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What can we learn from the great German school turnaround?
In 2000, Germany experienced an uncomfortable reality check when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed disappointing results for performance and equality in its schools. The country tested below average in maths, reading and science in the Programme for International Assessment (PISA) report – and received the unwanted accolade of having the most unequal education performance among the 43 countries examined.
The results were a blow to a country that prides itself on its strong literary tradition and belief in social equality. "Germany's school system – and indeed the whole nation – was shocked by the first PISA results of 2000", says Christian Füeller, German author and commentator on education. "It revealed a broad group of 'at risk' students that could not properly read and were termed 'functional illiterates'. This seemed to destroy any notions of being Goethe's and Thomas Mann's 'kulturnation' of thinkers and poets."
Just over a decade later, Germany was celebrated in the same research. In 2012, it was one of just three countries surveyed by the OECD that reduced inequality while improving its math scores. The great "Pisa shock" led to what has now been called the "great turnaround" in German education. So, does Germany, with its complex and fragmented education system, and school days that have traditionally stopped at lunchtime, have a lesson or two to teach other countries?
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