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Teachers in Berlin urged to strike on Wednesday

Paul Krantz
Paul Krantz - [email protected]
Teachers in Berlin urged to strike on Wednesday
The Education and Science Union (GEW) has called for a teachers' strike in Berlin on Wednesday. Previous GEW rallies in Germany have drawn in thousands of educators. Photo: picture alliance / Jens Büttner/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa | Jens Büttner

Germany's classrooms are overcrowded amid a shortage of teachers across the country. A Berlin union has called for a walkout on Wednesday, after officials failed to respond to requests to negotiate on the topic.

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The Education and Science Union (GEW) is calling for a teachers' strike in Berlin on Wednesday, May 22nd.

The strike comes as the latest in a long series of teachers' strikes in response to class sizes that have grown too large. As in years past, opponents to the strike have voiced concern that it may disrupt Arbitur examinations at some schools. Classes are canceled at some affected schools.

Speaking to Tagesspiegel on Monday, state student spokesman Aimo Görne called the strike "a disappointment", and suggested that he had hoped a strike might come outside of the examination period this year. 

The GEW, however, suggests that the need for disruptive action is clear. 

What is the strike for smaller classes about?

GEW Berlin wants to achieve smaller class sizes in state schools.

Anne Albers, chief negotiator of GEW Berlin said in a statement published on the group's website: "[Education workers] in the schools suffer every day with poor working conditions. Currently, more than 3,500 Berlin school classes are overcrowded, even by the standards of the Senate Administration."

She added that the GEW's demands can be met with "good political planning".

Wednesday's strike was announced one month prior, after Berlin's Finance Senator did not respond to a renewed request for negotiations on the topic of classroom sizes.

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Germany has suffered a growing shortage of teachers and school staff in recent years – an issue that is exacerbated by poor working conditions for teachers in overcrowded classrooms, as well as relatively low compensation.

Research by Robert Bosch Stiftung found that two-thirds of Germany's part-time teachers would be willing to work more if their work would be fully compensated. Often teachers are only fully compensated for teaching hours, while necessary work done outside of the classroom (such as training, meetings and communication with parents) is under-estimated and underpaid.

READ ALSO: German part-time teachers 'prepared to increase hours' to combat staff shortages

The GEW's strike on Wednesday also concerns other social workers in public schools. Along with reducing classroom sizes, the GEW demands that a ratio of school psychologists to students be set.

Is solidarity for striking teachers falling?

There have been 17 strike days for smaller classes in Berlin since 2021 – the latest strike lasted for three days in October of 2023.

While relevant agencies, along with parents and other school staff, were initially largely supportive of striking teachers, it seems that some are growing tired of the ongoing walkouts.

Guido Richter, co-chairman of the Berlin Primary School Principals' Association, told Tagesspiegel that the GEW's goal was "correct in perspective, but illusory at the moment". He added that schools where teachers strike end up losing lessons. 

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It's hard to imagine how classroom sizes can realistically be reduced in the short term as the shortage of teachers has only grown more severe in recent years. But the GEW has published a 15-point plan on the topic, which it believes could help reduce Germany's teacher shortage.

The plan's points include: increasing compensation for teachers and pay raises for trainees, recognising foreign teachers' qualifications, more IT and administrative support, and expanding the number of teacher training courses, among others.

But while the fact that Germany's classrooms are overcrowded is largely agreed, whether or not striking helps is not.

Even among GEW members, it seems the tactic of warning strikes is somewhat controversial. In the last round of strikes, only one in 10 salaried teachers reportedly walked out.

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

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