Old school: How Berlin great-granddad is pitching in with teaching at home

As the lockdown continues in Germany, many families are having to turn to homeschooling. Here's how one great-grandad is doing it.

Old school: How Berlin great-granddad is pitching in with teaching at home
A youngster doing school work during the current lockdown. Photo: DPA/Annette Riedl

It's been a while since 81-year-old Gerd Kumbier has set foot in a classroom, but he's hitting the books once again to help homeschool his great-granddaughters while the coronavirus keeps German schools closed.

In a flat in Berlin-Hellersdorf, on the eastern outskirts of the capital, Kumbier is bent over nine-year-old Leyla's German notebook, watching in deep concentration as she practises her cursive writing.

Sitting next to Leyla at the dining table is her sister Melina, 7, who is busy with homework of her own.

Both would normally be in class right now, but Germany's worsening Covid-19 situation has prompted authorities to keep schools closed until the end of January, forcing working parents to get creative.

While Kumbier, a retired electrician, was happy to jump in, he admits it's not always easy and he sometimes struggles to grasp the material himself first before he can teach it to the girls.

“There are maths problems here where I've had to quickly scramble to solve them. And then, once I have understood it, it can be difficult to explain it. But we're getting through it,” he told AFP.

READ ALSO: This is how Germany's coronavirus rules vary from state to state


Leyla and Melina's mother, who also has a younger child, is out of the flat most of the day to train as a social assistant.

The children's father is unable to pick up the childcare too as he works as a scaffolder.

Grinning cheekily, third-grader Leyla says her great-grandfather doesn't quite make the grade as an educator.

“He's way too bad as a teacher,” she quips, adding that he should be “much stricter!”.

'It's too much'

While Kumbier may not be winning any teaching awards, German children's charity Die Arche (The Ark) says the girls are luckier than some other school-aged kids in the area.

Photo: DPA

The organisation, which supports families from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, offers homework help but the virus has forced them to move the tutoring online, with children sending in their work via WhatsApp or email.

“We have a lot of single parents who have three or four children in different grades at primary school, they'd have to read up on everything and often they can't, it's too much,” said the group's founder Bernd Siggelkow.

And it's hard for those children to ask for extra guidance from teachers, who are themselves stretched thin with 20-plus pupils to monitor, he added.

“The losers in the end are the students who have no support at home,” he said.

READ ALSO: These are Germany's new tighter lockdown rules

Experts fear the school shutdowns could have long-lasting effects on pupils, especially those from poorer households or whose parents have little formal education.

Marcel Helbig from the Berlin Social Science Research Centre warns that the disruptions caused by the pandemic will hamper some children's skills' development and have a direct impact on “the likelihood of graduating or repeating a class”.

“Social inequality when it comes to education will continue to worsen in Germany,” he predicted.

By Fabian Dittmann

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Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of ‘difficult’ winter

With infection numbers shooting up once again in Germany, states are set to bring in a new set of Covid measures on October 1st.

Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of 'difficult' winter

From Saturday, masks will no longer be required on commercial flights, though people will still be expected to wear an FFP2 mask on long-distance trains.

States will also be given the option to introduce mandatory masks in other public indoor spaces, including on local public transport and in schools. If they choose to bring in masks, they’ll also have the freedom to introduce exceptions to masks for people who are recently vaccinated or who have tested negative for Covid.

States will also be able to introduce compulsory testing in schools and nurseries.

READ ALSO: German states likely to keep mask mandate on public transport

Speaking at a press conference alongside Robert Koch Institute (RKI) chair Lothar Wieler on Friday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach defended the decision to keep Covid rules in place when other countries in Europe have largely got rid of their pandemic measures. 

“It’s not for me to criticise what other countries are doing,” said Lauterbach. “We have a particularly difficult winter ahead of us due to the energy crisis, we don’t want to make it worse through the Covid crisis.”

The SPD politician also defended plans for mandatory masks for residents and staff in nursing and care homes. Having 40 or 50 vulnerable people together in an enclosed space is “extremely high-risk”, he said. 

Under the new rules set to be introduced on Saturday, residents of care homes will be expected to wear FPP2 masks in all common areas of the home, and will only be able to take them off in their bedrooms.

“For people in nursing homes, the FFP2 mask requirement means a considerable cut in their quality of life,” Regina Görner, chairwoman of the Federal Association of Senior Citizens’ Organisations (Bagso), told DPA:

“The nursing home is their home, in which they can then no longer move freely without a mask.”

Visitors to nursing homes, meanwhile, will have to supply a negative Covid test, while staff will be tested three times a week. 

Under the autumn and winter rules, people across Germany will also be required to wear an FFP2 mask at their doctor’s surgery and in medical outpatient facilities such as hospitals.

“We’re better prepared than last autumn,” Lauterbach told reporters on Friday. “We have the infection numbers under control, we have this wave under control.” 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS – Germany’s new Covid-19 rules for autumn

Steep rise in cases

As the weather turns colder, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has reported a steep rise in respiratory infections, including Covid-19.

Last week, the number of Covid patients jumped dramatically from 500,000 to 1.2 million per week, with cases rising significantly in every age group.

Meanwhile, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people shot up from 409 on Thursday to 466 on Friday. The previous week, the weekly incidence stood at 294 per 100,000 people. 

The numbers are believed to be partially inflated by the ongoing Oktoberfest beer festival, which is being held for the first time since the pandemic started. In Munich, the location of the festival, the weekly incidence is almost 800. 

Speaking at the press conference in Berlin on Friday, RKI chair Wieler warned people not to get complacent about the threat of infection.

“A mild course of illness simply means not ending up in hospital,” he said. “We should be conscious of how much risk we want take on, and how much risk we can avoid.”

RKI chief Lothar Wieler

Robert Koch Institute chair Lothar Wieler (l) and Heath Minister Karl Lauterbach (r) hold a press conference in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Despite the looming energy crisis, the RKI boss advised the public to ensure that rooms were well ventilated, adding that spaces normally occupied by a large number of people should be aired out more regularly.

He also advised people with Covid symptoms to stay home until they felt better in order to avoid passing on any infections, and warned that people should be especially careful to avoid contact with vulnerable people.

“Just like before, these people need our solidarity,” he said. 

Self-isolation and quarantine rules vary from state to state, but people who test positive for Covid generally have to isolate for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10.

In some cases, people can take an additional Covid test in order to end their isolation early.

The RKI has also recommended that people wear a mask in public enclosed spaces. 

READ ALSO: What will the Covid situation in Germany look like this autumn?