CERI - More about the German Speaking Seminars

 

Impetus and Circumstances of Co-operation

The idea to conduct regional seminars arose out of CERI initiatives for its project, "Evaluation of Innovations in Schools". One goal was to take stock of major educational reforms in various countries. Another was to create the means for more systematic evaluation of educational innovations.

These thoughts were uppermost as Germany and Austria --together with primarily German-speaking Switzerland-- took the initiative for a first joint regional seminar. Despite differences in developments, these three countries were faced with similar circumstances in 1977.

The planning phase and the vigorous efforts at far-reaching reforms in education exceeded expectations. However, the implementation of reforms was delayed for various reasons.

The reform process met with particular obstacles in the implementation of organisational reforms. The deadlines for major educational changes were too tight; the problems of implementation were worse than anticipated. Some innovations were more complex than realised; the ramifications of others had not been entirely thought through. Funding projections in the early 70's were overly optimistic, severely limited by the breakdown of generally positive economic developments. As in other European countries, it was premature for the three countries to expand their educational systems before achieving a firmer quantitative footing. Major social groups did not welcome current developments, and were even sceptical about systematic educational reforms. Given these circumstances, it became crucial for the three countries to exchange their experiences about developmental goals, successes and failures. Concern focused on the problem of creating a means of evaluation with a firm scientific footing which could be effectively employed in education policy. The wish to continue reforms in education made it imperative to look to comparable international developments for guidance on how to deal with the situation at home.

From the outset, the participating countries were uninterested in academic discourse. Their goal was to analyse real, innovative situations and distill criteria and guidance for evaluating previous efforts and for other steps and developmental measures. To this end, qualified administrators, scholars and practitioners were assembled into a working group. This was necessary because each of the three -- administrators, scholars and practitioners -- had experience and knowledge to offer which had to be merged to arrive at an overall evaluation.

Conditions for constructive co-operation among Germany, Austria and Switzerland were and remain good: First, the three share frontiers and have therefore had close contact for centuries. Their common language not only facilitates direct communication among scholars, practitioners and administrators attending the seminars, but permits easy reading of papers submitted on educational issues in the three countries. Despite differing governmental and social developments, the three countries moreover have a sense of historical and cultural kinship.

They also each have a federal structure, despite differing political and institutional structures. All three are economically and socially sophisticated, facing similar social problems and challenges in the development of their educational systems. Moreover, a largely common scientific tradition in education research has always permitted ready co-operation among the three. The three have also always sought to achieve balance between centralised administration and decentralised accountability in developing their educational systems. Despite differences in organisation and content, the development of the educational systems in the three countries shows evidence of substantial agreement on fundamentals and on design goals for the educational system. This is especially true with regard to basic education for all pupils in compulsory school, for the prerequisites for admission to post-secondary schools ("Hochschulen"), for the design of vocational training systems, and the importance of the school's role in awarding degrees and certificates.

Another important aspect of close similarity is the dual system of vocational training, which the OECD has already noted in various contexts. Economics, culture and tourism among the three have acquainted each country quite well with living conditions in the other two. For that reason, each country is sensitive and very receptive to conditions of life, society and education in the others. This is an excellent and indeed necessary pre-condition for a trusting and open co-operation.

Planning, Implementation, Evaluation and Financing

The 23 years of co-operation among the three German-speaking countries in the planning and implementation of regional seminars has made it possible to come to a stable system of co-operation, one which includes a reliable store of instruments and procedures.

Steering Committee

The steering committee is the central supervisory board in charge of conducting the seminars. It is also a forum for discussion of planning and innovation issues. CERI representatives work with the committee on an on-going basis. The board is composed of high-ranking officials from the three countries. It has been useful to also have scholars who are familiar with development problems and with school research findings take part in meetings.

The work of the committee is primarily to:

  • discuss school development problems in the three countries
  • create major topics for the countries' seminars
  • consult on the content and organisational design of the seminars
  • select participating scholars and sample case studies
  • analyse and disseminate the common and cross-border results from the seminars.

The work of the steering committee has stood the test of time. Over the years, a trusting consultative climate has developed which permits candid discussion with an eye to future developments. Over the years, it has become possible to gather experience and to design efficient working and planning procedures.

Applying their knowledge of developments in all participating countries, the members of the steering committee have developed a high level of judgement regarding the problems and developments of education in all three countries.

Also very important, the board has spontaneously sought to build consensus on all issues of content and organisation regarding the design of regional seminars. This has ensured respect for national peculiarities while permitting deference to overall development problems and possibilities.

Scholarly Contributions

Scholars of international standing from each country have participated in all regional seminars, drawn from a variety of disciplines. Consequently, the "state of the art" of school research could be presented along with input from the education and sociology fields on the reform requirements of the school system. Moreover, scholarly contributions have greatly enhanced the analysis of case studies and systematic consideration of specific results.

Case Studies

Case studies from the participating countries were presented and analysed as part of the format of every regional seminar. According to the seminar topic, development examples were selected from suggestions made by individual countries. Examples were selected based on their relevance for particular approaches and the general applicability of their results. Case studies and scholarly papers have to be viewed together: Case studies document problems of practical application, while scholarly papers typically offer concepts and guiding principles. The juxtaposition produced important insights regarding the tension between aims and concepts on the one hand, and between the problems of practical application and acceptance on the other.

Composite Working Groups

In all seminars, presentation segments alternated with discussion segments. The working groups which performed analysis and evaluation of scholarly papers and case studies were always a composite of scholars, practitioners and administrators. This mix promoted dialogue among the groups as a whole while permitting differences of analysis and opinion. Moreover, the three different groups of participants learned to talk to one another, credit the others' positions and weigh them in forming their own views.

Evaluation, Information, Publication
All seminars were first memorialised through summary reports, most particularly, the general report. The steering committee then performed a systematic review of the proceedings, both as to content and work procedures, improving on them as appropriate for the next seminar. The entire seminar proceedings were published jointly by the three countries. The publications were discussed in the administration, in professional journals and among scholars and other interested members of the general public. Other publications in the three countries also reported on the seminars and their findings.

Financing

The three countries have invested substantial funds since 1977 in conducting the regional seminars and in the related planning and evaluation efforts. The steering committee meets three or four times a year in alternating host countries, and is usually attended by 10 or 15 people. The seminars usually have an attendance of about 80 from the three countries. Apart from this, there are the costs for scholarly invitees and other experts as well as for expert reports ("Gutachten") and publications. Ordinarily, each country bears the expenses for its representatives. Each country takes a turn organising the seminar and bears those extra costs.

Perspectives for Continued Co-operation

The three countries are all resolved to continue their co-operation. Planning is underway for the fourth round of seminars. As to content, planning is now focused on the demands which education must meet as we increasingly develop into a "Learning Society".

With this overall topic, the three countries will treat a host of concrete development problems in the years to come. Among these are:

  • the issue of the primary orientation, determined by societal consensus, for differing local and regional development scenarios
  • a new establishment of decision-making procedures, in particular, the role and work approach assigned to government, the school district and the individual schools
  • the selection of topics for education research and school and model experiments
  • modification of the passage to post-secondary schools ("Hochschulen") and vocational training, in particular, the design of that training system as a co-operation between school and business
  • the issue of curriculum requirements and methodological basic education in compulsory school for all pupils
  • the issue of expansion and modification of teacher professionalism and ways to accelerate the improvement of teacher competence
  • the provision of methods for self-evaluation and third-party evaluation for standardised application of multifaceted reforms in individual schools.

On the whole, the future co-operation will be designed to permit immediate response to development demands in the three countries while respecting stable international development trends.

As the most vital instrument for co-operation, biannual regional seminars will continue. The work of the steering committee will be expanded to include discussions of education planning and strategic innovation issues beyond the topics dealt with at the seminars.

In principal, the steering committee also advocates broader attendance of its seminars. Decisions will be made on an ad hoc basis, however, depending on the seminar topic and locale. For the present, the current three-country structure of the steering committee will remain unchanged.

The steering committee is keen to continue its co-operation with the CERI Governing Board and to intensify it in future. Its reporting on its activities to the Governing Board is to be augmented. Its seminar topics will be keyed more precisely to CERI projects.

The steering committee assumes that the OECD/CERI Secretariat will continue to contribute to the design of the seminars and make its translation and publication support available for dissemination of seminar proceedings to the other OECD countries.