A Place For Everyone: Germany Promises Daycare for all Parents

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And that's not the only problem: In some parts of Germany, cities are having a hard time attracting the people to the profession that it needs. Daycare professionals here are underappreciated and underpaid. One Munich daycare center has even recruited workers from debt crisis-plagued Greece to help fill the gap. In larger cities like Frankfurt, many daycare centers are having trouble finding employees. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the government underestimated how high demand would be. The Family Ministry originally assumed that parents of only one-third of children that meet the criteria would register their kids for Kita slots. The figure has since been revised to 39 percent, but in some cities, like Heidelberg or Frankfurt, the actual demand is already surging to 50 percent.

For every Irena Schauk, there's also a Hannah Dahlmeier, a 31 year old, Munich-based architect recently profiled in SPIEGEL. A university student at the time, Dahlmeier began looking in Munich for a daycare slot for her future child seven years ago when she was only in her 16th week of pregnancy. After receiving rejection after rejection, she finally had to become a stay-at-home mom. It was only after two years of regularly searching that she finally found a slot. It was like "winning the lottery," she recalled. For women like Dahlmeier in many parts of Germany, getting a future child on the waiting list for a daycare slot is something that often happens before the baby bump is even showing.

Quality Issues

Beyond infrastructure, personnel and other issues, there is a more fundamental problem that is a source of worry: the nagging one of quality. A recent report commissioned by the Federal Families Ministry and conducted by some of the most renowned educational theorists in the country found that the quality of teaching in the vast majority of daycare facilities is either mediocre or seriously lacking. Only three percent overall were deemed to be of "good" quality.

In Germany, education laws are determined by the states, but when it comes to curricula at daycare institutions, the rules are deliberately vague, with major differences across different regions. As SPIEGEL recently noted, politicians shy away from more binding curricula because they know that child care facilities could start to have problems very quickly.

But there's a cost to this, too. The study also evaluated some 2,000 children between the ages of two and four, who were divided into groups based on diverse criteria. The study found that children in only 2.6 percent of those groups were being provided with the kind of stimulation that would later help them with reading, mathematics, the sciences and other important areas of education. It also concluded that Germany's current child care infrastructure doesn't promote equal opportunities among different socio-economic groups, a problem that is being especially felt among the growing number of children of immigrant families. The researchers said that Germany's child care offerings are especially helpful to "well-educated German middle-class families," but not to "socially disadvantaged families or families with fewer educational resources."

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