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How can Germany improve its Kitas amid teacher shortage?

Many Kitas around Germany are experiencing severe staff shortages, according to a new educational study by Germany's Bertelmann Stiftung. What can be done to improve quality?

How can Germany improve its Kitas amid teacher shortage?
A carer at a Kita in Schriesheim, Baden-Württemberg in June. Photo: DPA

Poor staffing and groups that are too large: Germany’s Bertelsmann Stiftung (Foundation) considers early childhood support to be at risk in many areas, even amid small improvements in recent years. 

As a result, many Kindergartens and day nurseries in Germany can only implement their educational aims to a limited extent.

Both their staffing ratio and group sizes are unsuited to children, warned professionals in view of data published by the Bertelsmann Foundation’s ‘Federal State Monitoring of Early Childhood Education Systems’ on Tuesday. 


Throughout Germany, almost three in four children attend a Kita or day nursery with too few staff: there were 4.2 day nursery children per Kita teacher, according to figures from the 2019 census. 

In Kindergartens, the figure was as large as 8.8 children per teacher.

Experts recommend, however, that there should be a maximum of three nursery, or 7.5 Kindergarten children, per teacher. More than half of all Kita groups nationwide were larger than the recommended size.

A balancing act

Despite the extension of the number of places available at Kitas, as well as investments in additional staff, improvements in quality over the last few years have been minor, said The Bertelsmann Foundation.

That carries consequences for the educational sector

“If a member of staff is responsible for too many children, they are unable to cater to the needs of individuals or consider personal development or family background. Individual support then falls by the wayside,” said Annette Stein, who is responsible for the Department of Early Childhood Education. 

There is an urgent need for further – and permanent – investments in quality development. “We must not lose sight of that now in the coronavirus crisis,” said Stein.

The effect of staff shortages is underlined by a study which the foundation published together with the Open University in Hagen to accompany the federal state monitoring data.

In the study, group discussions with a total of 128 Kita employees were analysed. Jutta Schütz, head of the Department for Empirical Educational Research at the university, described the results as “dramatic”. 

“Many Kita teachers speak of a balancing act between their own aspirations and a lack of time resources,” said the education researcher.

“Incredibly dedicated specialists encounter a situation in which they are unable to act professionally.”

Children play at a Kita in Bochum, North Rhine-Westphalia on August 17th. Photo: DPA

What issues do Kita teachers face in the classroom?

Overworked Kita teachers reported reactions such as raising their voice as a result of stress, or ranting for no real reason.

They also mentioned similar issues for regions and agencies: unfilled positions and too many tasks outside of the classroom – for example, taking on the role of a parent or even as a substitute caretaker. 

The size of the groups means that teachers can fulfil little more than a basic duty of supervision. “How can you ensure that you deliver an education when you have to look after 20 children by yourself?,” asked Schütz. 

“Often nothing more can be done beyond simply keeping the children safe,” she said.

READ ALSO: These are the best places in Germany to send your kids to kindergarten

“Learning at the Kita is based on a child-centered, dialogue-heavy method of teaching. Children observe and ask questions.”

Managing this, creating a stimulating environment and interacting with them on a personal level – all of this requires time and, of course, adequate staffing,” said psychologist and head of the Children and Childcare Department at the German Youth Institute, Bernhard Kalicki. 

The workload is another factor: “The noise level can increase significantly with the size of the group. This causes stress for children and teachers alike, and makes it difficult to work together”.

“The quality of Kitas still depends very much on where you live and is therefore a matter of chance,” said Kalicki. 

At the same time, he pointed out that the huge expansion in the last 15 years of available places, especially for younger children, had not come at the expense of staffing levels. 

On the contrary: the ratio has become more favourable by way of calculation, and “the quality of a Kita is always measured in multiple dimensions,” said Kalicki.

How stimulating and self-sufficient everyday life is for the children also plays a role. “It doesn't just depend on the staffing ratio, but also on the work of the management or, for example, the question of how the team communicates,” said the psychologist.


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Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!