Madam Minister, can you actually still hear it in the school’s e-mails?
Yvonne Gebauer: School emails are the medium of communication with schools and have been extremely important during the pandemic. It is usually part of the education policy to plan well in advance. But that was not always possible under Corona. Many basic and far-reaching decisions had to be made in real time. And that was the case in all 16 states. After the Prime Minister’s Conference had met on Wednesday, we were to discuss and coordinate the implementation of the decisions between the individual departments of the state government on Thursday. In the end, there were over 100 school emails during the pandemic, with only four being sent on a Friday, and two of them being an action for the following Monday. I accept the criticism, but unfortunately it was often not possible to communicate earlier.
In light of the small number of cases, do you see this as a campaign by political opponents against you personally?
built: I have seen this as a campaign against the Ministry of Education in many cases, especially since the campaign started. Education policy was and always is the focus of state elections, and even more so in the Corona pandemic. The opposition has worked through the strict corona measures and easing on behalf of the entire pandemic policy. Things were often repeated over and over again, which were demonstrably wrong, such as the accusation that there were too few or even ineffective tests, although the producers and also the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which reports to the Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach, proved early on that this was that is not the case. In retrospect, our face-to-face course was confirmed by the opposition and in all other countries.
Can you stand it?
built: Yes, I can endure it because I did the right thing for our children and young people with my face-to-face teaching course. It’s not about me either. The bad thing about the opposition’s criticism was and is that it made families feel insecure. I think it is irresponsible that the opposition, despite knowing better, continues to repeat a demonstrably inaccurate accusation, thereby disturbing teachers, parents and students. This is not appropriate in a crisis situation such as the corona pandemic.
Return to the G9, remedial schools rescued and peace in schools restored. Their record was impressive, and then came Corona. What would you have done differently from today’s perspective?
built: I have always involved parents, teachers and students in all our Corona decisions and have been advised by experts such as pediatricians and child psychologists. But in the pandemic, it is difficult to compensate for or even overcome the division in society over the corona measures. All 16 school ministries in Germany had to contend with this challenge. And most of the time, critics speak louder than those who agree with politics.
Have you increasingly perceived teachers ‘and parents’ associations as opponents during the pandemic? Who was encouraging at all?
built: There was great encouragement for the educational policy successes such as the successful transition in high school from G8 to G9, preservation of special schools, introduction of economics and computer science subjects or opening of the police force for the middle school certificate. These are the school-related decisions I made and implemented as Minister of Education, and they have found the greatest possible acceptance in the population. Securing school social work and digitization are further successes.
At an election campaign event in Bielefeld SPD, a boy asked the SPD candidate: “Should I wear a mask to school again if I vote for you?” Did we expect the kids to do too much?
built: After two years of the pandemic, we all see and know from pediatricians and child psychologists how the pandemic and measures such as social isolation, constant distancing or the mask have particularly affected children. Right from the start, I have fought hard for as much normality as possible and to teach face to face and keep our schools open. We always kept a very close eye on the course of the pandemic and adapted the protective measures, such as the obligation to test and wear masks accordingly. We can only expect our children to take action as long as it is absolutely necessary, I have always emphasized that. In order to maintain the classroom teaching, the mask was a suitable approach to the top phase of the pandemic. It has always been important to me that children need other children, that children experience structure through school, that school is more than an educational institution, namely a place for social interaction. And that is why it was and is true that we kept the schools open for teaching.
Your party defends you most strongly against criticism. How do you handle the fact that you are a target for political opponents and that you as a person can be the reason why your party loses votes?
built: I am pleased with the FDP’s common political successes in school and education policy. It was and is clear to me that as a decision-maker in such an office one should not be rigid and receive both encouragement and criticism. Nevertheless, the brutalization of language in social networks shocks me. Regardless of current disputes, this is a fundamental social issue for the future. In addition to the parental home, the school, as a place for democracy and respect, also has the task of using media competence and teaching to show children and young people how to critically assess digital content. And it should be clear that some behavior on the internet, just like in the real world, is not okay. There are also rules on the internet and in social networks.
Five years ago, the green school policy was the main reason for the change of government from red-green to black-yellow. How much should the citizens of North Rhine-Westphalia fear a return to green school policy if the Greens take over the Ministry of Education?
built: Judging by the Greens’ election program, we must really fear that, first and foremost, an ideological school policy will come again. When I hear that school grades are being abolished, I consider it, along with other approaches, to be gross ideological nonsense. The comprehensive school is also still the Greens’ goal. All of this would jeopardize many children’s educational opportunities. In addition, there is no clear commitment from the Greens to the preservation of special schools, which should fear for their existence in the event of a green-led Ministry of Education, as was the case before 2017. I can only warn against all this. We need a good, inclusive public school system with the quality criteria we have created, but we also need a nationwide selection of special schools to do justice to all children with disabilities.
Should there be a three-party coalition with the FDP and the Greens after the state election, should the FDP then do everything to keep the Ministry of Education?
built: It will certainly take more than one legislative period to remove the red-green legacy, especially the huge shortage of teachers. What matters is what is agreed in the coalition agreement. This reflects the efforts of the government. Therefore, we as liberals would have to negotiate in such a way that a backward-looking school policy, as the Greens want, would be impossible, and that requires a strong FDP next Sunday.