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“There must be no more nationwide school closures”

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Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger has warned of renewed widespread school closures to contain the corona virus. “As a result, the nationwide school closures were a mistake that we must not repeat,” said the FDP politician, looking back on the past two pandemic years. “There must be no more nationwide school closures.”

Stark-Watzinger referred to “serious side effects” such as weight gain, psychological problems and loneliness as well as significant learning deficits in children and adolescents. “There are studies that show that fourth graders are up to six months behind in reading.”

It is also about educational equity. For example, young people who get support at home and are able to learn in a self-organized manner have come through the pandemic better than those without these prerequisites.

In spring 2020 and in the following winter and spring of 2021, the federal states closed their schools for months or only operated them to a limited extent to contain the pandemic. Last winter, an amendment to the Infection Protection Act decided at the strong instigation of the FDP prevented the possibility of closing schools across the board again.

In the classes, however, there were numerous absences from teachers and students for weeks due to many corona infections and due to the quarantine regulations.

In order to reduce the educational deficits that have arisen and to cushion the social and psychological problems as a result of the pandemic, the federal government launched a Corona “catch-up program” of two billion euros for learning support programs and the increase in social projects for children, young people and families.

The state ministers of education recently called for this program to be extended and increased by a further 500 million euros.

Stark-Watzinger said: “The federal government has made two billion euros available to the federal states, which have not yet been fully spent. In this respect, this money should be used first.” As a possibility for this, she mentioned the processing of the corona consequences as a long-term process. “And I agree with the Conference of Ministers of Education. However, we have to advise on the right path.”

The minister spoke out in favor of supporting pupils “very specifically” and campaigned for the so-called start opportunities program that the traffic light coalition is planning.

This program is intended to support 4,000 schools nationwide “in a particularly difficult environment” with more money, additional social workers and better infrastructure. Stark-Watzinger said there was intensive exchange with the federal states about which schools they will be, according to which criteria they will be selected and how much money will be involved.

She announced a concept by the fall. Then you also know the dimensions. “We will now go into concrete planning and involve the federal states in the process.”