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How can Germany improve its Kitas amid teacher shortage?

Many Kitas around Germany are experiencing severe staff shortages, according to a new educational study by Germany's Bertelmann Stiftung. What can be done to improve quality?

How can Germany improve its Kitas amid teacher shortage?
A carer at a Kita in Schriesheim, Baden-Württemberg in June. Photo: DPA

Poor staffing and groups that are too large: Germany’s Bertelsmann Stiftung (Foundation) considers early childhood support to be at risk in many areas, even amid small improvements in recent years. 

As a result, many Kindergartens and day nurseries in Germany can only implement their educational aims to a limited extent.

Both their staffing ratio and group sizes are unsuited to children, warned professionals in view of data published by the Bertelsmann Foundation’s ‘Federal State Monitoring of Early Childhood Education Systems’ on Tuesday. 


Throughout Germany, almost three in four children attend a Kita or day nursery with too few staff: there were 4.2 day nursery children per Kita teacher, according to figures from the 2019 census. 

In Kindergartens, the figure was as large as 8.8 children per teacher.

Experts recommend, however, that there should be a maximum of three nursery, or 7.5 Kindergarten children, per teacher. More than half of all Kita groups nationwide were larger than the recommended size.

A balancing act

Despite the extension of the number of places available at Kitas, as well as investments in additional staff, improvements in quality over the last few years have been minor, said The Bertelsmann Foundation.

That carries consequences for the educational sector

“If a member of staff is responsible for too many children, they are unable to cater to the needs of individuals or consider personal development or family background. Individual support then falls by the wayside,” said Annette Stein, who is responsible for the Department of Early Childhood Education. 

There is an urgent need for further – and permanent – investments in quality development. “We must not lose sight of that now in the coronavirus crisis,” said Stein.

The effect of staff shortages is underlined by a study which the foundation published together with the Open University in Hagen to accompany the federal state monitoring data.

In the study, group discussions with a total of 128 Kita employees were analysed. Jutta Schütz, head of the Department for Empirical Educational Research at the university, described the results as “dramatic”. 

“Many Kita teachers speak of a balancing act between their own aspirations and a lack of time resources,” said the education researcher.

“Incredibly dedicated specialists encounter a situation in which they are unable to act professionally.”

Children play at a Kita in Bochum, North Rhine-Westphalia on August 17th. Photo: DPA

What issues do Kita teachers face in the classroom?

Overworked Kita teachers reported reactions such as raising their voice as a result of stress, or ranting for no real reason.

They also mentioned similar issues for regions and agencies: unfilled positions and too many tasks outside of the classroom – for example, taking on the role of a parent or even as a substitute caretaker. 

The size of the groups means that teachers can fulfil little more than a basic duty of supervision. “How can you ensure that you deliver an education when you have to look after 20 children by yourself?,” asked Schütz. 

“Often nothing more can be done beyond simply keeping the children safe,” she said.

READ ALSO: These are the best places in Germany to send your kids to kindergarten

“Learning at the Kita is based on a child-centered, dialogue-heavy method of teaching. Children observe and ask questions.”

Managing this, creating a stimulating environment and interacting with them on a personal level – all of this requires time and, of course, adequate staffing,” said psychologist and head of the Children and Childcare Department at the German Youth Institute, Bernhard Kalicki. 

The workload is another factor: “The noise level can increase significantly with the size of the group. This causes stress for children and teachers alike, and makes it difficult to work together”.

“The quality of Kitas still depends very much on where you live and is therefore a matter of chance,” said Kalicki. 

At the same time, he pointed out that the huge expansion in the last 15 years of available places, especially for younger children, had not come at the expense of staffing levels. 

On the contrary: the ratio has become more favourable by way of calculation, and “the quality of a Kita is always measured in multiple dimensions,” said Kalicki.

How stimulating and self-sufficient everyday life is for the children also plays a role. “It doesn't just depend on the staffing ratio, but also on the work of the management or, for example, the question of how the team communicates,” said the psychologist.


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REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. Germany is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with being strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, come with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.