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Ex-educator settles scores: “We can’t realistically anticipate skilled workers to emerge from there”

FOCUS online: Mr. Taylor, before you moved into the private sector and abroad in 2013, you were a teacher at primary, middle and high schools for five years. We’ll come to the reasons for leaving in a moment. First of all: does the current PISA shock come as a surprise to you?

Tayfun Taylor : Quite the opposite. It was completely clear during my time that something was not running smoothly here. Everyone could feel that, and you didn’t have to be a teacher to understand that something fundamental was at stake here. The greatest asset we have here in Germany is knowledge. We have no other resources to offer. The PISA results are not just embarrassing for the cultural nation of Germany, they threaten the future of our country. The issue of skills shortage is on everyone’s lips these days. We need experts, that’s a fact. But how do we expect to get them when the school is practically doing the opposite of good knowledge transfer and everyone is being funneled into the same system? We can’t realistically expect skilled workers to emerge from there.

Other European countries seem to be doing a lot better in this regard…

We need to be cautious with premature comparisons. Who are we comparing ourselves to? Let’s take Scandinavia, for example. Here, the average class size has always been much smaller than ours. And far more money has always been invested in education. This means that crucial structural differences already existed over 20 years ago, when the first PISA shockwave swept through the country, and even before that. The question is: what has led to individual students in Germany becoming increasingly worse over the past 20 years? I don’t want to sugarcoat the PISA results, we have a problem, definitely. But we also need to consider the circumstances under which the results arise, which are now being discussed more intensively again.

Students are prepared for PISA test

What circumstances are you referring to?

The comparison tests on which the results are based are additional examinations. These are tests that come in addition to the other class work and therefore mean additional stress. Not only for the students, but also for the schools, incidentally. It is always said that the students are supposed to write the comparison tests unprepared. But that is wishful thinking. In my experience, the classes are of course prepared for these tests. After all, the school doesn’t want to embarrass itself. All in all, the PISA results are a pretty distorted story.

Nevertheless, you have just confirmed that there is a problem in the schools. What should we talk about first? About the teacher shortage?

In my opinion, this topic is totally exaggerated. I recently read that the staffing level is still relatively good at over 98%. I wanted to know more about this and just for fun, I applied to a few schools on my own initiative. I am a fully qualified teacher with completed teacher training and several years of professional experience. I taught economics, sports, and German and could be deployed immediately in these subjects…

“I didn’t receive any response at all. Not from a single school!”

Question: How does one apply as a teacher?

As a beginner through specific portals. But there are also lists where you can directly apply for teaching positions. With my qualifications, that made sense. IThis HTML page seems to discuss various issues related to the education system. Here’s its revised version:

I have approached a handful of schools. Let’s see to what extent the red carpet is rolled out for me, I thought to myself…


There has been no response at all. Not only was I not picked up in a limousine – considering how urgent the problem is often portrayed in the public eye, one might have almost expected it – but there was absolutely no feedback from any school! So, once again: The constant lament about the lack of teachers misses the actual problem for me.

What is really ailing the school?

From my perspective, the biggest problem is how knowledge is imparted. It’s through a kind of funnel learning. Students are force-fed the material. And in such a way that it’s retrievable for tests in the short term – but most of it is forgotten right after that.

Isn’t it up to the teachers to impart knowledge differently, in a more lively manner?

It would be great if it were that simple. Then, I might still be a teacher today. But force-feeding runs according to strict guidelines: there are curriculums. Additionally, a certain number of exams must be conducted. If three exams are prescribed per half-year, as a teacher, you can’t simply say, let’s only conduct one. The pressure is immense. Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for that when I graduated from university. I was like many new teachers: I had lots of great ideas, was passionate about teaching. I finally wanted to do all the things I had learned at college: more group work, liberal learning…

But isn’t the start of a professional life always somewhat of a reality shock?

At school, I believe it’s extremely so. It’s no wonder that the burnout rates among teachers are particularly high. I really have to defend my former colleagues there.

“The students are the last ones to blame for what is going wrong in schools”

So, should we discuss the students at this point?

I never had a problem with the students. Of course, there are some who are difficult. That has always been the case. One thing I want to make absolutely clear: The students are the last ones to blame for what is going wrong in schools. Blame would be the wrong term anyway. A part of the problem we have is related to social media, so it’s internally created. My attitude here is crystal clear: there should urgently be more boundaries set!

A much-heard criticism is the poor digital equipment in schools.

I completely disagree with that. For me, the schools are overly digitalized. Note: Here we are truly talking about digital equipment, not about equipment in general, where there is certainly room for improvement. At the moment, we have the problem of an entire generation growing up with TikTok and consuming such contents excessively. If a child watches these short clips for several hours daily, there’s no wonder their attention span becomes increasingly shorter. In China, TikTok has been limited for some time. Even trash contents are supposedly more and more forbidden for students there. I assume that Chinese students have better attention and currently enjoy a better education.

Why did you leave the teaching profession?

Just five days after receiving my lifetime appointment, one should probably mention. Because who wouldn’t wish for that in these increasingly uncertain times? My problem was the lack of meaningfulness in the work. Especially when I looked around the staff room, it made me pensive. Under…30 educators, you will find at most two who remain fairly stable and cheerful despite the strain. The air gets extremely thin, especially among the older ones. I did not want to become like that. When 80 to 90 % of the content you are supposed to convey is uninteresting for children, it automatically leads to exhaustion.

Can you provide an example?

Graph discussions. The majority of the children are not interested in that at all. However, it doesn’t mean that there are no exciting learning materials in math. For example, I could allow the children to build a house out of Lego and then have them calculate the areas. As I said, if the curriculum would allow time for that. The funneling learning approach does not care whether or how students enjoy learning. The fact that knowledge currently doubles or triples annually thanks to AI and Co is also ignored. What is being conveyed in schools as content does not correspond to real life.

“In elementary school, most still enjoy learning”

What could be done differently?

We would need to focus more on the basics. Just like it happens in elementary school, with exactly those subjects. In elementary schools, most children still enjoy learning. The problem often starts when a child is expected to learn things that do not correspond to their own abilities or interests. How many students struggle with physics or chemistry! Or even with languages. With a grade of F in French and English, I cannot pass school, even if I am a mathematical and scientific genius. What’s the point of that? Again: We need professionals, so why do we put so much emphasis on equalizing in school and water all the flowers with the same amount of water when less is more for some and others need more?

So you are advocating for early specialization?

Let’s rather talk about elective subjects. Yes, students should be able to choose their direction earlier. And something else would be important. “Learning how to learn” is given far too little importance. Simply put: I don’t need to know everything. But I need to know where to get knowledge. I still remember well how we went through the frog in biology. I knew the material in detail. I have never needed this knowledge again later. But if I did, I would know how to gain access, what good sources are available, and how to filter out the fake.

Overall, you sound like you are in favor of a complete overhaul of the system, right?

The system is at the end of its current form.

And now? Who is responsible?

The responsibility lies with those who are responsible. Just like in a company, where the boss is responsible. At the end of the day, it is the education ministers who need to act. To act right. Lately, we keep hearing statements here like the problem is COVID-19. Or: The increased migration. While these may be true in specific cases, the problem started earlier and has to do with misplaced priorities. Look, the federal government is providing a special fund of €200 billion for armaments.

What are you getting at?

There is no special fund for education. Zero euros. It’s logical, what happens when we pour €200 billion into armaments and zero additional euros into education…

What then?

We get brainless soldiers. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”Das ist der Kern des Problems. Also: Erhöhung der Finanzmittel für Bildung und Reduzierung der Ausgaben für Waffen. Besonders besorgniserregend finde ich beim Betrachten der aktuellen PISA-Statistiken, dass die Kluft in den schulischen Leistungen zwischen bildungsnahen Bevölkerungsschichten und Schülern aus benachteiligten sozioökonomischen Haushalten in Deutschland weiterhin stark zunimmt. Ein Skandal.

„Mehr Spaß statt Vokabeln büffeln“

Sind Sie der Meinung, dass mehr Mittel in Schulen investiert werden sollten?

Auf jeden Fall. Obwohl der Etat für Bildung im laufenden Jahr bereits um 5,3 % erhöht wurde – es wird behauptet, dass nur knapp die Hälfte des Geldes in die Schulen geflossen ist. Aber wofür genau? Ehrlich gesagt bin ich sehr skeptisch.

Wo sollte eine Investition erfolgen?

Zunächst benötigen wir dringend kleinere Klassen. Das Stichwort ist Aufmerksamkeitsspanne, hier haben wir offensichtlich ein Problem und die Erfahrung zeigt, dass kleinere Klassen viel ausgleichen können. Aber dafür braucht es natürlich mehr Lehrer. So viel zu den strukturellen Rahmenbedingungen. Ebenso wichtig ist eine grundlegend andere Herangehensweise ans Lernen. Weniger Frontalunterricht, mehr praktische Anwendungen und dadurch in vielen Fällen automatisch mehr Spaß. Wir sollten das Budget für Materialien erhöhen. Mehr Bastelmaterial, Lego, mehr Ausgaben für Kreativität… alles, was die Begeisterung für das Lernen weckt. Lasst uns die Sportstätten verbessern, bringen wir die Kinder mehr in Bewegung. Ich plädiere für mindestens vier Stunden Sport pro Woche, anstatt wie momentan zwei. Insgesamt bin ich für innovativere Konzepte. Holen wir Fachleute aus der Wirtschaft in die Schule. Fördern wir autodidaktische Methoden viel stärker – und verzichten im Gegenzug auf das traditionelle akademische Lernen von Fremdsprachen – Stichwort Vokabeln-Büffeln. Unzumutbar… Ich spreche selbst fließend Englisch. Und ich verrate Ihnen etwas: Ich habe das nicht in der Schule gelernt!

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