How can one

Student protests have been to no avail: Abi exams are due on Monday (archive photo)

Student protests have done no good: Abi exams are due from Monday (archive photo)

Actually, the school should start only from the 4. May gradually go off again, but for about 350.000 pupils the classroom doors go already before: They are ordered to their final examinations into the schools. The first exams are already scheduled for this Monday in Berlin, from Tuesday in Schleswig-Holstein, and in May and June in other federal states. Regardless of the shutdown, regardless of a general opening of schools, under whatever model.

Already at the end of March, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Lander in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK) had decided that the Abi examinations as well as the examinations for the Mittlerer Schulabschluss (MSA) should be partially postponed, but should be written in any case this school year despite the corona crisis "if the protection against infection permits this". On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the minister presidents of the German states met and once again explicitly gave the go-ahead – even though opposition to the tests is growing stronger, right across the republic.

"Many of us are afraid"

Just one day after the KMK decision in March, high school graduates from Hamburg had started a petition demanding that the Abi exams be canceled this year. Instead, there should be a so-called average high school diploma throughout Germany. Grades should be determined on the basis of performance over the previous four semesters.

"Many of us are afraid. Our families are in dire straits, and we’re in the middle of it with our exam preparations," says the 18-year-old, says the petition. Nothing is like before. Canceled pre-exams, chaotic online classes, having to share computers with siblings and parents, and a lack of interaction with classmates.

At the beginning, this initiative was laughed at, dismissed with the assumption that the young people wanted to get to their Abi as easily as possible. Meanwhile, the petition has about 150.000 supporters, and it is not the only one.

Several dozen petitions can be found on the Internet, aiming at an average Abitur, in Bavaria as well as in Berlin, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania or North Rhine-Westphalia, including an initiative of Abitur students in the Heinsberg district, which is particularly affected by Corona, as well as of the federal student conference. So far they have not had any effect.

"There is no egoistic desire behind it"

Lovis Danneck, 18, a high school graduate from a Cologne high school, is trying to win over the media for the issue these days. He wants to explain to as many people as possible what concerns the students have. "For the vast majority, it’s not a selfish desire to get the Abitur with as little effort as possible.", he tells SPIEGEL on the phone. "But under these conditions, to have to write the exams is simply unfair."

Classes were canceled for weeks because of the shutdown; learning the material alone at home is not the same. "We can’t make up for it if we are allowed to come back to school for a few hours just before the exams, says Danneck. At short notice, North Rhine-Westphalia’s Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs announced that schools would be reopened next week for all students taking final exams: "for exam preparation measures and lessons".

Danneck is tested in biology, for example. He had to teach himself a large part of the material that was to be covered in the exam, partly because the teacher had been absent for some time before the crisis. "I myself find it rather easy", says the 18-year-old, "but I have a computer, stable Internet, my own room, and parents I could ask for help if necessary. That’s not the case for everyone."

Danneck says he thinks of a friend who is also in the middle of his Abitur preparations but has to share a small room with two other younger siblings. "How is he supposed to concentrate on learning?"

"Frustrating that one is not heard"

You can hear Danneck’s anger, not least because the students’ concerns have received little attention in the political arena so far. "It’s frustrating not to be heard at all," the petition says, says the 18-year-old. "I don’t understand how people can be so stubborn about these exams. We are not guinea pigs, where the ministers of education can try out whether health protection works."

Miguel Gongora, chairman of the state student committee in Berlin, sees it the same way. He says, in order to prevent the Abi examinations, they tried it with an urgent appeal to education senator Sandra Scheeres, the politician finally with some hundred E-Mail bombarded and a letter to various politicians, among them the chancellor, the Federal President and all education ministers dispatched. "Every day, we are contacted by crying, angry and disappointed students who fear that they will be at a considerable disadvantage when they graduate," he says, it says in the letter.

Some politicians, teachers’ associations and unions signaled support, but not the decision-makers. Nevertheless, Gongora has been tirelessly pointing out for weeks in messages and interviews the concern of catching an infection during the exams because, despite all efforts, the necessary hygiene and spacing rules might not be observed.

Students fear contracting the corona virus and then infecting others, such as parents or grandparents who are over 60 or suffer from pre-existing conditions. Some high school graduates themselves belong to risk groups, says Gongora. "They are afraid for their lives."

"Right to physical integrity

One example is Phil Ladehof, 20, a high school graduate in Schleswig-Holstein, and a rheumatics sufferer. He tried to prevent high school graduation with an email to the chancellor. A response is yet to come. Ladehof describes his personal situation in the mail and argues with Article 2 of the Basic Law, the "right to life and physical integrity". He also fights together with 19 other high school graduates from different states under the hashtag #GerechteAbschlusse2020 for an average high school diploma.

The medication he has to take regularly suppresses his immune system. In the corona crisis, he or she is thus considered a risk patient. Ladehof visits the 13. Ulrich Walter is in the third grade at a community school in Flensburg, Germany, and his final exams are just around the corner. Schleswig-Holstein is currently planning to introduce a new school-leaving examination from the age of 21. April as one of the first countries to hold the tests.

A radical turnaround – after all, at the end of March, Schleswig-Holstein’s Minister of Education, Karin Prien (CDU), of all people, publicly advocated skipping the exams altogether and awarding a so-called average Abitur only on the basis of the preliminary grades. But then the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) met, one felt obliged to consensus and wanted to stick to the exams. Prien rowed back.

Equal chances for university places

Education Senator Scheeres in Berlin reiterated Thursday that Abi and MSA exams should go ahead as planned. The exams will start on Monday with Latin, followed by two more exams during the week, Scheeres said in an interview with RBB-Inforadio. Scheeres justifies the decision primarily by saying that the young people of Berlin should not be at a disadvantage later on in the competition for university places.

If, for example, Berlin had allowed an average Abitur, but Bavaria had not, the university entrance qualification might not have been recognized at all universities when applying for a place at university.

Also in the student body there are quite voices that for plead for an Abitur according to plan. Josefine Schwarz, for example, 19 years old and also a high school graduate in Schleswig-Holstein, is demanding that the exams start as announced. "I want to have the chance to raise my grade point average with it again", she says on the phone, "to show once again what I can do. The "Corona Holidays had used it to study and prepare for the exams, also in the hope of having a better numerus clausus on her Abi certificate.

"I need a good NC to have a better chance of getting a place at university. That’s how other high school graduates feel", says Schwarz. For her part, she has therefore started a petition demanding that the tests not should be canceled. The 19-year-old also finds the implementation justifiable because the exams are to be held under strict conditions of cleanliness and spacing rules.

Strict requirements: only with gloves on

This is also the argument of the ministers of education. Hesse had already allowed the Abitur to be written under strict conditions in times of Corona. Among other things, the Kiel cabinet laid down the following regulations:

Those who take the exam must disinfect their hands beforehand and ensure that he or she has no "respiratory symptoms" Expels.

A distance of two meters is to be maintained between the high school graduates.

Teachers who supervise should wear gloves and not touch the examination sheets.

Young people who, like Ladehof, belong to a risk group should report to the school administration in advance. This is to ensure that the 20-year-old is allowed to enter the school building through a separate entrance. He will be able to write his exam in a separate room from his classmates. His doctor had advised him to wear a protective mask during the exam for safety reasons.

"I find the idea unusual and somehow frightening", says the high school graduate. How it feels to write an exam of several hours with such a mask, he has not tried yet. In the past, he often got a headache after wearing it for a long time and got tired quickly because the mask let so little oxygen through. "I would not like to test this in the important preparation time for the Abitur."

Miguel Gongora from Berlin does not want to give up the resistance against the Abi examinations in any case. If Scheeres does not change her mind by Monday, "we will take further steps". In case of doubt, he could inform students that those who have a raised temperature could be excluded from the Berlin exams. He was disappointed with the politicians in the Senate and said, "Soon we will all be able to vote."

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