Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Germany’s schools system fails in terms of equality of opportunity in education. Around 29% of the children in Germany are at a high risk of poverty, have unemployed parents or have parents with low educational achievement. Among children with migrant backgrounds, this number rises to 48% who share these characteristics. These children typically enter school not only with a deficit in knowledge and learning skills, but also with a lack of social skills and sense of self-efficacy. The standard school curriculum – which is usually teacher-centered, deficit-oriented and focused on academic and cognitive achievement – is mostly unable to handle this diversity and compensate for this skills gap. As a result, and as shown by numerous studies, the socio-economic background very strongly determines children’s’ educational success and career perspectives. The result is not only a moral failure of the education system but also a significant lack of skilled labor, creating a substantial drag on the German economy. In the state of North Rhine Westphalia, for example, over 600,000 jobs will remain unfilled by 2025 due to a shortage of skilled labor.
Alternative pedagogical approaches for such challenges have existed for a long time. They typically integrate social and emotional skills in curricula, are resource-oriented instead of deficit-oriented, and create peer group education settings that put children much more in charge, thereby managing to reach, teach and strengthen those that usually fall through the cracks. However, the spread of such concepts in Germany is minimal. For example, schools with alternative curricular models (like Montessori or Waldorf) make up only around 600 out of the 35,000 (usually public) schools in Germany.
The systemic barriers for a greater diffusion of peer group-oriented curricula in schools are numerous and complex. School education is a state matter, making top-down federal approaches and quick spread of citizen sector approaches impossible. Schools themselves are often underfunded and over-directed concerning their budgets and staff selection or development. In addition, different reform efforts have led to an “innovation fatigue” in many German state schools. And they have often produced an even stronger focus on academic achievement and “hard” cognitive subjects, diminishing the time for emotional and social development.
Another major factor remaining largely unaddressed in Germany is parenting. According to the PISA study, the influence of parents on the educational success of children is more than twice as big as the influence of school. However, many parents, especially those from underprivileged households, have trouble understanding how they can assume a resource-oriented perspective towards their own children and how they can support their learning at home and in day-to-day situations.
The lack of peer-based approaches continues to the wider ecosystem. Teacher training happens mostly at universities where candidates are primarily trained as experts for their subject and have very little exposure to practical teaching at schools or even peer based pedagogical setups.
The resulting, more directive teaching style has dramatic effects also on the teachers themselves; a recent study showed that 30% of all teachers suffer from exhaustion and burnout. The authors recommend that teachers need more social and emotional competencies and more practical trainings before they start their job.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Many outstanding schools have always understood that pure teacher-oriented learning cannot tap the full potential of children. They focus instead on peer education and resource orientation, i.e. the belief that schools cannot teach competencies but that schools, turning teachers into coaches, have to give children space to develop them on their own and teach them to each other. However, the actual change of school cultures towards peer-based learning has been limited to either singular institutions with dedicated principals or special chains of schools like Montessori Schools. Roman Rüdiger changes this in three ways.
Through the buddY initiative, he has developed a mechanism that allows each and every school to turn into such a peer-based institution. These schools start from what students know (and not what they don’t), and they allow each student to explore and develop, beyond cognitive skills, the essential emotional and social changemaking skills of teamwork, leadership and creativity. Through a very clever combination of partnerships and alliances, smart marketing that conveys excellence and an inclusive approach that demands high commitment and investments from schools, Roman Rüdiger has managed to reach tremendous scale. To date, Roman Rüdiger has reached 1,400 schools, over 15,000 teachers and over 500,000 children.
In addition, Roman has understood that successful education is determined not primarily in school but at home. After having identified key stumbling blocks to student success both within and outside of the school, he is broadening the focus of buddY to support parents to become teachers/coaches, too.
Roman’s third level of innovation is to use his peer-based approach to engage and educate the wider ecosystem around education and parenting, from reforming teacher education to consulting future employers.