented pupils, there is a sophisticated system of support, including 24 grammar schools offering more advanced education and the state-run St. Afra grammar school. These are joined by the Advisory Centre for Talent Promotion in Meißen and the option of beginning university studies early, for example at TU Dresden or HTWK Leipzig.
This sophisticated, individual support is based on the premise that different people need to be treated differently. Different talents mean that not everyone can achieve the same things. Both school pupils and adults – be it in their professional lives or when catching up on their education later in life – need to put in hard work and concentration to achieve good results. Saxony lives up to this with its syllabi, which focus on teaching the “holy trinity” of values, knowledge and skills.
When pupils leave school, they are equipped with what they need to navigate their professional and personal lives later on. The knowledge they gain at school is the foundation of this. We become particularly aware of the huge importance of reading, writing and maths when we meet people who do not have these skills. These people are unable to participate in our society. They face huge problems at work – if they work at all – and often have difficulties in their private lives, too.
That is why Saxony values early, holistic education. No one should slip through the net. Success and enjoyment at school and work are a vital part of feeling satisfied with life. That is why schools aim to shape well-educated, responsible citizens who can think for themselves. Knowledge and education cannot be limited to their instrumental, material value. Knowledge and education do not improve quality of life simply because they pay off in cash terms. Knowledge and education improve quality of life because one is able to appreciate what one has; because one enjoys intellectual pursuits; because one knows not only the price, but the value.
The author worked as a biology and chemistry teacher for fourteen years, and became head teacher at the grammar school in her home town of Burgstädt until 2001. Kurth was Head of Department at the Saxon State Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, before moving to the Saxon Education Agency in 2004, where she held various management roles. She has been Saxon Minister of Education and Culture since 22 March 2012 and President of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs since 1 January 2015.