Arne Koopmann runs a crèche and two kindergartens, but sometimes he feels like he’s being looked after in a furniture store’s ball pit. “According to the motto: The main thing is that someone looks after the children and the parents can go to work.” The 45-year-old would like to meet the demands placed on day care centers: provide early childhood education, compensate for language and social deficits, prepare children well for school in every respect. But politics often make it difficult for him.
Day care centers – i.e. crèches and kindergartens – have been considered educational institutions since the Pisa shock in 2000 at the latest. This is where the cornerstone for further educational biography is laid, especially children from socially disadvantaged families should have better chances through early support. So much for the claim. However, day-care centers are rarely taken seriously as educational institutions and equipped accordingly.
This is exemplified by two debates: School ministers in particular are discussing a compulsory day-care center for children with poor German skills. At the same time, the federal and state governments have been struggling for months to continue a well-functioning support program, the language daycare center. The federal government would like to withdraw from the financing, but most of the states – which are responsible for daycare centers – cannot or do not want to take over the costs in the short term. Many actors with different responsibilities – and no common line.
Can day-care centers solve the problems of primary schools?
The primary school children are the triggers for the debate about compulsory day care. The IQB education trend has recently revealed that far too many fourth graders have very poor reading, arithmetic and listening skills and that it’s not just because of the school closures during the pandemic. In some federal states, barely half achieve the minimum spelling requirements, in others one in three fails at the minimum competency level in math. The performance of students who were born abroad has declined the most.
So what to do? While federal states with particularly poor results are considering subtle changes in schools, Karin Prien (CDU), Minister of Education in Schleswig-Holstein and President of the Conference of Ministers of Education (KMK), is looking for a solution outside of her area of responsibility. It brings a year of compulsory daycare into play. The CDU Presidium agrees with Prien’s proposal, and the German Teachers’ Association also supports the idea. The fact that the childcare rate in the year before school starts is very high anyway and that there are already language tests and support for preschoolers in some federal states speaks against this. Critics suggest that To strengthen language support by equipping day-care centers with sufficient specialists.
There is already an established funding program for precisely this purpose, the effectiveness of which has even been scientifically proven: the so-called language day-care centres. The program enables institutions with children in need to hire additional specialists who are familiar with language education. These come into play at several points: they support the children, pass on their knowledge to team members and advise parents on how they can best support their offspring.
The need for support is twice as high as before the pandemic
In the last seven years, 7,500 part-time jobs have been funded, about one in eight daycare in Germany has benefited from this. However, the federal government wants to end the program. In July it was said that the end of December would be the end. After a long back and forth, Federal Minister for Family Affairs Lisa Paus from the Greens announced at the beginning of the week that payments would be six months longer – but then the federal states would have to take over.
Arne Koopmann employs two language daycare workers. He finds the debate at this point in time “simply crazy”. 200 children are cared for in his facilities in Großkneten in Lower Saxony, about 80 percent have language deficits. Among them are many children of German native speakers, emphasizes Koopmann. A study by the German Youth Institute and the Robert Koch Institute has just shown that the need for language support in daycare centers is almost twice as high as before the pandemic. There are also thousands of Ukrainian children who are supposed to learn German.
Koopmann is also bothered by the unclear course of the federal government. The SPD, Greens and FDP actually wanted to expand the language day-care centers, according to the coalition agreement. Now money should continue to flow into language support, but in a different way. You have to know: Since 2019, the federal government has given the federal states 5.5 billion euros via the Good Daycare Act. However, many did not use the money to improve educational quality and hire staff. They would rather lower the fees.
“A lot of frustration, disappointment and anger”
In the next two years, the federal states are to receive another four billion euros from the federal government, this time under the name of the Kita Quality Act and with stricter conditions on how the money is to be used. The language day-care centers could be paid for from this pot, says Federal Family Minister Paus. This year, these will cost 184 million euros nationwide. However, the Kita Quality Act has not yet been passed. Experts and those affected also fear that the structures and competencies that have developed over many years will be lost as a result of the change in responsibility of the federal states.
Wenke Stadach, daycare manager in Neubrandenburg, is nevertheless initially relieved that the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs has given in. In August, she launched a petition to save the language daycare centers. Within seven weeks, 277,000 people signed. In mid-October, Stadach described her concern to the Bundestag’s Petitions Committee and pleaded for a transitional period of two years, now it’s six months. “The fact that everyone likes the language day-care centers but nothing has moved for so long was a very bad signal to us professionals,” says Stadach, there was “a lot of frustration, disappointment and anger”.
It will depend on these skilled workers whether and how crèches and kindergartens will be able to fulfill their educational mandate in the future. Not only by their motivation, but also by their number. Studies and the experience of many parents show that there are already too few educators and childcare workers in numerous institutions who are responsible for too many children.