German day care fees hit low-income families the hardest — study
How much parents in Germany pay for day care varies wildly depending on where they live, a study has found. Though low-income families are impacted the most, researchers are skeptical of plans to scrap fees altogether.
The financial burden of day care fees is unfairly distributed across Germany, with low-income families bearing the brunt, according to a study published on Monday by the Bertelsmann Foundation.
Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has said they want to get rid of the fees, researchers are unconvinced that will help fix the system's issues, and indeed make things worse.
Read more: Germany moves to improve child vaccination rate
What the study found:
- Parents in Germany pay between €12 to €400 ($14 to $467) per month for day care, with an average of €169.
- Low-income families end up paying an average of 9.8 percent of their monthly income in day care fees while wealthier families pay 5.1 percent.
- Additionally, families are asked to pay fees for meals, hygienic products and field trips regardless of their income — meaning an extra burden for low-income families as well.
- The disparity between Germany's states was also large in terms of price and quality. Parents living in Berlin pay an average of 2 percent of their monthly income in day care fees. In the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, day care costs an average 8.9 percent of parents' monthly income.
- Parents also said they would be willing to pay more for day care if it meant quality at the centers would increase.
- The Bertelsmann Foundation partnered with political research institute Infratest dimap to survey 10,491 parents across Germany about day care costs for the study last fall.
The most important part of every German child's first day of school is the "Schultüte," or school cone. Apparently the thought of attending school every day for the next 12-13 years has to be "sweetened" with candy and presents - a tradition that dates back to the early 19th century. Parents fill the cones, either homemade or purchased, with treats, school supplies and small gifts.
Most children in Germany are six years old when they start school in August or September, depending on which state they live in. The majority of them have already spent a few years in daycare or pre-school, which is not part of the public school and is less pedagogical in nature. For kids in Germany - and often their parents too -, first grade is a big adjustment.
Ahead of the first day of school, parents buy their new first-grader a backpack, known as a "Schulranzen." They're often made with a square frame to make sure papers don't get bent and snacks don't get squished. Later, their jeans brand will be important, but for first-graders, it's crucial to have the trendiest design on their backpack. Star Wars and Superman never go out of style.
After they get their square backpack, it will need to be filled with pens, pencils, rulers and folders ahead of the first day. In Germany, particularly younger children often don't have lunch at school. Instead, they have a mid-morning snack time and go home or to daycare for a late lunch. To transport their "Pausenbrot," or "break bread," they'll need an appropriate box.
Many kids around the world pose for a first day of school photo. In Germany, they hold up their unopened "Schultüte" - which is often larger than they are - along with a sign reading something like "My first day of school." For many children, it's not the highlight of their big day.
The first day of school in Germany doesn't start with school - but with a special ceremony. Parents, relatives and godparents are invited to join in. An ecumenical church service is usually included in the tradition, giving the young pupils a special blessing as they mark a right of passage and embark on their educational journey. Some schools offer an interreligious ceremony for Muslim pupils.
During the ceremony, older children or teachers often give a small performance and explain to the newcomers how school works. In some schools, first-graders are assigned a buddy from third or fourth grade to show them the ropes.
A tour of the school is included in the introductory festivities and first-graders are shown their new classrooms, which are labeled "1A," "1B," "1C," etc. depending on the size of the school. This chalkboard reads, "Welcome, class 1A."
After the ceremony at school, families organize their own celebrations. Grandparents, relatives, godparents and friends are invited for a meal or cake to see the youngster of honor off into the brave new world of education. The first-graders themselves probably get annoyed at all the head patting and cheek squeezing - but they usually get a few presents to make up for it.
After the ceremony is over, the cake has been eaten and the cone of goodies unpacked, the first day of school draws to a close. The next day, the first-graders have to find their new classrooms for their first lesson. Elementary school in Germany includes grades one to four. After that, pupils move on to one of three different levels of secondary schools, depending on their academic performance.
Skepticism over government plans
Germany's family minister said the study's results have strengthened the government's resolve to go through with plans to gradually do away with day care fees.
"The parent's income must not decide when and if children attend a day care center. A central pillar of our 'Good Day care Act' is therefore introducing fee exemptions," Franziska Giffey said in a statement. She also noted that Berlin has allocated €3.5 billion for day cares over the next three years.
The study's researchers, however, are skeptical of the government's plans, saying the money won't be enough.
Jörg Dräger, a member of the Bertelsmann Foundation board, noted that €15.3 billion per year is needed to improve the quality of day cares around the country. If day care fees are done away with, it is likely the quality and number of personnel will suffer, the researchers concluded.
"The political promise of fee exemptions is lacking financial substance," Dräger said in a statement.
Read more: Germany works to level playing field for disadvantaged students
Who is guaranteed a day care spot? In 2013, a law went into effect guaranteeing a spot in day care to children between the ages of one and three. Since then, Germany's states, cities and local municipalities have struggled at times to expand the offer of day care offerings. Kindergartens are not mandatory and are also therefore not free. School is compulsory only for children starting at age six.
The struggle for childcare in Germany: A lack of day care centers in urban areas and trained personnel to run them has sparked protests and strikes over the past few years in Germany. Cities like Berlin, Leipzig and Cologne are especially hard hit by a lack of day care spaces.
rs/kms (dpa, epd, KNA)
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