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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.7 Skills for innovation

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Innovation in formal education
  2. Fostering innovation through non-formal and informal learning and youth work

Innovation in formal education

Curriculum/steering documents

In Germany, responsibility for education lies largely with the federal states, which is why there is no uniform concept for innovation in formal education. The education standards to safeguard quality and innovation (Bildungsstandards zur Sicherung von Qualität und Innovation im föderalen Wettbewerb der Länder) contain some approaches and notes on innovation, as do the resolution of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz, KMK) on cultural youth education (Beschluss der Kultusministerkonferenz zur kulturellen Jugendbildung) and the KMK strategy on education in the digital world (Strategie der Kultusministerkonferenz ‚Bildung in der digitalen Welt‘). For instance, North Rhine-Westphalia amended its school legislation in 2006 to highlight the responsibility to be carried by the schools themselves. In 2012, a circular (Runderlass) was adopted to encourage more innovative projects by schools. Amongst other things, the circular opens up an opportunity for schools to trial innovative lesson organisation methods. 

From the 2017/2018 school year onwards, starting with eight model schools Bavaria will develop and trial blueprint concepts for the systematic use of digital learning and working in schools. The project is known as Digital school 2020 (Digitale Schule 2020). The project is implemented by Stiftung Bildungspakt Bayern, with exclusive support from the Bavarian Industry Association (Vereinigung der Bayerischen Wirtschaft e.V., VBW). Starting in the 2016/2017 school year, teachers at the participating schools have been trained in preparation for the trial period. The 2017/2018 school year will see the project implemented at the model schools (various subjects and grades). The model schools will regularly liaise throughout the trial period. Until the project ends in 2020, they will draw up and try out concepts and strategies for learning and working with digital media which will later be made available to all other schools in the state. In doing so, the model schools are building on existing good practices and expanding and developing these further. A scientific advisory committee is on hand to provide support and advice.

For instance, innovation will be trialled in those subject areas that require pupils to develop entrepreneurial thinking and action. These subjects vary depending on the federal state and curriculum; for instance, they may include social studies, economics, business, geography, civic education, and politics.

See also Youth Wiki > Germany > Employment & Entrepreneurship > Development of Entrepreneurship Competence 

Germany’s dual vocational training (duales System) system incorporates training in recognised training occupations (Ausbildungsberufe; 2015: 328) that is provided in vocational schools and businesses that accept apprentices. The federal government has adopted legislation to regulate the type of training (Ausbildungsordnung, AO) that is provided in-company. Recognised training occupations are referenced in Section 4 (1) of the Vocational Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz, BBiG) and Section 25 (1) of the Crafts Code (Handwerksordnung, HwO). They form the basis for the dual system of vocational training. KMK has adopted a framework curriculum for vocational training provided in vocational schools (Rahmenlehrpläne). It is aligned with the Federal Government’s training regulations for each type of occupation (Ausbildungsordnung, AO). The framework curricula and the training regulations together form the legal basis for the dual system of vocational training. The curricula generally describe what competences apprentices are expected to develop throughout their training (professional, interpersonal, social). 

For lessons in economics and social sciences taught to apprentices following commercial or technical courses at vocational schools, KMK has adopted a set of modules in cooperation with the Federal Government and the social partners. One of these is a module on personal life planning and society as well as independent and entrepreneurial thinking.

The KMK resolution on cultural youth education also references lessons and activities in the field of music, art and drama, which serve to promote students’ creative skills. There are a number of programmes to help promote these skills:

  • The programme Culture.Researcher! (Kultur.Forscher!, 2009-2016) involves schools working with cultural institutions. The project was developed by the German Children and Youth Foundation (Deutsche Kinder- und Jugendstiftung) together with the foundation PwC-Stiftung Jugend – Bildung – Kultur. Teachers and experts from the cultural field work with students to develop projects and initiatives that help children and young people to explore artistic and cultural phenomena in their personal environments and make them part of their daily lives at school. The evaluation at the end of the first project phase showed that
    • students felt particularly positive about the project when they were given an active role to play in the process,
    • they were able to actively engage with art and culture,
    • their personal skills were successfully developed,
    • almost one third of students experienced group work positively,
    • the “researcher book” (Forscherbuch), a tool for documentation and reflection, was used largely for documentation purposes,
    • the intensity of the partnerships between schools and cultural institutions varied,
    • the project helped teachers to develop their personal skills and as such was a form of training,
    • for the students, working in a non-school environment was one of the most interesting experiences.
  • The programme “Cultural agents for creative schools” (Kulturagenten für kreative Schulen) is designed to encourage children and adolescents to develop an interest in art and teach them more about art and culture. It began with a model phase (2011-2015) in the federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia. Since the 2015/16 school year the programme has been continued in the following federal states:

    Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia. The “culture agents” implement projects designed to awaken children and adolescents’ creative potential.

The initiative “Innovative higher education institutions” (Innovative Hochschule) is designed to support higher education institutions to develop a sharper transfer and innovation profile and strengthen their strategic role in the regional innovation system. It was launched in 2016 by the federal and state governments in order to promote the research-based transfer of idea, knowledge and technology. The first promotion round involved 48 selected higher education institutions.


The competition “Young researchers” (Jugend forscht), which is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) is aimed at young researchers aged 15 to 21. The first competition rounds take place at the regional and state level, then the competition progresses to the national level. Jugend forscht is a public-private partnership and a joint initiative run by the federal government, the German weekly magazine stern, the private sector, research institutions and schools. Its patron is the Federal President. Winners in 2021 (Gewinner 2021).

Since 2007 the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (Kultusministerkonferenz) has awarded a special school prize entitled “Jugend forscht - Schule des Jahres” that is worth 3 141.59 euros (a reference to the number "pi”). The prize recognises schools that establish a lasting, age-adequate and state-of-the-art infrastructure allowing pupils to develop research skills in the areas affiliated with the “Jugend forscht” youth research programme (world of work, biology, chemistry, geological and spatial science, maths/computing, physics and technology).

The publishing house Ernst Klett and the MNU - German Association to promote maths and natural sciences teaching (MNU - Deutscher Verein zur Förderung des mathematischen und naturwissenschaftlichen Unterrichts) are the joint organisers of a competition for innovative STEM-related teaching ideas (Wettbewerb für innovative MINT-Unterrichtsideen). The competition is aimed at young teachers in the preparatory stage (Referendariat) or the first five years of service. 

Another cultural education initiative is “Children to Mount Olympus!” (Kinder zum Olymp!), which is run by the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States (Kulturstiftung der Länder). It is designed to encourage children and adolescents to discover and enjoy art, create an enthusiasm among them for cultural diversity, and provide them with a low-threshold way to incorporate art into their everyday lives at school. The competition “THE OLYMP - Future award for cultural education” (DER OLYMP – Zukunftspreis für Kulturbildung) has been held since 2004. It focuses on developing the relationship between the cultural community and schools. It is funded by the Deutsche Bank Foundation (Deutsche Bank Stiftung). 

Pedagogical tools and support

Teaching material that is produced subject to an open licence and can be used by anyone at any time (e.g., interactive exercises, videos, simulations) is already very widespread. However, so far there is no clear and transparent legal basis for it. With funding from BMBF, activities are currently underway to set up an information office for OER (Open Educational Resources). This office will be a central point of contact for OER in Germany and will be affiliated to the German Education Server (Deutscher Bildungsserver). The German Education Server (Deutscher Bildungsserver) and the state education servers (Landesbildungsserver) are well-stocked resources for teachers looking for information on Germany’s education system. Both the national and the state servers have signed a self-declaration concerning OER. Amongst other things, they pledge to expand their OER-related activities. They also want to encourage authors to produce more material as OER and attract more teachers to using OER (through offering them training).

The institutes and academies for advanced teacher training and school development in the federal states (Landesinstitute) also offer training courses for teachers on innovative methods that encourage students to lift their creative potential.

Innovative learning platforms such as mebis, WebWeaver school or its learning are also used in German schools.

Hamburg has launched a project known as “Creative potentials in Hamburg” (Kreativpotentiale Hamburg). It supports and provides training to cultural points of contact in schools so they can better integrate and strengthen cultural education activities in the city’s schools. The project will run initially for three years, beginning in the 2017/2018 school year. It is run jointly by the city’s school and vocational education authority and the culture and media authority, with support from the Mercator Foundation (Stiftung Mercator) through the Creative potentials (Kreativpotentiale) framework programme. Funding volume: 1 million euros (50 % from the city of Hamburg, 50 % by the Mercator Foundation).

See also Youth Wiki > Germany > Creativity and Culture > Developing cultural and creative competences

Fostering innovation through non-formal and informal learning and youth work

Various competitions, prizes, support schemes and activities exist to encourage innovation and experimentation in non-formal and informal learning settings and in youth work. Here are some examples:

Nationwide IT competitions are an opportunity for pupils to demonstrate their interest in IT and computer science and be recognised for their talent. These competitions are funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF). One of them is “IT beaver” (Informatik-Biber), which was established in 2001 as an entry-level competition. The youth IT  (Jugendwettbewerb Informatik) competition was introduced in May 2017. It is aimed at pupils of all ages who want to demonstrate their basic skills in algorithmic thinking and coding and is designed to encourage them to pursue their hobby beyond the entry-level “Informatik-Biber” competition. In so doing, they are expected to acquire the IT skills they need to keep honing their talent. An opportunity to compete at a higher level is the nationwide IT competition (Bundeswettbewerb Informatik), which was established in 1980. 

The Innovation Fund (Innovationsfonds) of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, BMFSFJ) encourages innovative approaches and projects in civic education, cultural education, youth association work, international youth work and youth social work. It is funded via the Child and Youth Plan of the federation (Kinder- und Jugendplan des Bundes). In the preparation period for the current promotion phase (2017-2019) around 400 letters of interest were submitted. 39 projects are currently receiving funding.

The foundation for youth stamps (Stiftung Deutsche Jugendmarke) supports innovative projects run by recognised independent child and youth welfare organisations which have a supra-regional or national scope to the tune of up to EUR 690 000 in 2018. The foundation is funded by the surcharge on the FÜR DIE JUGEND (For Youth) postage stamps sold. The stamps are issued by the Federal Ministry of Finance (Bundesfinanzministerium). The surcharge-related proceeds from the sale of the special stamps go directly to the foundation. In 2018, the foundation was able to grant cash awards to seven innovative youth projects.

Cultural child and youth education has great potential when it comes to encouraging creative skills. The German Federation for Cultural Youth Education (Bundesvereinigung Kulturelle Kinder- und Jugendbildung, BKJ) and its member organisations from a wide variety of artistic areas and cultural education fields support local, regional and national and even international organisations that offer cultural education projects, training courses and competitions.

  • MIXED UP is a national competition for cultural education partnerships that is run by BMFSFJ and BKJ. Prizes are awarded to teams consisting of cultural child and youth education organisations (including schools) whose projects are all about innovation and sustainability. Nine prizes are awarded in a variety of areas every year.

The nationwide Rauskommen! - Der Jugendkunstschuleffekt competition is an innovation competition run by the Federal Association of Youth Art Schools and Cultural Education Institutions (Bundesverband der Jugendkunstschulen und kulturpädagogischen Einrichtungen e.V., bjke) under the patronage of the Federal Youth Minister (Bundesjugendministerin) with funding from BMFSFJ. Since 2010, the competition has given visibility to a large number of artistic projects and activities designed to highlight the creative talents especially of children and adolescents. Each year the competition recognises three projects or activities that were either recently completed or are still ongoing. The winners have to meet individual or all criteria of the competition, must provide fresh input for cultural education in Germany, and have to have been tried and tested. The prizes are worth between 1 000 and 2 500 euros.

Examples from the federal states
  • Saxony

In 2018, Saxony will award the state prize for innovation in further training (Innovationspreis Weiterbildung des Freistaates Sachsen) for the 17th time. It recognises innovations in general, vocational, scientific, political and cultural education and is worth EUR 40 000. Submissions are encouraged from all legal entities under public law or non-profit legal entities under private law that are active in the field of further education and domiciled in Saxony.

  • Baden-Württemberg

The just Geistesblitz innovation award   was established to mark the fifth anniversary of the youth foundation “just” (run by the Catholic diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart) in 2005. The award is worth 1 000 euros and is given in recognition of particularly innovative ideas relating to church youth work in the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. The innovative character of the projects can relate to the form of activity, methods and media, target groups, theme and content, or impact and public outreach. It is awarded annually.

  • Bavaria/Baden-Württemberg (Swabia)

The Full of energy (Volle Energie) youth competition “is run by the district youth council for Swabia and the power utility Lechwerke AG (LEW). Since 2005, it has recognised innovative projects run by youth clubs, centres and initiatives. The winners are awarded up to 1 500 euros. The entries may be no older than two years. There are six categories: Media and online worlds, migration and cultural diversity, addiction and violence, politics and civic engagement, environment and nature, and art, literature and drama.

  • Schleswig-Holstein

The innovation award (Innovationspreis) is an initiative of the youth subcommittee of the Protestant/Lutheran church council (Jugendausschuss des evangelisch-lutherischen Kirchenkreis) in Altholstein and is designed to encourage modern, innovative child and youth services ideas in the council. Specifically, it seeks to promote an exchange of tried-and-tested ideas for working with children and adolescents in a council context. The award is presented in three categories:

1. Making the world better (Weltverbesserungsprojekte; projects in the field of social and civic engagement);

2. youth culture projects and

3. freestyle projects.

Each year, up to three ideas are awarded a prize worth 500 euros each.