Old School: German great-grandfather embarks on home education

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Berlin (AFP)

It has been a while since Gerd Kumbier, 81, set foot in a classroom, but he is once again making a return to the books to help his great-granddaughters with homeschooling while the coronavirus closes German schools.

In an apartment in Berlin-Hellersdorf, on the eastern outskirts of the capital, Kumbier leans over 9-year-old Leyla’s German notebook and observes it with deep concentration as she practices her cursive writing.

Sitting next to Leyla at the dining table is her 7-year-old sister Melina, who takes care of her own homework.

Both would normally be in class at the moment, but the worsening situation of Covid-19 in Germany prompted authorities to keep schools closed until the end of January, forcing working parents to get creative.

While Kumbier, a retired electrician, was happy to step in, he admits it’s not always easy and he sometimes has trouble grasping the material himself before he can teach the girls it.

“There are math problems here that I had to push around quickly to solve them. And then, once I figure it out, it can be hard to explain it. But we are doing it, ”he told AFP.

Leyla and Melina’s mother, who also has a younger child, is away from the apartment most of the day to train as a social worker.

The father of the children cannot take care of the childcare either because he works as a scaffolder.

Cheekily smiling, third-grader Leyla says her great-grandfather isn’t quite up to the task as an educator.

“It’s a shame as a teacher,” she quipped, adding that he should be “much stricter!”

– ‘It’s too much’ –

Although Kumbier does not win any teaching awards, the German children’s charity Die Arche (The Ark) says the girls are luckier than some other school-aged children in the area.

The organization, which supports families from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, offers homework help but the virus has forced them to move tutoring online, with children sending their work via WhatsApp or email.

“We have a lot of single parents who have three or four children in different grades in primary school, they should read everything and often they can’t, that’s too much,” said group founder Bernd Siggelkow.

And it’s hard for these kids to seek further advice from teachers, who themselves are overwhelmed with more than 20 students to watch, he added.

“The losers at the end of the day are the students who have no support at home,” he said.

Experts fear that closing schools could have lasting effects on students, especially those from poorer households or whose parents have little education.

Marcel Helbig of the Berlin Social Science Research Center warns that the disruptions caused by the pandemic will hamper the skills development of some children and have a direct impact on “the likelihood of graduating or repeating a class.”

“Social inequalities in education will continue to worsen in Germany,” he predicted.

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