BERLIN. Incidences among children and young people are skyrocketing into the thousands, schools are in a state of testing chaos and quarantine chaos, teachers are becoming infected en masse, parents are massively worried, and due to the lack of air filters, classrooms have to be ventilated continuously even at sub-zero temperatures. In short: In many places, teaching is hardly conceivable anymore. In this situation, the federal government’s Corona Expert Council urges policymakers to better communicate the goals of their measures. And what does the Federal Minister of Education? It appears on "Bild-TV" – and does not reveal what plan the federal government is pursuing with schools. Is there any? We document the interview in the wording.
"Bild" deputy editor-in-chief Paul Ronzheimer: You are a mother of two sons yourself. How have you experienced in recent years, it must be said by now, the pandemic policy?
Bettina Stark-Watzinger: Good morning Mr. Ronzheimer, I am a mother of two daughters.
Stark-Watzinger: Do I also think it’s great that I have two daughters. My daughters are 23 and 25, I’ve seen it more in the student area because there has been a lot of loss of education due to the closing of schools and colleges. But there are also psychosocial problems. Both are important phases in the lives of young people, they need friends, they need an environment, they need to develop, they need to try things out and that was missing and we need to make that possible and that’s why schools and colleges need to stay open.
Economy demands that parents want to put their children in schools and kindergartens. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about it politically. Husti, husti, let’s go, kids! Husti, husti.
– Jan Bohmermann😷🦠🤨 (@janboehm) February 1, 2022
"Image: What do your daughters tell you? That there again presence should be possible?
Stark-Watzinger: We must not plan the crisis only with the day today, so we must think about how to get out of the Corona restrictions again. But what is certain is that we now have to keep the schools open for the time being. Everything must be done for this. First of all, with the hygiene measures, but also with the vaccination that we have to bring to the schools, we have to make sure that there is a high level of protection there. In the case of universities, they often fall through the cracks, because you think that these are adults – they are also adults – but they are still in an important phase of life, and here you have to say that the burden is high, we see that in the demand for psychosocial counseling.
On compulsory attendance: "We have also seen that the KMK has said quite clearly that compulsory attendance is also educational justice."
"Bild": Even with compulsory presence, it still didn’t work out in Germany. For example in Berlin this is discussed again. Why can all the rules fall in other countries, in the UK even the clubs are opening again. We can’t even get it right in schools.
Stark-Watzinger: Yes, I was surprised by what happened in Par…, uh, Berlin, because we also saw that the KMK clearly said that compulsory attendance is also educational justice and, above all, the way it was communicated is, of course, very difficult for schools and parents to implement in the short term. (Background, d. Red: The state of Berlin has made presence mandatory in schools in view of a child incidence of currently 4.255 exposed. Since then, parents can keep their children at home, but there they are not entitled to distance education).
We have a somewhat different situation in our country. We have an older society, and in the part of people over 50, over 60, the vaccination rate is also not yet as high as in other countries, which makes it a bit more difficult. But we have, after all, set ourselves the clear goal as a federal government: no lockdown, but as much social life as possible with differentiated measures.
"Bild": Again, why is so much going on in the UK, but so little in our country – even in schools – where, yes, mandatory masks continue to be required? In many letters that we get at Bild, parents complain, saying that the children so many hours with masks, that is no longer possible. How do you see it?
Stark-Watzinger: I can well understand that, it is a high burden, especially for the children. It’s doing something to communication. But it’s still better than having no school than having no classes. The UK is a bit ahead of us in the omicron wave, so we’re a bit behind – and still thinking about tomorrow today and making preparations: How do we go out? What are the first steps that need to be taken to reduce the measures?
About the mask requirement: "That is still the lowest threshold for protection, because there is the possibility of cooperation"
"Image": When would that be? When do we experience our Great Britain?
Stark-Watzinger: (Repeatedly) When do we experience our Great Britain? If I knew that, I would be very happy about it. Because we could then all live on a certain day. But we do see, it is expected that we will have the peak of Omicron in mid-February and that after that the incidences will then rise again (this obviously means: sinking, d. Red.), Hospitalization rates and intensive care beds have fortunately not followed suit to the same extent. In this respect, I think that in the second half of February we can really think about how we do it.
"Image: When will the mask duty fall?
Stark-Watzinger: Mr. Ronzheimer, I wouldn’t make a bet on that, because I think that’s still the most low-threshold to have protection, because just there is the possibility of togetherness, but still a health protection.
"Image: The Chancellor has in the pandemic again and again personally ensured that schools were closed in the prime minister conferences. Why was that, do you think, and how much did this policy harm the children??
Stark-Watzinger: At the beginning of the Corona pandemic, great importance was attached to health protection, and the side effects, the serious side effects, were not yet taken into account to the same extent. That’s why it’s good and important that we as a federal government now give children a voice as well. I know it’s not easy. Many parents are also in concern, I can understand that well, but the educational equity and especially what arises in psychosocial damage is then but so profound that compulsory presence with protective measures, with the vaccination offer is the better alternative.
Schools and kindergartens would certainly like to "open up further". Unfortunately (because unprotected) there are currently all sick, in quarantine or in homeschooling because of cluster outbreaks, you human-decoupled economic lolm. https://t.co/dMO15umIRk
– Jan Bohmermann😷🦠🤨 (@janboehm) February 1, 2022
"Image: One sometimes has the feeling that Germany is a country hostile to children. Other countries open earlier and care more about these consequences. Is that so, do you also have the feeling?
Stark-Watzinger: So, in this federal government, it’s certainly not like that. We have done everything also in the sense of the infection protection law that no more area-wide school closings take place and have also done with the hygiene measures everything for the fact that above all also children get the respect, which they need. (background, d. Red.The infection protection law of the traffic light coalition, which has been in force since November, expressly prohibits the federal states from closing schools in the area.)
"Bild": When you talk about respect, it’s important that as a politician you also have this experience yourself, that you have children, you can make policy for children better if you are just not childless?
Stark-Watzinger: This is an interesting question. It helps, of course. But we as politicians are of course in exchange with the people, we are not only politicians for a party when we are in government, but we are there for the population, for the people, and in this respect we are also in exchange. Of course, it’s good to have the chance to see that directly, but you can also go through the (wobbles back and forth at the word) "Communication" on the ground learn what the situation is.
About Long Covid in children: "With good therapies and early attention to the issue, we can create antidotes there too"
"Image: Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warns again and again that there ‘ne Durchseuchung just must not be and speaks of possible Long Covid consequences. You get the feeling that first the schools were closed, then they said no, you can’t open them, and now they want to tell us again that it’s dangerous, that Long Covid could come. What does it do to you?
Stark-Watzinger: (nodded sympathetically from the word "feeling.) I am not only the Federal Minister of Education, but also the Minister of Education and Research, and we have done research on Corona very early on in the ministry, we have also promoted the production and development of vaccines, and now also the drugs, the therapies against Covid, and we have also now launched a study, a research project on the subject of Long Covid, which is something we have to work on, we are now seeing the figures from other countries, the first … … indications, which age groups, which predispositions lead to long covid, that’s a question that we should address offensively, because we will have to talk about this in the future. But I am of good cheer. With good therapies and early attention to the subject, we can create antidotes there as well. News4teachers