“Children need structured teaching directed by the teacher”

“Children need structured teaching directed by the teacher”

Interview with Dr med Elke Möller-Nehring, child and youth psychiatrist

A look beyond the borders can be enlightening, especially when it comes to developments in our own country, that have little in common with the actual tradition and the roots of our state. This is absolutely the case with the new Curriculum 21. It is interesting that exactly the same transformation of the proven school education as in Switzerland is pursued in the conservative German state of Bavaria. In the following interview apalling parallels are pointed out by child and youth psychiatrist Dr med Elke Möller Nehring, that give rise to the question where these education reforms come from.

Current Concerns: What is your criticism of the Bavarian Curriculum PLUS?

Dr Möller-Nehring: The Bavarian Curriculum Plus is actually a consequence of the curriculum that was already introduced in 2000. Since its implementation, this curriculum has already had such a strong impact in school classes that I realized that – if now again a new curriculum is to be introduced – attention should be paid to the things that are planned to be changed. What is picked up again, what will be new?

Was it easy for you to get information about it?

No, not at all. What was interesting, was the fact, that there was no information at all in advance. There is a stone wall of si
lence from the Bavarian Ministry of Culture. Everything is decided behind closed doors. Only after completion, the curriculum will be available for inspection.

What was changed by the new curriculum in 2000?

Systematization, structure or in-depth practice have disappeared in favor of a motley variety, self-discovery and “everyone finds his or her way.” For example, in mathematics lessons: There is no longer any instruction in small steps how to find every time and easily the right solution. Instead, the students are supposed to find their own ways to solve a problem. One mother told me how big problems her son, second grade, had with that: You solve this type of task in this way and not otherwise, and that one in that way. This gave the child security and stability again and enabled him to cope with math again.
In Curriculum PLUS, this procedings from the 2000 Curriculum are continued and established, this time codified with explicit reference to the concept of constructivism. New teaching methods are made compulsory for the teachers, namely in such a way that children are to learn in a self-directed way – i.e. alone dealing with their worksheets – and that the teacher should actively withdraw from the teaching process. He must no longer act as a knower, who teaches and imparts the children anything. His only task is to shape the learning environment in order to make self-regulated learning possible, and to adopt an advisory role in the background. This is a completely wrong conception of teaching.

Can the consequences of the Curriculum revision in 2000, which you mentioned, already be perceived today?

The impact is to the effect that graduates start their apprenticeship or their studies with a remarkably less consolidated basis. The result is that, at the universities, professors have to offer courses in order to teach the basics, which formerly students had to bring along as a prerequisite for studying. The training masters can no longer rely on mathematical knowledge or consolidated spelling. Also as far as their conduct is concerned they notice ever more that young adults are not able to learn anything, to work something out in a focused manner – the modern teaching methods do not lead students to acquire such positive skills and attitude to work – and that they are willing to let themselves be instructed by an adult, which causes discontent in the training companies.

Do the training companies complain about these increasing deficits?

To this day, it is not yet recognized that there is a link existing between deficits of young people and the new Curriculum. Therefore, it is my intention to initiate a broad discussion in the population, so that people begin to realize what is actually going on here and where these developments come from.

Did I understand correctly, the shortcomings are realized, but their causes are still insufficiently recognized?

Yes, to date there is neither resistance from the teacher’s associations nor from those of the parents, but teachers in the schools are totally bewildered and partly frustrated because what is prescribed in the curriculum, is not at all useful.

What does this exactly mean?

The Curriculum is competence-oriented and based on constructivism, both of which are of no use for the teacher. These are keywords which do not improve the quality of teaching. On the contrary. Teachers realize that their educational task is no longer appreciated, because by introducing such ideas as self-discovering learning, weekly work plans or individualized work orders, they are deprived of their pedagogical instruments. That is not what teachers want, while parents are increasingly burdened with the task of an assistant teacher, without whose support many students would fail; and children whose parents are not able to accomplish this task, really fail – should we really fall back to a two-class education system?

You mentioned constructivism, which in Switzerland is as well praised as a new insight for the reforms. There are even striking similarities to the SwissCurriculum 21. What do we understand by constructivism?

Constructivism assumes that every human being creates his or her own reality and that there is no truth and no reliable knowledge. From what it will find in the world, the child is to assemble itself a “reality”, just corresponding to its current aim or its inner mood. The problem is, that in this way, children and young people do not get any more guidance. It is no longer taught that there are fundamentals and established knowledge but the child must discover and re-assemble everything itself. This is on the one hand overcharging the child and on the other hand often leads to total superficiality, because the foundation is missing. And of course it strongly relativizes all values and standards, indispensable for a peaceful coexistence and a well-functioning democracy.

What does that look like practically in the classroom?

Since competencies have priority over contents, children are to organise the lessons themselves today. In secondary school, for example, the countries of Europe are to be addressed in the 7th grade in geography. It is explicitly requested that students submit their work in the form of presentations. Apart from the fact that students do not learn how to structure a solid presentation, they are not able to give a substantiated overview from the material they have collected in the Internet. That would request a university course. Teachers once completed such a course of study, a didactic training, and now the children are to teach each other with their unstructured prior knowledge. But this is outrageous and there is no learning effect. The learners who should work together are sometimes very discouraged because they can not develop ideas in order to approach the task in a useful way. They have a flood of unstructured information and not the slightest idea what to do with it and ultimately they resign. …

... You can hardly believe that this should be the future of our schools ...

… But, unfortunately, it is. Look at the following example: In a group of four, the students were to develop the presentation. One of them immediately took his phone out and started playing games, because the task ws too much for him. There is no teacher to guide the young people and to give them support and help them cope with the difficulties. Being left completely on their own, without any guidance, without any contact with the teacher, is expecting too much of the young people.

How does this affect the learners?

This leads to complete uncertainty, it causes discouragement and in the worst case, the feeling of being stupid. This often results in behavioural abnormalities among young people, why they are often refered to a psychologist or psychiatrist. I am a psychiatrist for children and adolescents and see such cases in my practice in great numbers. The young people are pathologized and, for a lifetime, have to carry a heavy burden, which they will hardly get rid of. But this is not necessarily so.

What is your idea of good teaching?

We have to assume that today many children and young people are no longer able to adjust to another person. The child and adolescent psychiatrist and author Dr Michael Winterhoff maintains that today’s young people entering education institutions have accomplished an emotional development corresponding to a 16-months-old child. It is in such a condition that the children come to the first class.

This is frightening.

Yes, it actually takes a mandatory post-maturing. The children’s entire personal development, however, requires an adult counterpart. The teacher must be aware of that. He is the person towards whom the children orientate themselves; he shows them the way. This means they need a structured and guided instruction by the teacher who proceeds in small steps with precise guidance and correction. Since a relationship develops between the teacher and the young people, understanding, encouraging and targeted support of the child become possible. This also means that the teacher demands something of the students. In order to do so a personal relationship is needed. Primary school teachers could play that part, because there is the class teacher principle at primary schools. They could bring the children forward to this post-maturing. These logically structured lessons and the relationship between teacher and students are the basis of successful teaching.
The teacher can, as you describe his task, respond to the pupils more specifically than these new forms that are planned in the Curriculum PLUS. The children are left to themselves here.
The children are disorientated and muddle along somehow. Thereof another aspect results: Since the individualising and self-directed learning are in focus, the whole classroom teaching is cut off completely. The class community is the very best situation for children to learn from each other. The weak student who listens to the questions of the other classmates and that way learns the answers as well; so he learns a lot, even if he did not dare to ask the question. The children learn to refer to each other, to listen to each other. Under the expert hands of an experienced teacher, they can become a community where they can learn everything they need later in our society and our democracy. So they will be capable of democracy. All this disappears within the “learning centers”, where each individual has only his individual progress in view. The classmate does not count or presents even a disturbance.

You can actually say that the Curriculum PLUS and even the Curriculum 2000 is a paradigm shift with respect to school education.


The teachers only become …

… coaches or learning guides …

… and the students are left to themselves and to develop something in the sense of constructivism, which has nothing to do with reality. You ask yourself why such thing is introduced in our schools against one’s better knowledge?

These are clear ideological aims. It all comes from economy oriented circles, of course not from the middle class, but from the major international industry and high finance. They want people to be controlled. Children who have no relation to the community and no longer focus on adults, can be controlled. They are so unrelated that they can be easily manipulated. And the education sector is an extremely lucrative market.

What do the parents think, nobody who is halfway reasonable can approve of that?

This is something we Bavarian parents do not want under any circumstances. A lot of parents notice that many things do not run properly, but they can’t classify the operations. That is my task now, to explain to parents what is going on here. For this reason, we have written a letter to parents entitled “Eltern für eine gute Bildung” (Parents for a good education.) We want an education in the sense of the humanistic tradition to give an education for everyone. So that each person is in a position to judge the world and to help shaping the political process. This is what we want to come back to and our parents group wrote the letter to parents that can be downloaded from the Internet address www.eltern-fuer-gute-bildung.de. We would be delighted if it could be spread and a discussion initiated by it.

Dr Möller-Nehring, thanks for the interesting conversation.    •

(Interview Thomas Kaiser)

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