Interview: Schleswig-Holstein as a role model: Minister of Culture Karin Prien for nationwide vaccinations in schools

Berlin The new President of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) for 2022, Schleswig-Holstein’s Minister of Education Karin Prien, is against a nationwide extension of the Christmas holidays, as most recently by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). “In my opinion, there is neither a legal basis nor an objective justification for such a comprehensive school closure in all federal states,” said the CDU politician in an interview with the Handelsblatt.

Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt preferred the start of the holidays. Thuringia extends the vacation by two days and initially only offers distance learning until mid-January.

Despite the Omikron mutant of the coronavirus, according to Prien, schools can generally be closed “only in extreme emergencies”. For teaching, she recommends the use of CO2 traffic lights, which “cost significantly less than 100 euros”. They indicate when it is time to ventilate. Intermittent ventilation every 20 minutes for two to three minutes at a time is “quite reasonable”.

Prien, who also wants to become vice-chairman of the CDU, also advocates vaccination across the board in schools. Her state is leading the way: “At the beginning of August, Schleswig-Holstein was the first state to have comprehensive vaccinations in secondary schools,” she said. “We already have more than 70 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds vaccinated at least once, so we’re way ahead.”

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Read the full interview here:

Ms. Prien, you are the third KMK president in the pandemic – have we learned not to fight Corona at the children’s expense?
The social attitude has changed positively. At least it is now clear to everyone that we can only close schools in an extreme emergency.

Can you rule out that that won’t happen if Omikron hits us with full force?
The pandemic teaches humility – even when it comes to forecasts. I can only say: schools should be closed last.

Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg and Thuringia have extended the Christmas holidays, do you understand that?
In my opinion, there is neither a legal basis nor an objective justification for such a comprehensive school closure in all federal states.

In the meantime, vaccination is even carried out in churches – why not in schools? That was normal in the 70s.
We’ll be there: At the beginning of August, Schleswig-Holstein was the first state with nationwide vaccinations at secondary schools. We have already had more than 70 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds vaccinated at least once, which means we are way ahead.

The education ministers always say that schools are not pandemic drivers. However, the group of five to 19 year olds has one of the highest incidences.
But that says nothing about where they are infected. The infection process in schools follows that in the general population – it does not start there. And of course, many children up to the age of eleven are still unvaccinated.

The colder it gets, the less there is ventilation. CO2 traffic lights that show when it is time would be helpful. Why aren’t they standard?
CO2 traffic lights make sense and cost significantly less than 100 euros. Whereby every 20 minutes two to three minutes of intermittent ventilation is quite reasonable. The problem is more that in some schools the windows are also opened permanently in winter.

Hamburg is proud to have equipped all classes with air filters. They are in short supply elsewhere. Are education ministers and municipalities saving at the expense of our children?
In well-ventilated rooms, the marginal utility of mobile air filters is low. Hamburg also has no lower numbers of infections in schools than Schleswig-Holstein, for example. Very important: the devices are not a substitute for ventilation. If they tempt you to ventilate less, it would be catastrophic. In addition, some of them are being abolished on site because they are so loud and need a lot of electricity.

Another topic: The economy lacks STEM workers en masse. The schools lack many thousands of math, chemistry and physics teachers. For the first time, the KMK wants to recruit young talent on a massive scale – how?
The main thing is: How do we create an alliance for good teacher education so that young people take up the teaching profession? We have already done a lot in Schleswig-Holstein in recent years: a permanent advice center hotline, we have made more and better lateral and lateral entrances possible, increased the salaries of primary school teachers, created more study places and traineeships. But in the MINT courses in particular, we have to ensure that the students persevere. We are improving career orientation, especially in upper school, going to every job fair and have introduced a voluntary social year school in which 200 young people are already taking part. But it’s also all about social recognition of this profession.

Pedagogy is also a problem: a support program should ensure that math lessons get better. When can the economy expect more young people to want to become technicians, engineers, mathematicians or IT specialists?
We are making progress: We will start in Schleswig-Holstein in 2022 with computer science as a compulsory subject and we already have most of the new students in computer science. But it’s true: the humanities and languages ​​are still fancier here – unlike in Asia or the USA. But I believe that both the pandemic and the climate crisis are helping to increase interest in STEM subjects among us too.

Corona has torn huge learning gaps. One does not get the impression that they are being closed with great verve.
After the summer vacation, the children first had to get back to school. I also worry more about psychosocial problems than knowledge gaps. Then the learning levels were recorded. We already have a wide range of additional programs in schools. Incidentally, the deficits are very different: they are not significant at secondary level one, but there is a measurable deterioration in primary schools, especially when it comes to reading. Weaker students and more boys than girls are particularly affected. So there is a need for individually tailored offers. It will take time to catch up here. For this we also need further help from the federal government.

The traffic light promises a lot of money as well as social workers for 8000 schools with many weaker students. A good idea?
It is absolutely right to specifically support children who have a particularly difficult time because of their origin and therefore need more resources. We and a few other countries ourselves already distribute funds according to a social index. I hope that the federal program will come quickly and unbureaucratically and that it will be compatible with existing programs.

The federal government is also promising a reduction in bureaucracy for the permanent construction site of digitization. How exactly does the expansion of the IT infrastructure fail?
Above all, there is a problem with the implementation, often due to the lack of staff in the municipalities. That is a fundamental problem with the necessary modernization of the state. The federal government could create incentives for faster processing – and allow the municipalities to purchase planning capacities externally from Digital Pact funds if necessary. But I admit that we countries also have to become more agile in some areas when it comes to implementation.

In the federal CDU you would like to become one of the deputies of the new party leader Friedrich Merz. Does the party have to position itself differently in school policy?
Again, we need to review positions. We need a debate about a more cooperative educational federalism – the countries must work together better for the benefit of children and young people, and on the basis of scientific knowledge, not ideology. I am glad that the school system in the Union is no longer an issue – because the two-tier system has proven itself. We also agree that we need many more all-day schools – but we shouldn’t force them on parents as a bound all-day school.

Schleswig-Holstein, Saarland and North Rhine-Westphalia will vote in 2022. What contribution can the federal party make to ensure that the CDU prime ministers reverse the trend and remain in office?
It is important that the party is now very quickly sorted in terms of personnel and that everyone stands behind Friedrich Merz so that the content-related and strategic work can move forward quickly.

Friedrich Merz

The new leader of the Christian Democrats is particularly popular with the grassroots.

(Photo: dpa)

Should Friedrich Merz also take over the chairmanship of the parliamentary group?
That is a question that must be clarified in the Union parliamentary group in the Bundestag in due course. I don’t have to give any wise advice at this point.

Is good opposition work the same as an attack, such as the threat of taking the budget to the Federal Constitutional Court?
I wouldn’t call that aggressive. Good opposition must attack where the government is clearly wrong – but must also be factual and constructive and, above all, make proposals that are convincing in terms of content.

Angela Merkel is gone, now there are almost no women in leading positions in the CDU.
I cannot share the observation like that. We have women in leading positions in many places, be it at state level or on the federal executive board. The Mittelstands- und Wirtschaftsunion (MIT) has just elected a woman, Gitta Connemann, as chairperson, and many women will again be candidates for the new board and presidium. But that does not mean that we are already well positioned. We have to get better.

Does the party need a real quota for women?
The federal board has found a good compromise here. According to this, a quota for women will not be introduced immediately, but gradually until 2025. Unfortunately, the party congress in January cannot vote on it because of the digital format, but we should finally do so at the next face-to-face congress as soon as possible. Merz has also announced that he is behind this proposal.

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