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School drop-outs rise across Germany as resources and teachers spread thin

Paul Krantz
Paul Krantz - [email protected]
School drop-outs rise across Germany as resources and teachers spread thin
Compared with most EU countries, German students are more likely to leave school after secondary, leaving them with no real qualifications to help them start a career. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

Germany sees a high number of school drop-outs each year compared with most other European countries. The problem feeds into the country’s labour shortage, and is made worse by an education system that lacks teachers and resources.

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Germany has long been criticised for not doing enough to reduce the number of young people who lack basic job qualifications – such as a high school diploma (Abitur) or completion of vocational training (Ausbildung).

According to the European Statistical Office (Eurostat), a little more than 12 percent of young people in Germany were classified as “early leavers from education and training” in 2022. This makes Germany the country with the 4th highest rate of early leavers in the EU, and puts it well above the EU’s average rate of 9.6 percent.

This early leavers rate includes those who completed the most basic level of mandatory schooling in Germany, which ends after the 10th year, but didn’t choose to go on to enrol in higher education or further vocational training programs.

In the German school system, children attend four to six years of basic school and then are enrolled in different secondary schools based on their performance and goals. 

Across every German state a number of students drop-out before finishing secondary school. Additionally, the number of pupils who need to repeat a grade level is rising across the country, according to newly published figures from Germany's Statistics Office.

Who accounts for the largest group of drop-outs?

Pupils with a migration background are more likely to be school drop-outs or early leavers from education, according to research by the Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB). 

The rate of pupils with migrant backgrounds attending academically-oriented high school (Gymnasium) has risen in the past ten years, but it is still lower than pupils without migrant backgrounds. As of 2022, 38 percent of 15-year old women with a migrant background attend Gymnasium, whereas 47 percent of those without a migrant background do so.

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Gymnasium enrolment rates are likely linked to challenges that start from a young age. The same BiB research found that children from migrant backgrounds under three years old are much less likely to attend a Kita, a daycare or preschool facility, than their peers. By five years old, roughly 80 percent of children from this group enrol in Kita.

Pupils who don’t speak German at home are far more likely to experience challenges in keeping up with a German-language school curriculum. 

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Across the country, roughly one in five children aged three to six don't speak German at home. In multicultural hubs like Berlin and Bremen, its closer to one out of three.

Second-language speakers often require more individual support from education specialists or language teachers to keep up with native language speakers in school. 

READ ALSO: What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprach-Kitas

Growing teacher shortage

But Germany is also suffering a nationwide teacher shortage, and specialists and additional human resources are hard to find.

The nation’s teacher supply gap is expected to grow until 2035 - though there are some recent studies that suggest the current low birth rate could help to balance things out.

Nevertheless, addressing Germany's teacher shortages and the related drop-out problem will be difficult in the short-term. 

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In the meantime, programs like “Productive Learning” aim to catch young people at risk of failing out of school, and offer them work experience opportunities in place of some of their classroom time.

According to the Institute for Productive Learning in Europe, about two-thirds of the pupils who enrol in the program achieve their educational certificates.

READ ALSO: Why Germany could soon see an end to its teacher shortage

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