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The topic of cultural education has received a growing amount of attention in recent years, increasingly reflecting current societal issues. In Germany, too, there are concerns that democracy is coming under threat. The existence of a consensus on democracy, the rule of law, human rights and solidarity can no longer be taken for granted. Hence there is a debate on to what extent cultural education can help to promote democracy.
For a number of years now cultural education has been funded through both public and private means. Many funding programmes and model projects exist to support cultural education in various ways. Overall funding volumes have increased considerably, too, a trend that appears to be set to continue.
There is still strong support among policymakers for collaboration between schools and cultural education providers. Accordingly, there are a large number of funding programmes, concepts and support options.
While policymakers have praised cultural education for its integrative impact in particular, its implementation remains patchy. This is due, amongst other things, to the large number of responsibilities and stakeholders. It “results in diverse and heterogeneous practice and sculpts a landscape of institutions and opportunities (Einrichtungs- und Angebotslandschaft) with different contours, profiles and rules across each of the 16 federal states.”
The result is a large number of funding initiatives for cultural education, all with their own agendas. The funding programmes both at federal and Länder level are spread across various policy fields without sufficient coordination between them. In addition, they have a very short-term horizon. This requires organisations to undertake enormous efforts to stay up to speed with developments and meet a variety of bureaucratic requirements. The many different responsibilities and programmes produce a complex picture, and funding is always time-limited. That is why there is a broad debate ongoing to work out how to ensure a reliable foundation for cultural education so that innovative projects can happen at all. To this end, calls are being made for project-independent, institutional, financial support for institutions, staff and training.
“There is competition, squeezing and turbulence. The special programme budgets often exceed the basic funding that is there to safeguard the infrastructure that makes the special programmes possible in the first place. As a result, none of the current popular funding initiatives offers support in the form of structural security. (…) Precarious conditions are actually perpetuated – for example by only financing freelancers. Everyone is talking about partnerships. We know that these take communication and coordination, but not even the coffee for coordination talks is covered by the materials funded.”
In this context, some criticise that project funding consistently sets new and specific objectives and that in many cases, cultural education is seen as a means to an end. Critics of this stance point out that art and culture have an intrinsic value and that cultural education/participation in art and culture is a vital part of general personal development. What is more, art and culture are seen as a critical counterpoint to social and political developments and should play a central role in the lives of (all) people to promote holistic existence and forward-looking social development.
Meanwhile, a debate of a different kind is underway. Since the push to roll-out all-day schools across Germany, politicians are concentrating mainly on partnerships between schools and external cultural education partners. “A wide variety of extracurricular organisations, institutions and cultural education opportunities has developed organically over time. The expansion of all-day education is bringing about a paradigm shift in their structures and self-image, because project-based cultural education opportunities are increasingly gaining a foothold in the extended school day. At a general level, there is a shift in orientation from programmes to partnerships, in structural terms it’s about the move from institution-based services to networked education opportunities.”
According to many youth work representatives, this is putting their special approaches at risk, in particular with respect to the aspects of voluntary participation, strength orientation and self education, because schools do not operate according to these fundamental principles – classroom teaching and many extracurricular activities are mandatory, schools are deficit-oriented and are geared more towards teaching than self-education. The principles governing youth work are often ignored in cooperation settings. “Emphasising the value of cultural education for general education – in contrast to emphasising its intrinsic value as part of general education – makes it easy for the public, politicians, authorities and institutions such as schools to see cultural education providers and their services as service providers.” And “when communities dream about creating general community education concepts that integrate cultural education, they do not necessarily also assume that the legally anchored youth participation rights (Partizipationsrechte) as laid down in Book VIII of the Social Code (SGB VIII) – which apply to children, young people, parents and independent bodies – will also be adopted.”
Many critics are worried that with the rise of cooperation activities, formal education with its performance-centred character may tighten its grip on the lives of children and adolescents. The federal government’s 15th child and youth report (15. Kinder- und Jugendbericht) picks up on this concern, too, suggesting that adolescence is disproportionately dominated by the core challenge of gaining a qualification, pushing other social expectations on young people into the background. According to the report, child and youth work – in other words, the sphere in which cultural youth education takes place – has both the potential and the responsibility to assist young people in finding out where they belong and how to gain independence.