1. #1

    No grades, no timetable at Berlin school

    A lot of successful social programs are dependent on one or two people in charge who have the idea and are zealous in promoting it. You can't clone these people so the program fails when you try to implement it elsewhere. Not just schools but all kinds of social experiments that are successful, you can't duplicate them.


    At Oberländer’s school, there are no grades until students turn 15, no timetables and no lecture-style instructions. The pupils decide which subjects they want to study for each lesson and when they want to take an exam.

    The school’s syllabus reads like any helicopter parent’s nightmare. Set subjects are limited to maths, German, English and social studies, supplemented by more abstract courses such as “responsibility” and “challenge”. For challenge, students aged 12 to 14 are given €150 (£115) and sent on an adventure that they have to plan entirely by themselves. Some go kayaking; others work on a farm. Anton went trekking along England’s south coast.

    The philosophy behind these innovations is simple: as the requirements of the labour market are changing, and smartphones and the internet are transforming the ways in which young people process information, the school’s headteacher, Margret Rasfeld, argues, the most important skill a school can pass down to its students is the ability to motivate themselves.

    “Look at three or four year olds – they are all full of self-confidence,” Rasfeld says. “Often, children can’t wait to start school. But frustratingly, most schools then somehow manage to untrain that confidence.”

    The Evangelical School Berlin Centre (ESBC) is trying to do nothing less than “reinvent what a school is”, she says. “The mission of a progressive school should be to prepare young people to cope with change, or better still, to make them look forward to change. In the 21st century, schools should see it as their job to develop strong personalities.”

    Making students listen to a teacher for 45 minutes and punishing them for collaborating on an exercise, Rasfeld says, was not only out of sync with the requirements of the modern world of work, but counterproductive. “Nothing motivates students more than when they discover the meaning behind a subject of their own accord.”

    Students at her school are encouraged to think up other ways to prove their acquired skills, such as coding a computer game instead of sitting a maths exam. Oberländer, who had never been away from home for three weeks until he embarked on his challenge in Cornwall, said he learned more English on his trip than he had in several years of learning the language at school.

    Germany’s federalised education structure, in which each of the 16 states plans its own education system, has traditionally allowed “free learning” models to flourish. Yet unlike Sudbury, Montessori or Steiner schools, Rasfeld’s institution tries to embed student self-determination within a relatively strict system of rules. Students who dawdle during lessons have to come into school on Saturday morning to catch up, a punishment known as “silentium”. “The more freedom you have, the more structure you need,” says Rasfeld.

    The main reason why the ESBC is gaining a reputation as Germany’s most exciting school is that its experimental philosophy has managed to deliver impressive results. Year after year, Rasfeld’s institution ends up with the best grades among Berlin’s gesamtschulen, or comprehensive schools, which combine all three school forms of Germany’s tertiary system. Last year’s school leavers achieved an average grade of 2.0, the equivalent of a straight B – even though 40% of the year had been advised not to continue to abitur, the German equivalent of A-levels, before they joined the school. Having opened in 2007 with just 16 students, the school now operates at full capacity, with 500 pupils and long waiting lists for new applicants.

    Given its word-of-mouth success, it is little wonder that there have been calls for Rasfeld’s approach to go nationwide. Yet some educational experts question whether the school’s methods can easily be exported: in Berlin, they say, the school can draw the most promising applicants from well-off and progressive families. Rasfeld rejects such criticisms, insisting that the school aims for a heterogenous mix of students from different backgrounds. While a cross adorns the assembly hall and each school day starts with worship, only one-third of current pupils are baptised. Thirty per cent of students have a migrant background and 7% are from households where no German is spoken.

    Even though the ESBC is one of Germany’s 5,000 private schools, fees are means tested and relatively low compared with those common in Britain, at between €720 and €6,636 a year. About 5% of students are exempt from fees.

    "This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can."

    -- Capt. Copeland

  2. #2
    The EU's money being well spent to Spoil stupid German Kids with useless activities.

  3. #3
    The Undying Wildtree's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Fiend View Post
    The EU's money being well spent to Spoil stupid German Kids with useless activities.
    says the guy from the UK, who resides behind Germany in the rankings.

    OT.. I don't like that model, and I don't see how it holds up when they enter the higher education path.
    "The pen is mightier than the sword.. and considerably easier to write with."

  4. #4
    One of my friends taught at a school like that out in oregon for a couple years. Apparently rough on the teachers too. And ya, a school that has a selective entry requirement (the parents if nothing else have to sign up for their kids to go there) is going to have more involved parents and usually better starting candidates. There's a similar problem in the US with the voucher system and public funding for private schools.

  5. #5
    My gut tells me this is a horrible idea that would end with a reduction in important education levels when pushed out on nationwide scale, but without results in that area it's kind of hard to judge.
    I am the lucid dream
    Uulwi ifis halahs gag erh'ongg w'ssh

  6. #6
    Titan Grimbold21's Avatar
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    Isn't this sort of similar to Finland's system?

  7. #7
    Two key word.

    A) It's a private school.
    B) The results are very impressive apparently.

  8. #8
    Look at it this way: if they come out the other end incapable of supporting themselves, they'll be no worse off than a substantial portion of high school graduates in the US, and will not have been institutionalized for thirteen of the best years of their lives.

    . . . and if they are capable of supporting themselves, maybe parents will pay attention and insist that their kids get taken off the assembly line and educated with an eye to their futures as well.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Grimbold21 View Post
    Isn't this sort of similar to Finland's system?
    I don't know where you got this idea from, but we do have grades and set timetables (although students can start to choose their courses more flexibily later on)

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