September 16, 2004

Compulsory School Attendance for Three-year olds

According to this newspaper report experts of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) are demanding free places in preschool and day-nurseries for everyone. Children would not only become smarter but also healthier because the state would separate pre-school children from their mothers.

BERLIN TAZ (Newspaper)
The reformation of education is too important to fail because of quarrels between the federal government and the state governments, according to Michael Catenhusen, Secretary of State in the department of education: "We need a national strategy for a better education. And no state should dismiss it." How this strategy might look like was explained to him by a team of experts yesterday. Four professionals for family, health and education have worked out a plan on behalf of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation. More education for small children – is declared to be the way to a smarter, healthier and fairer nation.

The scientists plead for an exhaustive supply of day nurseries and all-day schools. But the center of their vision is a preschool for children from three to six years old and which is free of charge and offers a high-quality, standardized training. Every family would be obligated to send their children to such schools. "It is more important to ensure equality to under-privileged children than to correspond to the wishes of some mothers who would rather have their children at home," thinks health-economist Karl Lauterbach.

Two desired side-effects: More mothers can go to work. Furthermore, the average child will eat healthier food, learn correct eating behaviour and suffer less chronic sicknesses later on.

A major reform is overdue, think the experts, because in a long term perspective especially productivity and innovations will secure Germany's economic position. Therefore, the few children that are being born should be particularly educated and innovative. "At the moment the health of our children is getting worse and worse. They do not learn well and have little prospect to advance," says Lauterbach.

The experts predict the costs for this reform to be about 12 billion euros per year alone for children under ten years of age. But part of this financial effort will be compensated: More working mothers mean more taxes and social security contributions and fewer expenses for social help. "But we are not fooling ourselves: First we need to invest billions of tax money," says Lauterbach.

However, finances are not a "knock-out-criteria", says pedologist Ursula Boos-Nünning: "Experience teaches that if the federal government and the states are convinced that a reform is necessary then money will be freed." She criticizes the distribution of money in today's system: "The older a child is, the more money the educators receive. It is scientifically proven that every euro invested in small children pays a lot more than when invested in older ones."

Lauterbach, too, is convinced: "Our concept is without any alternative." That it will be put into action he can only hope. Catenhusen leaves it with vague praise: The concept is "very exciting, helpful and visionary."

Taz Nr. 7422, 30th of July 2004, page 7, 98 TAZ-Report COSIMA SCHMITT