What can we learn from German schools?
I recently had the opportunity to be part of the International Alumni Summer School on Education for Sustainable Development -- Sharing and Linking International Best Practice Approaches, organized by the Alumni Network for Ecology, Sustainability, and Conservation (ANESCo), University of Greifswald and STUBE Berlin Brandenburg Development Education Program.
The primary objective of the summer school was co-learning the theory and practice of “Education for Sustainable Development” (ESD) with a special focus on schools, higher education institutions, and protected area information centres.
One of the major highlights of the summer school was to come across Karl Otto, a nine-year-old boy who is studying in class III at “Freie Schule Rügen.” Karl Otto only knew about floods, disasters, and the Rana Plaza story of Bangladesh like other German pupils.
After chatting a while, I was thoroughly impressed, asked him: “What do you want to become?” He replied that he would like to be a politician and be a representative in the parliament of his state government.
It was interesting for me, since any contemporary Bangladeshi student would have replied doctor or engineer. I was so impressed that I went on to interview the administrators of his school. I learned that not only Karl Otto, but all children were being brought up as independent and responsible global citizens.
I was curious to know how the education system is organized, and how it differs from Bangladesh.
Lessons are planned in a different fashion there. All children are respected equally, the teachers don’t teach, but work with the students, and learning is mutual.
A day at school
Currently, there are 132 children studying, and it offers education for classes I to VI, where the age group is from 6-12 years. The learning groups are mixed-aged, and are undertaking different subjects.
Each group is formed with a maximum of 15 children, and for each group, one teacher is assigned. The school and its teachings are self-organized, which involves learners, teachers, parents, and is learner-centred.
The school has a unique evaluation method -- the children evaluate themselves, and then the teachers screen and align with their own assessment.
If there are any major deviations, then the teacher has a discussion with the children and then reaches a conclusion for further development. 70% of the school is financed by the Federal State Government, and the remaining 30% costs are borne by the parents and the school itself.
One of the unique features of the school is there are more than 20 extra-curricular courses which include music, theatre, pottery, art, sport-exercise, carpentry, tailoring, printing, gardening, etc, all integrated with the main curriculum, and each student is taking at least two of these courses.
The curriculum is in line with the standards. Besides learning reading, writing, and arithmetic, the students are also learning about society, politics, nature, environmental protection, ecology, and sustainability by participating in different practical sessions in co-working modalities.
The students are trained to acquire social skills and cultural techniques by harnessing the diversity of cultures and their importance, and develop interests and an understanding of cultural diversity and religious traditions.
The education system promotes creativity and emotional support for personality development, strengthens self-esteem, and has a positive effect on both cognitive performance and social behaviour.
The artistic approach offers a variety of possibilities for presenting and processing complex situations. Every calendar year, the school organizes public events where the performances of the children are showcased.
In the afternoon, the children work on practical topics with trained and experienced instructors. There are plenty of spaces around the school, and the school premise has well-equipped workshop rooms, music, and theatre rooms along with gardens.
The main motto of Freie Schule Rügen is: “School for all.” The school authority ensures an enabling environment to respect the identity of each individual, and considers children as independent personalities. All teachers clearly understand that children need love and respectful relationships.
The concept of sustainability is integrated holistically into the curriculum of the Free School Rügen, which encourages and motivates each of the children to be a responsible global citizen in the future.
Can we learn something from them?
Although the socio-political and economic structure of Bangladesh is very different from Germany, this should not be an excuse that nothing can be learned from them.
The current education system in Bangladesh is broken, with wrong policy decisions, poor administration and management, inadequate infrastructure, unqualified teachers, and poor quality teaching.
In addition to that, sustainability is not customized in our education curriculum. So far, our education curriculum does not recognize the different requirements of children -- a more individualized form of attention is needed, so that all children can reach their true potential.
SM Mehedi Ahsan is an Urban and Rural Planner, a DAAD Alumni, and is an Honorary Member of the Central Advisory Council to the Centre for Sustainable, Healthy, and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (SHLC), University of Glasgow.