Private schools help shrinking German towns
By Carolyn Beeler, AFP
December 22, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
BRIESEN, Germany--Peeling paint and boarded-up windows mark the tiny main street in the eastern German village of Briesen where a new private high school improbably stands.
Briesen High School is among a growing number of private schools replacing their shuttered state predecessors, closed when enrolment sinks too low, as local communities look for new ways to grapple with the impact of an ageing population.
“The state has completely abandoned the region,” said Peter Stumm, long-time head of the Briesen area's local council.
Private schools are on the rise nationwide but the increase is especially strong — nearly doubling from 2000 to 2011 — in the ex-communist East, where the demographic crunch is felt the most.
Headmistress Cynthia Werner stressed the benefits that Briesen's new school can offer its 78 pupils as she handed an ice pack out of the fridge in her office to an injured student.
“Because we are a small school, we understand each other's needs here, we have an understanding of how the collective works,” Werner, wearing a floor-length purple skirt and dreadlocks, told AFP.
Germany's overall birth rate is one of the lowest in the industrialized world, and the population was found this year to be 1.5 million smaller than previously thought in the first census since before its 1990 reunification.
Births in Brandenburg, the eastern state where Briesen is located, have stabilized in recent years after a collapse following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But because of an expected “generational echo,” planners are already preparing for the number of births to nearly halve by 2030.
Faced with small class sizes in 2007, the state school in Briesen was closed.
“It was sad, really sad, and a shame for the kids,” said mother Kerstin Kaul, 46, who worried about a commute to a town 20 kilometers away for her daughter.
Community leaders thought that without a high school, the shrinking population in Briesen and surrounding areas would be further hit.
“If students have to go to a secondary school in the towns, in the cities, they won't get an apprenticeship that's useful for this agricultural region here,” said Roland Meister, who in 2009 was the founding headmaster of the private school.
“They will stay and work wherever they went away to school, not come back here,” he said.
Why Move Somewhere With No School?
Non-vocational schools in Germany have decreased to about 34,000 in 2012 from about 44,000 in 1992, according to federal statistics.
In eastern states, where a post-communism slump in births led to even starker demographic change, their number almost halved.
“If you are a young person who wants to have kids, have a family, would you move to an area where there is no school? That's exactly why we need one,” Stumm said.