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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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Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said.