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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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‘It’s their loss’: Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

The UK is missing out by barring highly skilled Italian graduates from accessing a new work visa, Italy's universities minister said on Wednesday.

'It's their loss': Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

Universities and Research Minister Cristina Messa said she was disappointed by the UK’s decision not to allow any graduates of Italian universities access to its ‘High Potential Individual’ work permit.

“They’re losing a big slice of good graduates, who would provide as many high skills…it’s their loss,” Messa said in an interview with news agency Ansa, adding that Italy would petition the UK government to alter its list to include Italian institutions.

Ranked: Italy’s best universities and how they compare worldwide

“It’s a system that Britain obviously as a sovereign state can choose to implement, but we as a government can ask (them) to revise the university rankings,” she said.

The High Potential Individual visa, which launches on May 30th, is designed to bring highly skilled workers from the world’s top universities to the UK in order to compensate for its Brexit-induced labour shortage.

Successful applicants do not require a job offer to be allowed into the country but can apply for one after arriving, meaning potential employers won’t have to pay sponsorship fees.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP.

The visa is valid for two years for those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and three years for PhD holders, with the possibility of moving into “other long-term employment routes” that will allow the individual to remain in the country long-term.

READ ALSO: Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

Italy isn’t the only European country to have been snubbed by the list, which features a total of 37 global universities for the 2021 graduation year (the scheme is open to students who have graduated in the past five years, with a different list for each graduation year since 2016).

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, EPFL Switzerland, Paris Sciences et Lettres, the University of Munich, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute are the sole European inclusions in the document, which mainly privileges US universities.

Produced by the UK’s Education Ministry, the list is reportedly based on three global rankings: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Messa said she will request that the UK consider using ‘more up-to-date indicators’, without specifying which alternative system she had in mind.