A pair of German science professors on an exchange program at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke in March offered an inside look at their country's education system.
"There are certainly many differences between the education systems of Germany and the U.S.," said Dr. Franz Bogner, a biology professor at Ludwigsburg Pedagogical University. "First of all, there is no German system; there are 16 systems."
Dr. Bogner said there are 16 semi-independent states in Germany. Each state believes its system is the best, but all are funded equally, and college tuition is free, he said.
Dr. Bogner and Dr. Raimund Girwidz, a physics professor, spent nine days at UNCP exchanging information about teacher education in the sciences. Dr. Jose D'Arruda, Chair of UNCP's Chemistry and Physics Department, and Dr. Andy Ash, Chair of the Biology Department, hosted the German delegation.
The German professors sat down for a lively exchange at an afternoon roundtable with UNCP professors. At one point, Dr. D'Arruda expressed surprise that Germany has a surplus of science teachers, while the U.S. suffers from a shortage.
"You mean you have more teachers in your education pipeline than you have jobs?" Dr. D'Arruda said.
"There are always unemployed teachers in Germany," Dr. Girwidz said.
Teachers are paid very well in Germany compared to U.S. teachers, and there also are differences in the way teachers are trained, Dr. Girwidz said. Ludwigsburg Pedagogical University's only mission is to train teachers, Dr. Bogner said.
"The education of teachers is different," Dr. Bogner said. "In our country, students must decide as freshmen to be teachers. In your country, they decide on a major, then decide to go into teaching."
There is rigorous training and testing for teacher candidates, Dr. Bogner said. Practice teaching begins in the first year, and a two-year apprenticeship follows graduation. Despite many differences, there are many similarities between U.S. and German education systems.
"The financial situation in Germany is not very good," Dr. Girwidz said. "On international standardized tests, Germany did not fare well."
"We finished in the middle, while Canada and Finland fared well," Dr. Bogner said. "Politicians thought the German systems was the best in the world. This study was good politically in terms of funding for education."
The advent of the European Union stimulated exchanges in higher education across European borders, and into the U.S.
"Europe is very diverse in terms of science education, and there is discussion over the direction science education will go," Dr. Bogner said. "Most of our exchanges go on in Europe."
Besides enjoying North Carolina's beautiful early spring weather, the German pair found other things of interest at UNCP.
"We want to learn more about the integration of subjects into teacher training," Dr. Girwidz said. "We like to pick the best advantages of each system."
Dr. Girwidz said a UNCP Chemistry Department program of in-service training for teachers is also very interesting.