What's going on?
There is not any one single problem which has brought the students out on strike - there are a million problems in the German school system. In each of Germany's 16 federal states, the schools and thus the students' demands are different.
But the central demand is for "free education", since most states have introduced some kind of fees for universities in the last two years. School students in Berlin have to pay up to €100 for their books (that measure was introduced by Berlin's "red" government of the Social Democrats and the Left Party!).
There are a host of other problems too: classrooms are overfilled, there aren't enough teachers so classes are constantly being cancelled, and school buildings are falling apart. Most states are also reducing the number of grades in the upper-level schools, from 13 to 12 (by itself this might not be a bad thing, but students are required to learn as much in 12 years as they used to in 13).
The most recent protests in Berlin were spontaneous, because around 30,000 10th graders had to repeat a standardized maths test. The school administration had tried to save money by distributing the tests in bundles via post, but these inevitably got into the hands of students and were put on the internet. The government ordered a rerun of the exam a week later, and this led to a surprisingly large protest: 3,000 students showed up.
Another important demand of many students is the elimination of Germany's three-tiered school system. Officially, students are sorted into one of three school types (a 9-grade school, a 10-grade school or a 12/13-grade school in preparation for university) according to their abilities at the age of 10 or 11.
But as virtually all studies by government and international institutions show, this system places young people from poor and immigrant families at a massive disadvantage. So many school students' protests raise the demand "No to social selection!" or "For one school for everyone!" But these demands unfortunately aren't raised at all protests, since they are often organized by students from the upper tier, the gymnasium, who might enjoy their privileges and feelings of superiority.
The impressive thing about the school students' strikes has been the organisation of the base, with very little support from left parties or trade unions. A number of school students formed strike committees, politics workshops and left groups to mobilise at their schools. The dissatisfaction among the school students is such that only a small spark was needed to bring forth large protests.
It was a small group from Tübingen, the Free Students' Organization, that called for a national strike day on 12 June - this led to a day of protest with 15,000 participants! Two students from Berlin made a web site with a call for a strike against the rerun of the math test - and four days later 3,000 students came to the protest!
As the independent youth organization REVOLUTION points out in a recent statement: "Of the eight million school students in Germany, only a tiny fraction have demonstrated so far - but these 25,000 students could be the first activists of a really large students' movement." A number of student's initiatives are calling for a "hot autumn" with a "national education strike" (of school and university students) on 12 November with a series of protests and conferences beforehand.
by Wladek Flakin, from the independent youth organization REVOLUTION ( http://www.onesolutionrevolution.org)