Fit for Everyday Life

Children, youths, adults—when it comes to dealing with money, almost everyone still has something to learn. But what is the situation regarding basic economic education at German schools?

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Original language: German

“I am almost 18 and have no idea about taxes, rent, or insurance. But I can analyse a poem. In four languages.” This 2015 tweet from a student in her final year of high school in Cologne summed up the plight of many young people. They felt that school did not sufficiently prepare them for real life. 

“The situation regarding financial education in Germany is bad. What children are not permitted to learn already leads to specific problems in their youth. And the effects can be devastating when they become adults. Up to and including serious debts,” says Marius Stark, board member of the Präventionsnetzwerk Finanzkompetenz (PNFK), an association committed to promoting financial education in Germany. Financial knowledge is vitally important. In the field of adult learning, too, it deserves greater attention.

Who is responsible?

According to an Innofact survey from October 2017, 74 percent of those surveyed considered schools responsible for providing economic knowledge, followed by parents at 53 percent, with banks and savings banks in third place at 42 percent.

However, basic economic education does not take place across the board in Germany nor in all German schools. There is ongoing discussion on both the federal and federal state level as to whether economic education should be taught in schools, and if so how.

Gehört Wirtschaft in die Schule?.

Borrow, buy, balance

At the 2013 Conference of the Ministers of Education (KMK), a resolution (DE) was passed to improve consumer education in schools. However, up to now there has been no consensus as to whether economics should be taught or only those aspects that affect consumers, in other words consumer education (although this extends to other areas such as nutrition).

There is also a lack of consensus regarding “how”. Some are in favour of teaching economics as a separate school subject. One such person is Nils Goldschmidt, Professor of Economics at the University of Siegen, who believes it makes sense because the focus is on teaching pupils to think in an economic way.

On the other hand, the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv) argues for a cross-discipline approach that does not involve teaching economics as a separate subject.

Examples on the federal state level

Since 2014/15 in Bavaria, the elective subject “Consumer Profi” has been offered in intermediate secondary schools (Realschule), while “Economics and Law” has already been offered in upper secondary schools (Gymnasium) for decades. Since 2016/17, the state of Baden-Württemberg has offered the subject “Economics/Occupational Orientation and Higher-Level Study Guidance”, initially at lower and intermediate secondary schools (Haupt/Realschule) and subsequently at upper secondary schools.

In 2009, Schleswig-Holstein rebranded “Home Economics” as “Consumer Education”, which is taught at lower secondary level (Sekundarstufe I), but not at upper secondary schools, where “Economics/Politics” is taught.

Upper secondary schools in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) have introduced “Economic Policy” in the current school year. However, there are not enough qualified teachers. Lateral entrants are being recruited to make up for the shortfall. In this respect, it is particularly important that universities actually offer economics as a teaching subject. 

The case of NRW also shows how the introduction of the obligatory school subject stirs controversy. The Education and Science Workers’ Union (GEW) takes a particularly critical view. The union fears a weakening of political education in schools and increasing lobbying on the part of companies.

Lobbying in the classroom

The educational budgets of the federal states show clearly that many state-run schools lack funds. Various interest groups sense an opportunity here. Associations, foundations, banks, and insurance companies are trying to introduce cost-free courses on topics such as business and stocks and shares into schools. The insurance company Allianz, for example, has taken a clever approach, claiming that its “My Finance Coach” foundation is Germany’s largest not-for-profit provider of economic education.

However, the quality of private organisations offering education varies greatly. “While school books are examined closely by the responsible ministries, no such checks take place regarding lesson materials from private organisations. As a result, there is frequently no analysis of either content or didactic elements of the materials,” Stark from the PNFK points out. 

Verified quality

There is much room for discussion concerning the development of standards. The vzbv’s material compass is an attempt to shine some light into the darkness. Due to a lack of funding it was dormant for a long time, but since the beginning of the 2019 school year an evaluation of lesson materials can again be found there.

Independent experts closely examine the materials and offer a comprehensive assessment regarding their use in lessons. In this way, teachers can discover what specific material is suited to their lessons. The compass is also a treasure trove for adult educators, who likewise are free to use materials that receive a positive evaluation. After all, not only young people need to have an “idea about taxes, rent or insurance” to equip themselves for everyday life. In adult learning, too, the topic should be obligatory, rather than optional, especially as it is not (yet) a standard subject in schools.

Photo: © Maren Lohrer

Wortbrücke e.V. Maren Lohrer.

About the author:

Maren Lohrer writes consumer news in plain language for “Wortbrücke e.V.” She has an MA in German studies and political science from the University of Cologne and is a certified mediator (INA at FU Berlin) She is also an ambassador for EPALE Deutschland.

Further reading:

The challenge of plain language: Adult Learning for people with reading problems?

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