ARCHIV - ILLUSTRATION - Schüler sitzen am 10.02.2017 im Unterricht in einer Grundschule in Niedersachsen. (zu dpa "Niedersachsen erreicht Mittelwerte bei neuer Bildungsstudie" vom 01.03.2017) Foto: Peter Steffen/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Germany has an educational déjà vu. The latest country study on the (in)abilities of fourth graders in reading, listening, writing and arithmetic takes the republic back to 2001, when the International Pisa Study shook the German school system: the most important key figures are confusingly similar. As if there hadn’t been a single reform since that time.

The educational researchers have not yet determined to what extent the pandemic and the increase in immigration since 2015 have caused the group of so-called risk children to rise again to a fifth of the total number.

However, both events have certainly had an adverse impact on the result – and the bottom is unlikely to have been reached yet. Because after the tests had been carried out, the restrictions of the pandemic were by no means over: There were still high levels of sick leave and weeks of suspended attendance, which was not good for the socially disadvantaged in particular, whether with or without a migration background.

In 2001, one of the central messages was that school success in Germany depends far too much on one’s origin. Since then, billions have been pumped into the expansion of the day care center, into all-day school programs and additional school hours. Most countries bid farewell to Hauptschulen in the hope that the weak students would disappear by themselves.

And since then, a large part of educational research has been concerned with nothing more than measuring competencies. After all this, the sad realization today is: The German school system has neither become noticeably better nor fairer.

Because if things had gotten better and fairer, neither a year of a pandemic nor increased immigration would have resulted in such negative swings. If it had gotten better and fairer, the system wouldn’t hit the wall again – and with it two million out of ten million students.

And this depressing finding is not made any more bearable by the fact that fourth graders were tested who still have at least six more school years to study and catch up. Rather, experience teaches that this will not happen.

Instead, after the end of fourth grade, far too many elementary school students come to secondary schools with massive deficits, but they are not prepared to learn basic arithmetic, writing or reading skills first.

The thing is clear: the ten-year-olds become teenagers who quickly get tired of school – a place that has nothing to offer them except failures. And that in a country whose companies and administrations are desperately looking for new recruits. This foreseeable disaster is now being made more difficult by the worst shortage of teachers in decades.

Therefore, the countries have no choice but to direct their scarce human resources to where they are needed most: to the elementary schools, where the foundation is laid. A concentration of dwindling resources is necessary so that this community does not look on helplessly and inactively as it releases a large part of its offspring into a life with Hartz IV.

This can also mean that small, fine courses in the upper grades can only take place in digital school networks. Germany has to focus on the basics, on the first four years of school, so that excellence can develop from there.

Painted too black? Rather not. It was the employers’ president at the time who spoke of a “new education catastrophe” in the face of Pisa in the winter of 2001. It was the President of the IHK who whispered at the time, “It couldn’t have been worse”. In the summer of 2022, we know that things could very well get worse, because billions have now been lost – and far too many teachers too.