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When the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of the PISA study earlier this year, Germany was shown the hard way that perception and reality may be completely divergent. PISA, short for "Programme for International Student Assessment", did exactly what it?s name suggests--it assessed 15-year-old students? reading, mathematical, and scientific literacy. Although most politicians were aware of "problems" in German schools, the PISA results caused a major uproar. Germany?s schools scored well below the OECD average in all three assessed subjects--hard to believe for a country that has produced outstanding scientists and artists such as Albert Einstein, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Alexander von Humboldt.

In June, PISA-E was released. This follow-up revealed the results in the individual states (Bundesländer) in Germany. It was a historic event. For the first time in Germany, the efficacy of different educational philosophies could be directly compared. While the CDU-ruled states have stuck to the traditional tripartite school system including the Gymnasium, the Realschule, and the Hauptschule, SPD-ruled states have introduced comprehensive schools over the last 25 years.

As perceived by the mass media, the conservative system came out tops, pouring still more fuel onto the 22 September federal election campaign fire.

As critics from both sides agree, it is a good thing that the PISA results put education back on the political agenda in Germany. But this is where unity ends. Politicians have used the results to praise their favourite models over others that showed less merit. And instead of starting a joint effort set apart from politics, the issue is likely to become lost in political campaigns. Also, the politicians seem to have forgotten that the real question should not be about which states scored best in the PISA study, but rather about the fact that the German system scored so poorly overall.

Becoming a Science Teacher: Opportunities for Lateral Entries

If all that wasn?t confusing enough, understanding the German school system and the pathway to becoming a teacher is a brainteaser for most people who are unfamiliar with the system. Germany is a federated country. The German Basic Law (Grundgesetz) therefore places responsibility for educational matters into the hands of the 16 individual states, each of which has a different strategy. Moreover, necessary reforms at the national level cannot move forward because state-based ideological arguments typically prevail over facts.

Nevertheless, many states have begun small or more substantial reforms of their educational systems, some of which are relevant to scientists who are interested in becoming teachers. Until now, only rare exceptions gave scientists a chance to enter the schoolteacher career path directly (read Hubert Skudlik?s story for more information; he is one of these exceptions). Whereas other countries allow scientists to become teachers, all German states require teachers to have a degree in education combined with the subjects they are interested in teaching. But recent long-term analyses show that several states expect severe shortages of teachers over the coming years, so a number of initiatives have been launched to persuade scientists to trade in their lab for a classroom.

Next Wave surveyed all of Germany?s 16 states to find out more about programmes for scientists that are interested in teaching the young. Here are the results:

Baden-Württemberg: Although there is no shortage of science teachers in schools, Baden-Württemberg has identified several subjects taught at vocational schools as areas that need an immediate influx of fresh teaching blood: informatics, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. Candidates have the opportunity to either do in-service training or go through the 2-year preparatory period (Referendariat) that is usually required of teachers as well. An official leaflet provides more information. About 600 teachers were hired through this campaign last year.

Bavaria: Similar to Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria offers alternative careers at their vocational schools. Graduates of economics, metal technologies, and electrical engineering are invited to apply for teaching jobs at vocational schools. A pedagogic qualification is required, but it can be obtained in a process similar to that in place in Baden-Württemberg. Information is available from the Ministry for Education.

Berlin: Teachers for vocational schools are sought--but these are mainly craftsmen. Information is available on the school department?s Web site.

Brandenburg: Over the past few years, Brandenburg?s total number of school children dropped by a third, so there's little need for additional teachers. However, Brandenburg?s Ministry for Education sees a need for lateral entries into the school system because "our experiences with these teachers are great", as a spokesperson says. Currently, interested scientists are invited to apply for the 2-year preparatory phase (Referendariat) starting in October. Information is available from the ministry?s Web site.

Bremen: In principle, lateral entries are possible. Currently, Bremen only has a demand for teachers at vocational schools. The preparatory phase (Referendariat) is mandatory as well.

Hamburg: Again, teachers with a noneducational background are needed for vocational schools. Engineers, physicists, and chemists are welcomed to apply for the preparatory phase (Referendariat) but will only be selected as admission numbers permit. For last year?s seminar, 20 candidates were selected. More information is available via the senate administration.

Hesse: Alternative teaching careers are already possible in vocational schools. For other schools, the potential is currently being assessed. A demand is most likely to exist for chemistry, physics, maths, English, and music in Haupt- and Realschulen. More information is on the ministry?s Web site.

Lower Saxony: Many schools, especially in rural areas, will suffer from a shortage of teachers in the near future. The projected need includes chemistry and physics, among other subjects, varying by school branches. A preparatory phase (Referendariat) is required. Information for future teachers about the application procedure and other facts is available here. A leaflet "Merkblatt für am Lehrerberuf Interessierte ohne Lehramtsstudium" may be ordered as well.

Northrhine-Westfalia: Again, a state with a demand for "alternative career" teachers in vocational schools. 300 to 500 teachers are needed each year, mostly in electronics, print technology, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering. Inquiries for further information should go to the Ministry for Education, Science and Research in Düsseldorf.

Mecklenburg-West Pomerania: Due to declining student numbers, the northeastern state only sees selective demand for teachers with other than educational training. To match these demands, regulations are currently being worked out and will be published soon. The ministry will have more information available.

Rhineland-Palatinate: Lateral entries are wanted in both regular and vocational schools for grades 1 through 13. The ministry provides information about conditions and application procedures. Besides physics and chemistry, English and music teachers are also wanted. A 2-year preparatory phase (Referendariat) is required.

Saarland: Opportunities exist in subjects such as physics, mathematics, and sports, although no specific programme has been launched. Interested people are asked to inquire at the ministry in charge.

Saxony: Due to decreasing student numbers, no need exists for additional teachers other than those trained the regular way.

Saxony-Anhalt: Similar to the situation in Saxony.

Schleswig-Holstein: Physics, mathematics, music, and arts are the subjects for which teachers are needed. The Ministry for Education has prepared a special Web site with all the necessary information.

Thuringia: Because of a teacher surplus, Thuringia does not offer programs for academics to get into teaching.