S.tephan Wassmuth was chairman of the Federal Parents’ Council for many years. He is also involved in representing the interests of the parents of eight million children and young people at general and vocational schools.
WORLD: Mr. Wassmuth, at the deliberations the Prime Minister with Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) on the Corona crisis should actually also be about tightened measures for schools on Monday. They were then taken off the agenda again under pressure from the federal states. Right?
Stephan Wassmuth: One notices time and again that the federal government and the federal states are apparently not communicating properly with one another. This is very annoying. Actually, they all have the same goal.
WORLD: That is to keep the schools open under all circumstances. Is that so wrong?
Wassmuth: The ultimate goal must be that the lessons continue – but always with the stipulation that preventive healthcare is in the foreground. Schools must not become spreading hotspots.
WORLD: The draft resolution provided for a mask requirement and alternating instruction in halved classes. In your opinion, would that be a suitable measure to prevent the spread of the pandemic in schools?
Wassmuth: In the higher grades, wearing a mask is a sensible measure, as is hybrid instruction, provided that it is technically feasible. In primary schools, however, we are critical of the mask requirement. The burden for the young students to wear masks for several hours is too high and also psychologically dangerous. You need the teachers’ facial expressions.
In addition, children of this age do not seem to be at risk. For primary schools, we believe that teaching divided into halved classes is the only option. The elementary schools have had good experiences with this in the period before the summer vacation.
WORLD: Why are the countries resisting it so much?
Wassmuth: Because we have too few teachers. What we need is a personnel offensive: student teachers who we can use for support or non-school education providers. You could even involve parents. To do this, you have to look at what is really important for the curriculum and what you can do without if necessary.
WORLD: Did you miss the preparation of the schools in the summer?
Wassmuth: Not in the schools themselves. You have prepared very well. They were rather confused by the political guidelines of the countries. The federal states have clearly done too little. They just worked on a hope and happiness motto, believing that the pandemic would somehow pass them by.
WORLD: Many countries have step-by-step plans as to when mask compulsory and divided instruction apply in schools. But the hurdles seem to be extremely high. Are the phased plans de facto suspended?
Wassmuth: That’s the way it is. Nobody sticks to it. We developed these plans together with students, parents and teachers during the summer vacation. That was a great action. At that time, a seven-day incidence of 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants was the guideline for risk level red. We are now well above this everywhere, in some circles even at 300 or 400.
But the step-by-step plans that we have drawn up together are now being overridden by politics. One has panic that it would then have to be taken tougher what to wear mask, quarantine and school closings. According to various estimates, 200,000 to 300,000 students are already in quarantine. It’s a city like Kassel. And we are still at the beginning of winter.
I do not understand that the measures that apply to the entire population should not, at least in principle, also apply in schools. This is a contradiction to itself.
WORLD: It wouldn’t work without digital lessons …
Wassmuth: That’s the old song: do I have the infrastructure to ensure that? Are the teachers well trained to deal with the new media? Many are still in their infancy.
In cases of doubt, however, it is easier for schools to train everyone in hybrid lessons online than to set up special rules for each quarantine case. At the moment the schools are definitely at their limit. Unfortunately, you have to expect that children will also fall by the wayside.
WORLD: Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) suggests using unused hotels and restaurants for teaching. A good idea?
Wassmuth: I came up with the idea six months ago. Back then everyone asked me who should pay for it. It is astonishing that politicians are now thinking about it.
The same with bus transport. Why can’t private bus companies, which are currently not allowed to drive anyway, be used to relieve local traffic? We’re always half a year late with everything. Far too much time was wasted.
WORLD: What worries do your parents bring to you?
Wassmuth: The spectrum is extremely broad. There are parents who no longer want to take their child to school because they belong to the risk group. And then there are those who want to leave everything open. I don’t see a uniform line there.
It is very much related to the private pressures that families have at home. In the eighth month of the pandemic, many simply have nerves.
WORLD: To what extent are you, as the parents’ representative, involved in the decisions?
Wassmuth: The participation, for which we have been fighting for 30 years, currently leaves a lot to be desired. We are currently suffering a loss of cooperation. Politicians make the decisions themselves and currently do not attach great importance to the opinions of teachers, students and parents. We should actually all pull together.
WORLD: What do you hear from the teachers? Are you afraid of infection?
Wassmuth: Most of all, they feel very alone. They lack the reliability and transparency of their actions.
WORLD: Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig (SPD) from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is resisting a “salami tactic” with decisions from week to week. Is she right?
Wassmuth: Counter-question: Why have the ministers of education been using exactly this salami tactic in recent months? Every week there was a new instruction, preferably sent on Friday afternoon, and the schools then had to adjust to that.
WORLD: Children should only meet with a friend, that is the appeal of the federal government. This is only a recommendation, but it has a psychological effect. Can you really encourage children to reduce social contacts when they are already sitting together in school?
Wassmuth: No. Who wants to understand Do you sit with 30 children at school, and are you only allowed to meet one in the afternoon? Nobody can understand logic, and that’s why it doesn’t work.
The argument that most illnesses take place during leisure time does not apply. How do you know where the infection really took place? Nobody in the health department can say that for sure. We only see that the contagion among young people is increasing.
WORLD: In the Special Heroes Campaign the federal government appeals to young people to heroically babble on the sofa. Even a gamer’s lifestyle is glorified in it. Is the government at its end?
Wassmuth: You can have that impression. The clip is made really fun, at first you can smile about it. But no one currently has a solution. Until the nationwide vaccination, there seems to be no other means at the moment than to hold back.
But you have to explain to people why they are allowed to work, go to school and drive around in public transport every day, but have to hold back on everything else.