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Encouraging participation in cultural activities and promoting the creative development of young people are goals for which in Germany a) there is a general consensus within society; b) they are pursued in various parts of society; and c) they enjoy support from various political areas. All education stakeholders generally agree that cultural education for children and young people is an essential part of education. There are a lot of expectations regarding the effect of cultural education on young people, such as on their personal and skills development, as well as on their social participation, in particular in society and cultural activities.
In recent years many efforts have been made to give all children and adolescents easier access to cultural education and to develop and scale up new activities. To this end, a large number of special programmes were launched at the national and Länder level. For reasons including the growing financial effort involved in offering cultural education, currently there is much debate surrounding the quality of activities in this field, especially when it comes to cultural education in all-day schools. The quality of activities offered in all-day schools and day-care centres cannot be assured; neither can the quality of training in this field. In 2013, the council for cultural education concluded that while the issue of good-quality cultural education is frequently raised, there is rarely a good answer. In 2014 the council stated that assuring the quality of cultural education was “a core development issue”.
Young people are interested and participate in a wide range of cultural activities. A 2011 study (2. Jugend-KulturBarometer) found that only 13 % of all 14 to 24-year-olds have never made use of cultural education opportunities. 45% of young people have a creative hobby. The wide range of interests amongst young people with and without migrant backgrounds is particularly notable. For example, 61 % of young people with a Turkish migrant background have already attended one or more events on art influenced by Islamic culture, compared to just 19 % attending events relating to classical European culture. Only about 25 % of all young people surveyed had a ‘strong’ interest in culture, although it is not clear what exactly a ‘strong’ interest means.
Today, cultural education frequently happens via digital channels, with a current study by the council for cultural education (Rat für Kulturelle Bildung) identifying YouTube as the main medium in this regard. With 86% of 12- to 19-year-olds using YouTube, the council recommends that “cultural education providers, whether in formal or non-formal contexts, should leverage the strong potential of audio-visual media when designing new cultural education contents and formats.”
“The last decade has seen a significant upswing in discourse on cultural education which is also having a direct effect on current practice, as shown in the following example taken from the infrastructure survey on education services in classical cultural institutions (Infrastrukturerhebung zu Bildungsangeboten in klassischen Kultureinrichtungen) (Keuchel, S., Weil, B., 2010). The sharp rise in the number of services since 2004 is mainly directed at school classes (61%) and child day care centres (17%). Educational services for children (10%) or young people in their spare time (6%) remain a rarity. (…) Looking at the interests of 14 to 24-year-olds, it is clear that the growth in cultural activities does not go hand in hand with a rise in interest amongst the young population. What this means is that more activity in the cultural landscape has not resulted in a positive change in young people’s interests in broadening their cultural horizons, for example by visiting classical cultural institutions like museums and theatres, but also by attending rock/pop concerts or poetry slams.” We can only speculate as to the reasons for this. Several key changes took place during this period. For example, social media were not around in 2004. In addition, the education landscape in Germany has changed – for example, all-day schools continue to be rolled out and secondary education was shortened in some states from nine to eight years, which has led to fuller timetables and more study time. Both of thesephenomena are responsible for much of the time that young people spend.
For this reason, in recent years the public sector as well as foundations, associations and organisations have stepped up their efforts to strike up partnerships between schools and providers. These partnerships are voluntary in nature and involve offering school pupils extracurricular cultural education services in the shape of, e.g., working groups or workshops. Over the last 10-15 years, these partnerships have dominated the field. It was hoped that the switch to all-day schools would give more young people access to cultural education activities, yet there is no indication yet that this is happening. A study by the council for cultural education (Rat für Kulturelle Bildung) from 2015 which questioned 9th and 10th graders in general education schools across the country concluded that 29% of girls and 44% of boys (average: 37%) do not engage at all in school-based cultural activities) outside of music or art classes. This result held across all parental backgrounds, school types and ethnic backgrounds. That having been said, cultural activities in schools appear to be on the rise. In 2015, the respondents indicated, 71% of schools had a drama club, 63% had a school choir, 58% ran a student newspaper, 48% had a band and more than one third of schools had art, photography and dance clubs.
There is no standard official concept of what “cultural participation” or “access to art and culture” could mean specifically. Instead, various approaches and concepts exist with different political and specialist biases, starting with the popular debate amongst specialists on what “art” and above all “culture” is. Even when talking about “cultural participation”, it can refer to anything from “just” participation (e.g., a museum/theatre visit or the reading of a book) to advanced opportunities that focus more closely on educational processes and intentionally make them possible. More recently, the term “cultural education” has been in popular use as a general term to cover the entire spectrum. “Cultural education”, too, does not refer to a specific concept, but is instead used as a catch-all term for various ways of accessing cultural opportunities through to advanced educational programmes for independent cultural and artistic activities. This diverse terminology is also reflected in official documents, like section 184.108.40.206 of the 12th child and youth report (12. Kinder- und Jugendbericht). The terminology used in the report is inconsistent and is not discussed critically (“cultural work”, “youth culture work”, “cultural youth education”, “cultural music education”, “aesthetic-cultural education”, “youth culture”, “everyday culture”, “interculture”).
While historical cultural assets are the object of cultural education, the term “cultural heritage” (in the sense of anchoring national traditions or a national identity) is not used in Germany. Institutions that maintain historical cultural assets, engage in cultural education and have a public mission, such as theatres and museums, also have a cultural education mandate. This is borne out by Federal Constitutional Court case law and by Section 35 para. 1 sentence 4 of Germany’s Unification Treaty (Einigungsvertrag), which refers to Germany specifically as a “nation of culture” (Kulturstaat).