Reconstructing Education: East German Schools and Universities after Unification

Ian G. Barnes (Jean Monnet Professor of European Economic Integration, University of Lincolnshire and Humberside)

Quality Assurance in Education

ISSN: 0968-4883

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Barnes, I.G. (2000), "Reconstructing Education: East German Schools and Universities after Unification", Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 100-102.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

An assessment of the momentous changes that have taken place in the educational system of Eastern Germany, ten years after the fall of Communism, would seem to be a worthwhile project. This book is based on a range of German sources and research carried out by the author while working in Eastern Germany. The book has an introductory chapter that examines the fall of the wall. Other chapters concern the reforming of school structures, school life and learning, religious education, training, the renewal of the teaching profession and a retrospective of the overall process. Interestingly it has an appendix containing the questionnaire used to evaluate the political soundness of East German academic staff.

The author does not attempt to impose a theoretical framework upon events, but is content to offer a clear account of aspects of the system that was in place in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the changes that have taken place since the collapse of Communism. The point is made that there was an attempt to pursue very different educational priorities within the two German systems. In the GDR the wife of the Communist Party’s First Secretary, Margaret Honecker, held the post of Minister of Education from 1963 to 1989. The educational system was part of the repressive state apparatus. On the positive side, there was a very wide range of provision, with the state assuming the burden of child care. Attempts to reform the GDR system from within failed and were simply swept away by absorption into the Federal Republic. The importance of the 1964 Hamburg Agreement and Unification Treaty is explained in terms of the limits to the autonomy of the new Länder in their choices of education structures for the secondary sector.

In the GDR, teachers had a special responsibility to promote socialism, initially to break the hold of Nazism and Fascism and to abolish class privilege. All teachers studied Marxism‐Leninism. Russian was an important aspect of language training. Staff student ratios were low in schools at 12:5. Clearly this meant that the re‐organisation was going to lead to the loss of many jobs. A similar situation existed in the university sector, where there was a need to ensure academic freedom and lose a significant number of jobs in ideologically‐biased subject areas. The impact of staff being made to re‐apply for jobs in the new school structures is discussed, as is the problem of provision at a time of declining birth rates. Both have led to a situation where stability cannot yet be fully assured.

Few would disagree with the author’s view that it was important to have speedy reform of the East German education system as part of the process of establishing a democratic and pluralistic society. However, reform did have a negative impact upon parts of the teaching profession and devalued some of the achievements of the GDR system. By analysing these reforms, the author offers us insights into the process of change that is still taking place in the Federal Republic. As such, the book will be of interest to those concerned with the process of transformation of societies and the educational system in Germany.

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